January 2023

Scout, Monty and Olly on Wadsley Common

It rained at the start of the New Year and was still raining into the second week. Not just rain, not the kind that you dodge into a shop for, or make a run to the car, or sit it out under a tree. This was rain and it made sure you knew that. Rivers of the stuff coursing down Sheffield roads, great sheets charging down slate roofs and running straight over the top of the gutters, silver waterfalls crashing to the ground. The well-trod dog walks were gloopy, my feet slip sliding through a quagmire of slurry. It took ages to wash the dogs off, clean boots, hose down waterproofs, we were glad we’d installed outside hot and cold water for the job.

By mid-month the rain stopped, the temperature plummeted, and the ground hardened under a covering of frost and snow. Early morning was spent listening to neighbours scraping ice off car windows, the engines slowly idling away. Alison was away for a week mid-month, so me and the dogs spent time on Wadsley Common playing in the thin snow that clung to the land under a blue sky and wisps of white Cirrus clouds.

Come the end of the month the air was warmer, the skies darker, that beautiful indigo ink colour of Nimbostratus storm clouds rolling in from the west, while the low winter sun gave the land that vivid glow.

Alport Castle and Alport Dales. Winter 2021

I’ve been a little anxious about walks, I think its to do with the thought of not being able to complete the route, letting other people down. It’s silly, I know. But that’s how it is. I need time to work it all out. I miss the high places, old favourites like Alport, particularly in winter, when the joy of a fresh day and unsullied snow is something to be treasured. I have had those days, the last in Twenty-One, when to be out in the Peak District was sublime. I’ve missed the snow this year. To my mind heavy snow, the land completely blanketed makes winter. There’s still time. Back in the early 2000s the snow arrived in late March, so much fell that it completely obliterated the walls around Ilam, the landscape one giant rolling contour. Leading a group into Dovedale on the Saturday morning we found we were the first there, no footprints, no humans. Thick snow underfoot, branches bowing with the weight of the fall, clear cold sky above. The silence of the world muffled in white down. Stepping into Dovedale was like pushing through the coats into Narnia. We walked up to Milldale in silence. That’s a day to remember.

Scout enjoying the snow on Bamford Edge. Winter 2021

I know Scout misses the days of deep snow and blue skies, because there is nothing better than nose ploughing through fresh powder.

Rocher Edge

Alison has set it upon herself to get me out, at least one day at the weekend. She thinks, and she is probably right, that if I keep walking I won’t lose it as quickly. We’ve developed a couple of walks in the less frequented parts of the Peak District, places in easy reach, no slog up massive hills. One of our favourite is a round walk from Low Bradfield, or if I’m feeling a little worn, High Bradfield. The enticement to make it to the foot of Rocher Edge is a fried egg banjo — (breadcake) (not bap) (not roll) — a stone seat to enjoy it on and a view to savour. By happenstance when we went there, I had just finished reading Gabriel Chevallier’s, Clochemerle, where I learned that St Roch is the patron saint of dogs. It also means rock, from where the edge gets its name, this area being extensively owned by the monasteries, pre-reformation. He’s also known as Rollox in Glasgow, which makes me smile.

It’s a lovely spot, with some nice bridleways and old forgotten tracks. It is rare to see climbers on the rock these days, perhaps the walk in, or the rock itself is no longer suitable. But there were a couple of Buzzards circling ever higher, picking up the thermals from the land and rock face, so maybe they like the peace and quiet, and having the rock to themselves.

One of the smells missing this winter is that of snow. I have always thought snow smells of iron, metallic, or better still, fresh blood, which must be the iron in it. But it’s only out in the countryside, and in high and mountainous areas where this happens. There is a cleanliness to the scent of snow in the wild, its pure, untainted by human action. Snow in towns and cities smells dirty, car fumes, salt, people, that black edge the snow gets at the side of the road. Scientists think that snow is starting to smell stronger as the climate changes and the world heats up. It’s akin to being able to smell snow coming in a winter storm, the air becoming humid as the storm approaches, which increases the potency of the scent. With warmer winters ­— my boiler app informs me that this January was slightly warmer than last — the scientists reckon that the surface of snow is warmer and that intensifies the scents that it has absorbed. But of course, snowfall is needed for that to happen and that has not happened this year. I have not smelt snow.

Agden Edge

Leaving the picnic seat and thoughts of snow we headed over to Agden Edge and caught the most refreshing blast of cold clean air coming up from the valley, the sort of ice cold that instantly invigorates you and lets you know that your lungs are full, like an ice cold lime and soda running through every cell in your tired body on a hot summer day.

Farhouse Lane

Something I have enjoyed this year are the trees in their winter garb. The bark very black against the winter sky. Lone trees are some of the most spectacular. They stand like sentinels, and many of them are just that, pointing the way along routes now long forgotten. This beauty sits at the side of Farhouse Lane, an old way heading to the west from the Don Valley.

Alison kneading dough for Pain de Mie

We’ve slowed our life down a lot, and taken care about the people we have around us, keeping a positive view on life and enjoying each day, have some fun, do new things. Alison does like her baking, here she is kneading dough for a weekend Pain de Mie, the square French loaf that is slightly sweet. It’s great with thick butter, even better toasted with the butter melting into bread. The kettle is from Japan, a Christmas present to us from us, and it is so lovely to use, adding to the ceremony of making a pot of tea.

Homemade Burgers

Alison is a Vegetarian, has been for fifty years or more, and a farmers daughter to boot. I’m not. It’s a conflict in home life that needs some management. Don’t get me wrong, Alison has never imposed vegetarianism on me, ever. Like wise I’ve never imposed meat on her. But Alison does not like the smell of meat cooking, especially the red meats, the good stuff. When we are both at home I eat vegetarian food almost exclusively, a little fish now and again. And I have to say the vegetarian meals Alison produces are exquisite, English, French, Indian, Asian, Japanese, Thai, Korean, all are fantastic. I mean that. But when Alison goes away for a few days, I do fall from grace. Maybe, that’s why she goes, to give me a little bit of freedom. Whatever. I do indulge. In fact, my local butcher now says, as I walk in, that Alison must be away. I load up on thick steaks, chops, tomato sausages, the meals are filling and full of unctuous textures and tastes, my eyes closing in rapture as I savour each mouthful, mashed potatoes, gravy, greens, fries, eggs, the dogs love it too, sit there drooling, waiting their turn. I need to have some junk as well. Homemade burgers, marinated in soy, Lea and Perrins and mushroom sauce, heavy on the sea salt and ground pepper, cooked until the outside is crispy and sticky, but the inside still tender. Placed on a toasted brioche bun, with fried unions and a dab of Dijon mustard, a slice or two of Emmental cheese, some fried mushrooms, and a good dollop of tomato puree. Burnt wedges as a side. Why don’t pubs sell burnt ends. The burnt end of a joint of beef is one of life’s delights. As are the burnt bits in the bottom of the pan. In fact, these are the best bits of a meal. So, I go for burnt potato wedges, heavily salted, and a pot of Heinz Ketchup and a pot of mayo to dip them in. Sit watching a film, The Eagle has Landed, being a favourite, and bask in the gloriousness of it all. Finish it all off with a Fry’s Turkish Delight. Make sure air freshener is used liberally, before Alison returns and my life swings back to vegetarian delights.

Dance as though no one is watching

We’re both in our sixties now and I guess it’s natural to be thinking of what the years ahead mean for our health. Alison does Yoga, Tai Chi, and we both meditate. Looking after our mental as well as physical health is something we recognise as important. It can be something as simple as doing the daily Wordle, discussing philosophy on a Sunday evening, reading widely, writing, sewing, cooking. We both meditate at home and attend the Buddhist Centre for teachings and practice. We enjoy the people and the community, and the communal meal. The teachings sit well with our view on life, about taking responsibility, looking for the good, appreciating the moment.

I took some steps to improve my own mental health. With all that has been happening there has been a tendency for me to think I am coping and that just wasn’t the case. A pill a day seems to be helping with that. Alison tells me I am much happier, smile a lot more, and I’m much easier on life. I know she’s right. We listen to music a lot more now, jazz, classical, rock. Nick Cave has become quite a favourite. His music reflects his outlook on life which is one that has to be admired for what he and his family have been through. And we listen to Sinatra and co, Dusty Springfield etc. These are good for the dancing in the dining room, the dogs joining in, getting all excited, me throwing some moves, doing some dad dancing, Alison moving like the woman on Tales from the Unexpected, putting this old man to shame. It’s good to dance, good to dance when the neighbours might see us. Dance as though no one is watching the old Shinto priest said. It’s good advice, lets the protective barriers down, gives us freedom, makes us laugh and smile. Times to remember.

The impermanence of life is something we are much more aware of now. We try as best to live in the day, sometimes we plan things but I’m too tired when the time comes, or some outside influence means we cannot fulfil our aims that day, and we make a change. Much is out of our hands, cost of living, other people, world events, so we focus on what we can do, what effect we can have on our own lives and others. The pandemic has taught us much, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is set in stone, and to fight against that is an unskilful way of living. So we try to be skilful in our words and actions, with each other, with those around us, and that makes life easier, smoother, more enjoyable.

These are some of the ways we have slowed down, taken time to appreciate the moments, appreciate people, linger over the beauty of it all. We are doing OK.

January reading

This month I have read Tim Robinson (Stones of Aran – Pilgrimage), Joe Moran (First You Write a Sentence), Junichiro Tanizaki (In Praise of Shadows), Joanna Pocock (Surrender), Gabriel Chevallier (Clochemerle),  J.R. Ackerly (My Dog Tulip), Tove Jansson (The Summer Book), Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), Mary Oliver (Dog Songs).

There was a lot of heavy reading in January. Stones of Aran is a dense book, filled with unpronounceable names of places and people. It makes for slow and laborious reading, not so much a story of a landscape, more a phone directory of everything on the island. When he starts heading back for home though, this is a perambulation of the whole coast of Aran, the people appear, more of them, and the landscape becomes human, with human stories, human presence. And that makes the book worthwhile. The rest suddenly fits into place.

The surprise read was The Summer Book. Maybe my mind was clouded by the Moomins, for whom Tove Jansson is known worldwide. The first chapter left me wondering if I had made a mistake, but I stuck with it and glad I did. This is a wonderful book, of lives, young and old, of beginnings and endings. And of the permanence of things, the land, the sea, people, ancestors, the future.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance needs to be re-read and re-read. I have filled a notebook with notes and questions. Understanding some passages is beyond me on a first reading and much background reading into philosophy is required.

James Baldwin I had to work on, I’m glad I did because the writing is masterful, the insights illuminating, the perspective surprising.

I picked In Praise of Shadows up because I have always been interested in Japanese design, I worked for a Japanese company for a few years, and this book is about a master of design. As all things in Japan, its not just about looking good, its also about function and simplicity and purpose. It brings me back to the beautiful kettle we have. An icon of Japanese design from the 1950s by Sori Yanagi. It brings pleasure to us to use it.

2 responses to “January 2023”

  1. I also love the Summer Book. Recently read Tove Jansson biography which was fascinating.
    I have a bad back so can sympathise a bit with slowing down and not been able to manage what once was easy. But I never regret venturing outside, everything just feels better, lighter.
    Love your blogs, thanks for posting.


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