Walking the forest path: part four.

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

“So, talk me through the stand-by pasta recipe, then.”

When we get back to the cottage, I shall be giving the cooking another shot; under close supervision, as ever. (Health and safety, you know how it is these days.) For the past two Sundays, K has been drilling me to produce steak and chips. The steak, the chips and the accompanying vegetables have been perfect each time, matching K’s exacting standards to a tee – but somehow, we’ve been missing the point of the exercise. Namely, that I should be working towards producing unsupervised meals: a challenge which calls for a simpler recipe.

(Yes, even steak and chips is a bit advanced for someone like me, with minimal basic knowledge on which to build. Hell, it’s been a while since I even peeled a spud.)

K’s “stand-by pasta” is the simplest meal that we can think of. Pasta, tuna, tomatoes, olives, garlic, chillis. What could be more straightforward than that?

We stop to snap a small clump of steers, peacefully munching in the late afternoon light, in the gap between the stream and the hillside. As K composes his shot, the steers at the front of the clump obligingly arrange themselves into a neat line, fanning out from the centre with pleasing symmetry.

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Just ahead of us, a lone walker in a bright red anorak is crouching in the undergrowth, by the right hand path which runs off into the bushes. Opting instead for the left hand path, we stride briskly by, not looking sideways.

A few minutes later, just after the paths have re-converged, we pause again to sample the view. K attempts another shot with his phone, but the light isn’t good enough. As he fiddles with the settings, the walker re-emerges. He is still a good few yards behind us, safely out of earshot for now.

“Come on, let’s move. She’ll think we’re waiting for her.”

“Who, her in the red?”

“Yes, her. Miss Scarlet…”

“The Scarlet Pumpernickel…”

“Scarlet O’ Hard On…”

“HAHAHAHAHA.”

“Shhh!”


Monsal Weir looks especially beautiful this afternoon, in its secluded clearing at the foot of the wooded slope. Mist is already beginning to form in the rapidly cooling air at the bottom, whilst sheltered patches at the top are still frozen from the night before. This place must look wonderful at daybreak, we agree. Perhaps we could come out for an early morning winter walk, some time next month?

This thought lasts for all of five seconds, before we concede that it will never happen. Besides, when would we find the time? It’s not as if I’ll be here over the Christmas holiday, after all. Perhaps K could make the trip without me, with friends from the village who keep earlier hours?

“I’m having a twinge.”

“What sort of twinge?”

“Oh, you know: wishing I was going to be here, rather than working out in China. Typical contrarianism, basically. You’re a Gemini, you should know all about that.”

K bats me a knowing smile.

“You are going to be OK without me, aren’t you? I know we’ve talked this through, but I still have to check.”

“Of course I will. Anyway, you know what I think about bloody Christmas. I’ll probably go and see my family on the day. It would be a good opportunity this year, especially with… you know. It’s a shame that I couldn’t arrange to be out there with you – after all, Ningbo’s practically up the road from Hangzhou – but it’s just not the right time, what with everything that’s scheduled for January.”

“I know. It’s going to be such an experience, though. I can’t wait to get over there. All that interviewing will be a challenge – imagine having to decide whether you’re going to employ someone, when you’re so unfamiliar with their whole culture and background – but I feel so ready for it. Especially with JP posting daily reports from the office in Hangzhou – I’m hanging on every word. Perfect timing in many ways, even if it is over Christmas and New Year. Anyway, what’s three weeks? We can save up the holidays and go somewhere nice in the spring.”

“And you’ll have time to do some writing.”

“Exactly – see whether I’m up to it, whether it’s any good or not, whether I can knuckle down to it. That middle week is going to be so quiet, on my own in the company apartment with the laptop. Perfect opportunity. Eyup, she’s coming. Onwards and upwards!”

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By the time we emerge at Monsal Head, the sky has turned a glorious red, with dark clouds forming mountain ranges beyond the furthest hills. While K lines up some shots, I get myself an award-winning “99” from the Fredericks of Chesterfield ice cream van.

“I bet that’s delicious. Damn that dairy intolerance.”

“Poor you. I bet that’s torture. Go on, a couple of mouthfuls can’t do you any harm.”

“I guess not. OH GOD that’s wonderful.”

“Wow, look at that vapour trail, coming over to the left. It looks on fire, like a comet.”

“…”

“Cobwebs gone?”

“Absolutely.”

We leave the empty car park and walk the short distance back to Little Longstone, pausing every now and again to gaze back in awe at the dying glow of the sunset. When we get back to the car, I’ll put the first half of the Madonna album on. The beatier, dancier half. Works best in the dark. He’ll be able to cope with it now.

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Comedy interlude.

Yes, of course this is displacement activity for the final part of the f**king never-ending Walking The Forest Path series of posts. (See below. And, eventually, above.) Hey, you should know me well enough by now.

1. Via new-to-me (but actually going for ages) Nottingham blogger Lisa Rullsenberg, some howler fun which made me howl: Actual Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays. Oh, I’ve just Googled and this one is plastered all over the Internet. Doesn’t make it any less funny, though.

2. Just in via e-mail from Miss Mish: Dork Tower, on the subject of de-linking. “Saw this… and thought of you“, she says. Whatever does she mean?

Walking the forest path: part three.

“Come on then, you devious bastard. Next stop, Sheldon.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no group of two or more gay men may walk through the village of Sheldon without passing comment on the name of its public house. This is not a convention which K and I are about to flout.

“What’s the name of this place? The Cock and something?”

“The Cock in Hand?”

“No, that’s not it. But I’m pretty sure it’s got Cock in it somewhere.”

Ah, here we are…

“HAHAHAHAHA!”

“HAHAHAHAHA!”


As we start the long descent into Deep Dale, I catch the disused lead mine out of the corner of my eye, about half a mile away to the left. Oh, was that part of the same walk? Although I recognise everywhere we have been, my memory has been as a series of disconnected fragments, which I am having to stitch together from source all over again.

Over the summer, we had bickered our way down this hill, arguing the toss with every fresh field. This time – certain of our way, hitting our stride, fully up to speed – our conversation swerves off into an animated impromptu plot conference. By vocalising my sketchy ideas for the first time, I can feel flesh starting to draw over bones. Thought leads to thought; chance suggestions are toyed with and acted upon; new characters emerge from the ether; existing characters take on names, faces, back stories. We’re buzzing, on a roll, eager imaginations churning and melding.

I had forgotten what an effective sounding board K can be, particularly when it comes to his favourite area: plot. (I tease him over it, positioning myself as if on a higher literary plane – but we both know that’s bullshit. Anyway, complementary skills and all that.) It’s like the planning stages of Chapter Three of The Naked Novel all over again – only bigger, broader, freer.

Somehow, we’ve avoided the wrong turning: the one which I harped about incessantly last time (after K had insisted and I had yielded), and which had added a pointless half a mile to our route. Reprised as caricature, my extended “told you so” nag rings in our ears once more. Chuckling, we veer rightwards into Deep Dale.


Striding through the wildlife sanctuary, still dotted with seasonally redundant little marker boards, pointing out rare – and now vanished – wild flora on the hillside, I coax K into delivering a brief company report, strictly in layman’s terms. (Proteomics? The very word makes my head spin.) Caught in the middle of all the little day-to-day dramas and stresses, it’s easy for me to lose track of the wider picture. Consequently, I hadn’t quite realised what a key stage this is for him – indeed, for all of them. Viewed from a certain angle, I guess we’re both poised on our respective brinks.

Having left the binoculars at home this time, there is little to detain us here. Before we know it, we’re at the car park by the A6, where the last of the Bright And Early Brigade are busily de-booting themselves before the four o’clock lock-up. Just outside the toilets, someone has dumped an old PC monitor: damp, useless, too big for the bin. We tut.

Now we’re at the actual spot, K can’t resist teasing me about the bird-watching for the umpteenth time. When we were last here, I had amused myself with the binoculars while he went for a pee.

“Shh!”, I had cautioned, as he emerged from the toilet block. “There’s something in the trees over there. I’ve been tracking them. They’ll probably emerge in a minute… ah, there they are. The two black and white birds with the long tails. Any idea what they are?”

“Mike, they’re magpies. Haven’t you ever seen a magpie before?”

“What, are they quite common?”

“You could say that.”

“….”

“HAHAHAHAHA! Ooh, ooh, keep still, I’ve just seen a very rare magpie. HAHAHAHAHA!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We can’t all be Children of Nature. I mug obligingly, riding out the storm, until K’s attention is caught by a tree over to our left.

“Good grief, look over there: the catkins are coming out.”

“So they are. Er, that’s supposed to happen in spring, right? Oh, don’t start all that again. Anyway, what about those daffodil shoots coming up in the cottage garden? It’s all so wrong!

“Doomed… we’re all doomed…”

“I blame the government.”

“I blame Thatcher.”

Crossing the busy A6, we head into Monsal Dale for the final stretch.

Bobbly fruit and pillows.

Because I know you were curious: the ceramic masterpiece, repaired (can YOU spot the two damaged fronds?) and revealed.

And before you say anything (because someone already has): no, we haven’t become smack dealers in our spare time. Really! What do you take us for?

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(Image via K’s moblog, still going strong, even if I have to make up my own descriptions every time he’s afflicted by Blogger’s Block, which at this early stage of the game is frankly a little previous, don’t you think?)

Post of the Week #5

With nine out of twelve (or 75%) of last week’s nominations penned by female bloggers, this is the first time that the gender split has been anything other than more or less equal. God, that’s not an easy sentence to write at 8:30 on a Monday morning. Let’s quickly crack on, shall we?

From the under-represented male wing, we’ve had sharp and timely political metaphor, a raddled former beauty-queen, and a football hero with feet of clay.

Meanwhile, from the ladies (hello ladies!), we’ve had cellos pushed into sternums (enigmatically), pianos dragged into the jungle (heroically if uselessly), rages so fierce that they have seen off tropical storms, murders in the neighbourhood and drugs busts in the home. We’ve eloped to London with lesbians, we’ve woken up with toddlers in Paris, and we’ve been out on a photo shoot with a disorienting new lens (discovering in the process what the word “bokeh” means).

All of which leaves the only post this week to have picked up votes from all three of our judges (myself, Anna and Green Fairy). Yes, this week’s winner – the fourth out of four from a female writer, and a piece which speaks for itself, without need of further justification – is:

Baghdad Burning: Conventional Terror.

Please leave your nominations for this week in the comments box below. Rules of engagement are here.

Patita will be helping with the judging, but there is still room for one more judge: if interested, please e-mail mikejla@btinternet.com. All applications welcome.

1. Boob Pencil: Transportmentally Challenged.
(nominated by guyana-gyal)The AA told us to get out of the car and wait on the other side of the barrier. They didn’t know about the panther either. Luckily we decided it was too cold for such nonsense, and we stayed in the car. After all, the AA said they would be at least an hour and a half, and it was the middle of the night for God’s sake. And cold. And foggy. Did I mention the fog? It was very foggy.

2. petite anglaise: singing in tongues.
(nominated by Rob)This is an audio post.

 

3. Boris Johnson MP: Bush and Al-Jazeera.
(nominated by mike)If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.

4. Joe. My. God.: Pray Lady Day.
(nominated by mike)The air in the car is getting a little stuffy. I’m already overdressed for this entirely-not-caused-by-global-warming 70-degree-almost-December morning, but I don’t even have the room the pull my arms out of my jacket and hold it. I can feel sweat running down my sides, in little sticky Pray Lady-hating rivulets. Of all days to be iPod free, it has to be today. On Pray Lady Day.

5. Izzle pfaff: No Parking.
(nominated by patita)Environmental theater, you see, eschews such pedestrian trappings such as audience seating. No, in environmental theater, you, the audience member, wander like a bedouin around the spaaace, maaaan, being careful not to f**k with the actors who are totally right there begging to be f**ked with or to kick over their water bottles or anything. Exploooore the spaaaace! Whoops, not that space or that space or that space, though, because those are for acting.


6. Waitress Dreams: fear dot mom.

(nominated by Pam)Later, while washing her big blue sweatshirts, some covered in teddy bears, others in Christmas trees, I thought about how numb I’ve become to my mother’s emotional outbursts. I couldn’t remember where I was when I stopped feeling anything when she started her pointless praying, chanting, bitching, moaning. I couldn’t remember what triggered, or didn’t trigger, my flat response.


7. JonnyB’s private secret diary: Friday, November 25, 2005.

(nominated by Rob, who has also nominated the comments, even though that’s not really allowed, but they are rather funny comments, it has to be said)”I’ve backed the Land Rover right up,” says Short Tony, as I stand in the old kitchen, my bent finger covering my mouth in that particular way that has been scientifically proven to help you think. I decide that if I stare at the washing machine for long enough then it will become a bit lighter.


8. A Sorry Existence: Voyeurism.

(nominated by mike)I am considering baking a basket full of morning goods and popping over to the new residents, you know, just to do the neighbourly thing. I’d quite like to make friends with some gays, as they can be such fun.


9. Londonist: SCOOP: NME Album Of The Year.

(nominated by mike)
It has come to our attention that this year, NME may have chosen to publish a doctored version of the aforementioned poll. According to our source, the list of albums printed in this week’s publication does not reflect the opinions of its writers, as you might expect. Instead, we’re told you’ll find a heavily edited version which, we have on good faith, takes some commercial and political factors into consideration.

Post withdrawn: background here.


10. Spaghetti and Truthballs: Santa Claus is coming to town.

(nominated by Pam)His christmas CD collection now takes up a 200 disc CD changer… and I kid you not, they broke an artificial tree because they overweighted it with ornaments. We don’t just have one advent calendar for our household…. We have one for every room.


11. Tiny Pineapple: Colin Ithn’t a Firth-Rate Kither.

(nominated by Rob)…in this case, the director appears to have pulled Mr. Firth aside and said, “Look, Colin, your agent just called to remind us about the ‘no mandible movement’ clause in your contract, so in this scene just try to keep everything else moving, OK? Open and close your jaw, turn your head from side to side, clutch her skull in ever-more-awkward ways. Just do whatever you have to do to disguise the fact that you kiss like a haddock.”


12. A Hand Full of Stars: toxic parents.

(nominated by Green Fairy)It is 1976. I saw a man regretting his past actions and attempting to correct the course his young life had taken. I saw him cruelly desert his English wife and three children. For a few moments, he had taken a risk and stepped out of that circle his ancestors had drawn around themselves. He had married for love, the riskiest of all. And he deserted her for comfort, for tradition. For safety.

Sheila, take a bow.

From the magnificent “Favourite John Peel quotes” thread on I Love Music, shortly after Peel’s untimely passing:

Autumn 78: after playing the debut Undertones EP in full for the second (?) time that week (I know it wasn’t the first time, ‘cos I heard that as well), he went into an extended speech along the lines of “People sometimes ask me what I do this show for. I don’t do it for the credibility or the cool, I don’t do it for the major record labels, I don’t do it for the music industry, I don’t do it for (etc etc)… I do it for people like (pause) The Undertones.” It was all very impromptu and impassioned and emotional, and had quite an impact on me.

— mike t-diva (mikejla@btinternet.com), October 27th, 2004.

A rough paraphase to be sure, but the general gist and thrust of it certainly accords with my memory, and I’d wager that it was about 75% accurate, word for word.

From page 312 of the even more magnificent Margrave Of The Marshes – Peel’s unfinished autobiography, completed in fine style by his widow Sheila after his death – which has had me alternately fighting back tears of laughter and emotion most lunchtimes for the past fortnight:

“People sometimes ask me what I do this show for”, John said. “I don’t do it for the credibility or the cool. I don’t do it for the major record labels. I don’t do it for the music industry … I do it for people like The Undertones.”

Nice one, Sheila! (And there are several other quotes from the same “dimly lit corner of the Internet” – heh! – dotted around her splendidly written half of the book.)

I always knew I’d make it into hardback one day.

Sons & Daughters, Vincent Vincent & The Villains, Ralfe Band, Nottingham Rescue Rooms.

First, the disappointment: no Clor! To be honest, it was Clor that I was most looking forward to seeing last night: they made a likeable debut album this year, with a couple of ace singles. In their place, I was faced with the prospect of slogging through two completely unknown support bands. On my own. With naught but draught cooking lager and guilty fags for company. Suddenly, I had a flash of empathy with Pete Ashton, and his noble Going Deaf For A Fortnight project. This could be tough going.

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First up, Ralfe Band (note the lack of “the”). A five-piece outfit, with a drummer and four multi-instrumentalists, all neatly lined up along the front of the stage. From left to right:

  • mandolin/pedal steel
  • violin/keyboards
  • semi-acoustic guitar/electric piano/lead vocals
  • bass guitar/snare drum & cowbell.

Consequently, every number they played in their short set featured a different instrumental line-up, with band members sometimes swapping instruments mid-song. This worked extremely well, not least because all the band members turned out to be fine, skilled musicians. In particular, there was a fantastic snare drum & cowbell/mandolin break in the middle of one of the faster songs, which earnt the band their first whoops from the audience. (Audience whoops when you’re third on the bill being a pretty impressive achievement round these parts.)

Influences? Hmm, very difficult to pin down. There was an overall Celtic/folky feel, à la Waterboys/Levellers, which made me feel that the band would do particularly well in the south-west of England – but thankfully, they didn’t overdo the raggle-taggle-gypsy-oh crusty-isms (or else they would have quickly lost me). There were also elements of country and blues, a smidge of Bad Seeds/Kurt Weill theatricality, and even a hint of early Cockney Rebel here and there. Without wishing to damn them by association, I could easily imagine a Ralfe Band track on a cover-mounted CD for Uncut or The Word. The readers of Mojo would definitely like them.

They were also being street-teamed to death: promotional postcards quite literally everywhere, and a bunch of Nice Young People wandering round the venue with clip-boards, collecting names and e-mail addresses in return for badges. (Unfortunately, the Nice Young Person I spoke to, having thoroughly enjoyed their set, knew next to nothing about them – which slightly spoilt the effect.)

Ralfe Band, then. Not what you might call bleeding-edge, but they could potentially do very well. A likeable bunch, who clearly love what they do, but perhaps they need to work a bit more on their stage-craft if they’re going to raise their game. (F**king hell, I’m starting to sound like Louis Walsh.) Hope they don’t get chewed up and spat out as nice safe corporate indie-lite; they’re too good for that.

During in the interval, I bumped into two former colleagues – I & J – whom I have often hung around with at gigs over the past few years. Hooray for company! Billy lots-of-mates!

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Vincent Vincent & The Villains were on next: a cheerful bunch of piss-takers, whose refusal to take themselves seriously made them impossible to dislike. Sure, the songs themselves were pretty daft – fast and snappy new wave power-pop, with comic lyrics and distinct rockabilly influences – but this didn’t stop the band performing them as if they were stars in their own private universe, whilst also being well aware of the absurdity of their preening and posturing. In particular, the be-quiffed lead guitarist (playing in his home town, with his family in the audience) seemed absolutely convinced that he was some sort of hugely shaggable Rock God – and hence, because he believed it, he sort of was.

God, I’m making them sound like The Darkness. They were nothing like The Darkness. Got that? Good.

The singer was one of those unlikely looking types who often make unexpectedly effective front men. Think 1970s Howard Devoto crossed with 1970s Tom Verlaine, with a cross-strain of 1970s Wreckless Eric. Bulging eyes, high forehead, a Dave-Hill-out-of-Slade fringe (with some suspicious evidence of an incipient comb-over), and bearing a home-made logo on the back of his jacket, which spelt out THE VINCENTS in what could easily have been white gaffer tape. I liked the way that, straight after the first number, he called for the sound engineer to turn down the volume on the lead guitarist. Ooh, power struggle! We like!

Earlier on, I & J had witnessed one hapless member of the band being refused entry to the venue, and actually being chucked out of the front door by the bouncer. This gave them a perfect opportunity to dedicate a song to him – which turned out to be a scathing, sarcastic attack on the pathetic nature of the existence of all bouncers everywhere. So witheringly apt that it could almost have been made up on the spot, this had the band grinning from ear to ear throughout at its startling appropriateness.

Over on the merchandise stand, Ralfe Band had CDs, 7-inch singles, more badges and more postcards. Meanwhile, Vincent Vincent & The Villains had… combs. Yes, combs. Which kind of says it all.

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And finally, onto Sons & Daughters – a band whom I had last seen supporting the Fiery Furnaces, at one of the best and most enduringly memorable gigs of 2004. I had a lot of time for last year’s Love The Cup mini-album, which I played incessantly for several months – but having heard both singles from their latest album The Repulsion Box, had felt rather let down. Gone was their distinctive gothic country rockabilly, and in its place was something which sounded a little too close to bog-standard, NME-friendly, typically 2005-style garage-rock. It all struck me as rather short-term, opportunistic, and a waste of the band’s potential – and so I was there to give them one last chance.

Well. I stand corrected. Yes, Sons & Daughters are quite a different proposition now than in 2004 – but in a wholly positive way. There’s a new energy and focus to their sound and to their stage presence: having sharpened up their act, they’re now performing like a proper rock and roll band, as opposed to a nervous bunch of indie under-achievers. There’s confidence there now, and a real sense of attack.

This was especially apparent in lead singer Adele Bethel, who stalked the stage like an avenging fury. Constantly rocking herself backwards and forwards, looking and sounding fantastic, she still managed to hold just enough of herself back to retain that vital sense of mystique.

And guess what: the new stuff sounded spot-on, and a perfectly logical progression from the old stuff; everything blended together seamlessly, with the Love The Cup songs toughened up a bit, in order to match the rockier Repulsion Box material. In fact, the highlight of the whole set was one of the newer singles: “Taste The Last Girl”, which came across like The Au Pairs covering “What Difference Does It Make”. Yes, that good.

Sons & Daughters, then. I sense that this is a band who are now ready for larger stages, and who will know what to do once they’re on them. Next time they play Nottingham, I’ll be less apologetic about going to see them, and more determined to drag my gang of regulars out with me.

Ah, good old-fashioned guitar bands. They may not inspire quite so much semi-intellectualised purple prose as certain other musical genres, but on a freeze-your-bollocks-off Wednesday night in Nottingham, I can think of no better way of spending an evening.