Sunday, 24 August 2008

Of Motorcycles, Poetry and Mountains

What an interesting week!

On Thursday night Karen and I went to the house of some friends and saw the film Motorcycle Diaries for the first time: the story of a journey around South America made made a youthful Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado. I thought it was brilliant. Although there has been a lot of controversy about the use of Che's image as a fashion statement recently, I must confess to owning a couple of Che Guevara T-shirts. If I count reading his book, Guerrilla Warfare, many years ago, I can actually say, for the first time in my life, that I've (to quote a cliché) “seen the film, read the book and got the T shirt”.


Friday: Ernesto Priego (see his Never Neutral blog in my blog-list) has published his poetry chapbook, Days of Flowers on the internet. I'm reading it a bit at a time. I've got as far as (and really enjoyed) He/saw himself/in the mirror. This poem is written in Spanish and English and it's brilliantly disorientating, the way it forces the eye to jump around, searching for its first language. All the poems are written in Hay(na)ku form or 'reverse Hay(na)ku'. For anyone reading who doesn't know, the Hay(na)ku is a three line poem in which the first line contains one word, the second two and the third, three. Hay(na)ku verses can be linked together to form longer poems.


Yesterday: a typical Saturday in August on the Old Man of Coniston. Parents were taking their children for a walk up what was probably their first “big hill”. Young couples, organised groups, dogs, bicycles were all strung out along the path that winds and zigzags its way up through the old mine workings, past the tarn and (perhaps the steepest pull) up onto the summit ridge. I had arranged a long while ago with a friend, Felicity, to meet up in the Lake District this weekend, and this was the hill we decided to do. For some reason it never occurred to me to resent the crowds: it all seemed rather fun and, looking back on it today, it reminded me somewhat of demonstrations she and I had been on in London, many years ago.

On the ridge, a gusty wind was blowing – the sort of wind that gets on your nerves if you're tired and you've walked a long way. We weren't yet, and we hadn't. Nevertheless, we rested for a minute or two in the shelter of the cairn before setting off along the ridge to Swirl How.

No sooner had we left the cairn, than the crowd seemed to vanish. Many people climb to the summit but not half so many continue along the ridge. This gently undulates its way to Swirl How, a slightly more remote and rocky summit. From there, we made our way down the oddly-named Prison Band. This is a steep, rocky ridge, the boulders and small outcrops of which offer endless short, rocky scrambles if you look for them. Most of the rock is rough, and offers numerous “jug handle” holds(1).

At the foot of the Band, we turned right, taking the sometimes soggy path along the edge of Levers Water. I was tempted to go for a swim and made a mental note to take trunks and a towel with me (well, a towel at least – one has to consider the weight one has to carry!) on future Lake District walks. Reflecting a nasty past experience involving broken glass, I'll probably throw in a pair of old trainers as well, heavy or not.

Back to the car, and back to Felicity's mother's house, where she was staying, and where we were both very kindly well-fed. Then home: a long-ish drive through the Yorkshire Dales in the dark, listening to the radio.

(1)I hadn't intended to make this an Arthur Ransome journey -or an Arthur Ransome post, for that matter- but it was hard not to think about him on this walk. The Old Man of Coniston was the model for Kanchenjunga, the mountain the children climb in the book, Swallowdale, and which has had more than one mention in this blog already. I'll have to go back and explore the area in more detail some time, but descending Prison Band on Swirl How, I could not help wondering if it hadn't inspired some of the details on Ransome's imaginary mountain:

“Are there any precipices?” asked Roger.
“There really are plenty,” said Peggy.
“We shan't go by the path,” said Nancy. “When we come to a rock, we'll go over it.”

Arthur Ransome: Swallowdale, pp365-366

The parallel is quite striking, and, although there are many such ridges in the Lake District, I'm sure any Ransome-fan would think these thoughts on traversing the Band: it's probably found its way into the literature somewhere. There is even a good candidate for the “tough bit”, the cliff that so nearly spells disaster for Roger.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dominic, for your kind words.

Dominic Rivron said...

No problem. I enjoyed reading the book (I've read it all now). My favourites are definitely He/saw himself/in the mirror and The/last day/of my life.