Thursday, 31 January 2013

Hopes and Dreams

I've just had a piece posted on Rachel Fox's new blog All Our Hopes and Dreams (thank you, Rachel). In case you're not familiar with it, it's a project extending an ongoing open invitation to anyone who wants to to send Rachel a piece about their hopes and dreams. If that leaves you scratching your head, she provides a few questions to help potential essayists to get going:

1. What were your hopes and dreams when you were a child?
2. Did any of them come true in any sense?
3. What are your hopes and dreams now?
4. Do you really think any of them are possible?

I don't think answering them is compulsory - in fact, I think she's open to all kinds of submissions on the theme of hopes and dreams in all kinds of media.

You can read what I wrote here.

Sunday, 27 January 2013


We drove up Swaledale this afternoon to visit a few sites we'd noted in the past where K fancied taking photographs. As the snow is melting fast and it has been raining a lot, the river and the waterfalls were at their most dramatic. The weather kept changing. One minute the sun shone, the next we were in the midst of fierce showers of rain, hail or snow. It was windy and intensely cold, so we didn't want to spend a lot of time out of the car. We hoped a gallery or a teashop might be open where we could take a break but no such luck (we'd driven the same route the week before and, to our surprise, one or two places had been open). We drove as far up the dale as we felt to be sensible. Not far from the highest point, where the road crosses the col which divides Mallerstang Edge from Nine Standards Rigg, we stopped and turned round, as the road was encrusted with ice. Fortunately, there was a layby at this point. We stopped and opened the flask of coffee we'd brought with us. All around us the hills were streaked with snow. I pointed the camera out the car window and took a couple of photographs. The one I've included here is, I'd guess, the East side of Mallerstang Edge.

 We made our way back down the steep, winding road, stopping for K to take photographs of the waterfalls at Cotterby Scar. This outcrop lies just West of Keld, a small village situated at the crossroads of two long-distance footpaths, the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast path.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands

I've just finished a Fred Vargas novel - one of my favourite crime writers, along with Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers (who I haven't read for ages) and Georges Simenon. In Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, Vargas' detective, Jean-Baptiste Adamsburg, goes in pursuit of a bizarre serial killer who murders his victims with a trident. Even more bizarre, the man thought to be "the Trident" has apparently been dead for years. To make matters worse, it's not exactly clear whether Adamsburg will catch his man or himself be caught for a murder the Canadian Mounted Police are convinced he comitted.

Pink Lake in Ottowa and Strasburg cathedral are drafted in as extras, each performing symbolic roles in the machinations of Adamsburg's mind. "Machinations" is perhaps the wrong word. Adamsburg is not known for solving crimes logically - he relies on intuition or, as somebody puts it, "shovelling clouds".

As usual, the details of the story and the personalities of the characters are almost but not quite sufficiently off-beat to suggest that the action takes place in a parallel universe. Expect the unexpected - people are revealed as having surprising interests and talents. There's a nonogenarian computer hacker in furry slippers, a policeman (Danglard) in a wooly hat from which a pom-pom is obviously missing (a detail you can spot in the video, below). Lieutenant Retancourt is a deft masseuse, who can magically massage Danglard to sleep during a long haul flight (Danglard is terrified of flying). Being overweight, Retancourt is frequently called on  to sit on uncooperative suspects and even hide people under her voluminous dressing-gown.

I think I've read all of Vargas' detective stories now - all those available in English, that is. Fortunately, there's another one coming out soon. To my knowledge, sadly, no-one has seen fit to show the series of Adamsburg stories made for French TV in Britain. I couldn't find many excerpts from them on Youtube - and none with subtitles. This one seems to have been made to promote the actress who plays Retancourt and features scenes from Sous les vents de Neptune (the original title of Wash this Blood). From what I can tell, Corinne Masiero makes a great Retancourt. My schoolboy French isn't quite upto it but, if you know the book you can  more or less work out which scene is which. It certainly captures the atmosphere.

SPOILER WARNING: It depends on your idea of a spoiler, but don't watch more than a minute or two and definitely don't watch the last 3 and a half minutes if you want to read the book.
It would be great if this series found its way onto British TV (why on earth hasn't it?) but you can't have everything. I mean, in 2014 the Tour de France will be passing less than 2 miles from our house - and at the weekend, when I'll be around to watch it!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Tewfit How

Back in 2009 I suffered a running injury which stopped me running for a year and then only allowed me to start up my running gradually again, building up to 7 or 8 miles a week. You can imagine what a relief it was  this week when I realised I'd done 10 miles with no ill effects and still had a couple of days to go.

I celebrated with a run to the summit of Tewfit How - a rather insignificant knoll not too far from here.  This brought me up to a grand weekly total of over 13 miles which leaves me feeling even better. Although hardly anyone else seems to go there, apart from keepers looking after their birds, if there were a formula for finding the best, wildest place close to where one lives (perhaps a number of "stars" divided by miles from the back door) then Tewfit How would come out tops for me. It's not a great fell run - most of the route consists of Land Rover tracks laid with hard-core, but it's a great way of getting out into a wild place at this time of year, when the ground is cold and squelchy. It's not a taxing ascent, either: the track rises gradually. The panoramic view back down it comes as something of a surprise though, and leaves one feeling quite pleased with one's self. And its shortcomings, for me, are more than made up for by its close proximity.

And then there's the view from the top. This is the Northern edge of Wensleydale and, standing by the summit cairn you suddenly realise you've reached the wilder, upper regions of the dale. Opposite, Pen Hill, another "high-scoring" local wild place and the one which marks a similar point on the Southern edge, rises up. To the West, the broad, green bowl of the dale is edged with a rim of bleak fells. Somewhere below lies Aysgarth Falls. During periods of heavy rain, these are an awesome sight, totally overwhelmed by a thundering volume of water. Above the falls, the river spreads out to fill the valley bottom - it becomes, briefly, the kind of vast, broad river one expects to see in bigger countries than England.

Today, however, there's no more than a light drizzle to contend with, although the sky's a turmoil of cloud. The low winter sun breaks through here and there, casting oddly-coloured tints of light on the otherwise dull landscape. I linger for a minute or two. My eye follows the line of the fell-edges, tracing an imaginary run around the dale's skyline. In a way it's an enticing prospect. However, what takes the eye a second or two would, I know, be a grim, endless trudge on a day like this; not like the run back, which is a lot easier as the tracks all tilt downwards and the wind -which I fought all the way up- is on my back. What a morning.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Wild Blue Yonder

Someone very kindly gave me a DVD of the Werner Herzog film, The Wild Blue Yonder for Christmas. In it an alien, played by Brad Dourif, narrates the tale of his people's exodus from a home planet in the Andromeda nebula and of their arrival on earth. He goes on to tell how, based on events arising from the Roswell incident, humans have set out to find another inhabitable planet. His narration is illustrated with re-contextualized NASA footage (mainly from a space shuttle mission) and overlaid with music, some of it Herzog's trademark classical-dramatic, most of it devised by cellist-composer Ernst Reijseger in collaboration with a group of vocalists. Towards the end we're taken beneath what looks like the arctic ice-cap.

I'm not a great watcher of films and know very little about film. However, I've always really liked Werner Herzog's work and I enjoyed this one even though I wouldn't rate it among his best. If you haven't seen any other of his films, I wouldn't start with this one - check out The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser instead. I suspect The Wild Blue Yonder is easier to watch if one is attuned to Herzog's way of doing things.

Although it's not his best, I found a lot to like. Are we meant to think the alien is an alien, a man with mental health issues or simply a man playing an incongruous, impossible character based on trains of popular thought? True, his wild extrapolations based on the film clips we see are reminiscent of the misinterpretations of mental illness but what emerges is a kind of mythical truth. One is left wondering if one needs to go the the verge of madness sometimes to approach deep truth.

In the intriguing short film about the film's music which comes as an extra on the DVD, Herzog mentions his idea of "ecstatic truth" - that this is what he hopes to convey is his films, as opposed to what he describes as a more prosaic "accountant's truth". I thought of this when I saw the alien's account of the way the earth-people supposedly welcomed the travellers from Andromeda illustrated by archive footage of what I think was Bleriot's landing and rapturous reception on crossing the English Channel in a monoplane. It seemed to expose the way the whole movie worked.

It can be hard work but it's worth it - which thought leaves me feeling rather wistful, wondering what people in the future will make of all the difficult stuff art-makers have been producing during the last hundred years. Will they take the trouble required to appreciate it or will they opt instead for pictures of things, music with a beat and simply told, real-life stories? I do hope they hang in there and don't just leave it for the historians to dig through. Long live Werner Herzog.