Saturday, 23 February 2013

Gunnerside Gill

This week some friends of ours have been staying nearby in a holiday cottage in Leyburn. On Wednesday we went for a walk up Gunnerside Gill in Swaledale.

I'd forgotten just how magnificent it is. The village of Gunnerside stands at the foot of the Gill, almost on the banks of the Swale itself. This is the closest the road gets to the Gill, so we parked there and set off. The path on the map is slightly confusing - in fact, it doesn't seem to exist on the ground - but we soon found another, which led us to a land-rover track that contours along the steep western side of the valley. We found ourselves looking down on the stream that runs along the valley floor and across to another path that meandered across the hillside above the far bank and which would take us back to Gunnerside later on.

After a couple of miles this path arrives at the most industrialised part of the Gill. Why do we consider industry to be such an ugly intrusion on a landscape while at the same time preserving and promoting industrial heritage? The upper part of the Gill has been scoured down to bare rock by intensive mining operations. Here and there you come across the picturesque ruins of mine buildings. At first glance everything seems to be the colour of rock, or the colour of storm clouds (perhaps they're the same, or so my memory seems to tell me). The place has an austere beauty about it and, in fact, a lot of England's bleak, beautiful places were created by human industry. One need look no further than its deforested moors.

At one point on the path we came across the entrance to a mine - a drystone arch that, on closer examination, formed the start of a tunnel that ran in a straight line far into the hillside. Two of us ventured a short way in - we had to bend down as the roof was low. Ferns grew from the walls. Water trickled between the rocks on the floor. We shone the torch ahead of us. The further we ventured, the further on the tunnel seemed to go.

We didn't go far - just three or four paces. Fools rush in and all that. A complete novice, I'd been lucky enough to be taken down a Swaledale mine once before with a team experienced in mine rescue. I'd been well-drilled in the dangers at the time. Unlike caves, mines are man-made. From the moment they're first dug, nature patiently begins to reclaim them. The walls and the roofs become unstable and prone to fall in. In an old mine, I'd been told, never touch the ceiling or the walls. Carry a good supply of spare torches and batteries and woe betide anyone who gets lost underground in a maze of tunnels. The picture Tolkien paints of the Mines of Moria (well-known to Lord of the Rings readers), if anything, understates the potential awfulness of it all.

On that previous mine trip we were walking down a passage when the person ahead of me suddenly cried out and stumbled backwards. In the darkness he'd put his foot down into empty space. Fortunately, his instinctive reaction to throw himself backwards saved him on that occasion. We could hear gravel he'd dislodged from the edge of the pit clattering below us in the darkness for several seconds before it came to rest. Our torches revealed a sheer-sided hole of unknown depth that spanned the whole width of the passage-floor.

In lead mines one can come across deep, vertical passages divided horizontally by wooden floors. Spoil from side passages used to be indiscriminately heaped on these wooden platforms. Wood rots. One can stumble over -or under- one of these and set off a collapse of platform after platform. We're talking the stuff of nightmares here.

Needless to say, although the tunnel we'd discovered in the hillside went on and on, I had no desire on this occasion to go on and on into it. Instead, we stepped back into the daylight, where the others were waiting, and set off on the return leg to Gunnerside. Our outward journey had been a bleak land-rover track. This part of the walk was more interesting: the path wove up and down the steep fields of the Gill's Eastern side, in and out of drystone walls and ancient structures built by the lead miners. Towards the end it wound through a wood, running along the bank of the stream that had accompanied us -usually at a distance- all afternoon.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Who was the man in the macintosh?

A while ago, I posted a quiz based on Joyce's Ulysses. I thought it was perhaps time I produced the answers!

If you want to read the questions before you see the answers, click here, quickly, before you read any more...

1. What three things should an Irishman be wary of?
 "Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon." (An Irish saying).

2. What did Mr Deasy think Stephen would find very handy?
 A savingsbox.

3. What is the live dog called?

4. What did Milly buy her father for his birthday?
 A  moustache cup of imitation Crown Derby.

5. What did the soap smell of?
 Lemon. "Mr Bloom raised a cake to his nostrils. Sweet lemony wax."

6. Who darns Mr Bloom's socks?
 Mrs Fleming. "Glad I took that bath. Feel my feet quite clean. But I wish Mrs Fleming had darned these socks better."

7. What opera is like a railway line?
 "Lenehan announced gladly: - The Rose of Castile. See the wheeze? Rows of cast steel. Gee!"

8. What sort of cheese does Bloom have in his sandwich?
 Gorgonzola. In Davy Byrne's pub, "Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese."

9. What did Stephen drink with Dan Deasy's ducats?
  "Three drams of usquebaugh" (whiskey).

10. What was not on the slab?
 Wolfe Tone's statue.

11. "From the saloon a call came, long in dying." Who had forgotten what?
 The piano tuner his tuning fork.

12. Who won the Gold Cup?

13. Who kissed Molly under the Moorish Wall beside the gardens?
 Lieutenant Mulvey.

14. Who is the "remarkablest progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding most farraginous chronicle"?
 Theodore Purefoy.

15. Bloom's real name is Higgins - according to whom?
 The man in the mackintosh (see below). Higgins was Bloom's mother's maiden name.

16. What flashed "through his (Bloom's) busy brain"?
 "All kinds of Utopian plans."

17. What is home without Plumtree's Potted Meat?

18. What year did the Blooms marry?

I was going to ask the question, who was the man in the macintosh? However, I don't think we ever find out.

The caretaker put the papers in his pocket. The barrow had ceased to trundle. The mourners split and moved to each side of the hole, stepping with care round the graves. The gravediggers bore the coffin and set its nose on the brink, looping the bands round it.

Burying him. We come to bury Caesar. His ides of March or June. He doesn't know who is here nor care. Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I'd like to know? Now I'd give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of. A fellow could live on his lonesome all his life. Yes, he could. Still he'd have to get someone to sod him after he died though he could dig his own grave. We all do. Only man buries. No, ants too. First thing strikes anybody. Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.
Oh Poor Robinson Crusoe!
How could you possibly do so?
Poor Dignam! His last lie on the earth in his box. When you think of them all it does seem a waste of wood. All gnawed through. They could invent a handsome bier with a kind of panel sliding, let it down that way. Ay but they might object to be buried out of another fellow's. They're so particular. Lay me in my native earth. Bit of clay from the holy land. Only a mother and deadborn child ever buried in the one coffin. I see what it means. I see. To protect him as long as possible even in the earth. The Irishman's house is his coffin. Embalming in catacombs, mummies the same idea.
Mr Bloom stood far back, his hat in his hand, counting the bared heads. Twelve. I'm thirteen. No. The chap in the macintosh is thirteen. Death's number. Where the deuce did he pop out of? He wasn't in the chapel, that I'll swear. Silly superstition that about thirteen.                                                                   James Joyce, Ulysses: Episode 6: Hades

I like the theory that perhaps he's Mr Duffy (from the Dubliners story, A Painful Case):

He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed. He lived his spiritual life without any communion with others, visiting his relatives at Christmas and escorting them to the cemetery when they died. He performed these two social duties for old dignity's sake but conceded nothing further to the conventions which regulate the civic life.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

OK Alex

Just had a short story, OK Alex, posted at the online sci-fi short story magazine,  Nihilist Scifi. Astute long term readers of this blog might have caught a preview here, some years ago.

My - that's probably my shortest post ever. Almost a tweet.