Jul 10 2017

I only walk the Coffin Trail because it’s called the Coffin Trail

I only want to walk the Coffin Trail because it’s called the Coffin Trail.


Happily it’s not called the Coffin Trail for some disappointing mundane uncoffiny reason but because it is the ancient  route the coffin-bearers took  in order to bury their load in consecrated ground.


The start of the walk is quintessentially Lake District. This means saying ‘Fucking hell!’ too loudly in front of a prim pink faced family of five when looking at the prices to park your suddenly shabby looking car, being bemused at to why someone would pay those prices to throw a bag of used nappies by a lake and to wonder if the group of Asian tourists chattering excitedly and snapping everything (probably including the random picturesque  fly-tipping) with enormous Nikons have come straight out of the National Stereotype Annual.


Nevermind. I have read or at least thought happily about the dark atmosphere of the coffin trail, the sense of past and present drifting, ebbing, merging into that final dark grim walk into the black cold earth.


No Parking signs in Chinese don’t quite feature in this bleak fantasy but it’s cool. I close my eyes, start the steep descent up the coffin trail trying to ignore the constant  arrogant woosh of over confidently driven spotless 4 by 4s driven by people I hate without knowing.


About a metre up the coffin trail (and I do dislike walking ‘up’) I regret wearing a long white dress and flip flops as I repeatedly stop to pull over as a steady stream of octogenarians with gnarled brown legs and futuristic walking shoes overtake. I am an old shit cheap car on a busy A road not a mystic traveller into legend and darkness. Typical.


About a metre and 30 seconds up the coffin trail, I am sweating more than when I saw the car parking prices sign and wondering why the hell people bothered.


If I knew I might have to take a dear beloved person up this incline who is just sliding unhelpfully around in a box, possibly with the path less shingled and no booking at Zefferillis at 2pm in Ambleside to ease the pain because vegetarian Italian restaurants were thin on the ground back then- and I suspect Pinot Grigio at £7.40 a glass  and a meal primarily based on aubergine would not go down well with a sodden shattered grieving fellsman -I might feel somewhat short-changed. Literally.


About a metre and 35 seconds up the incline I am generally confused as to why people did not make their nearly dead family or friends walk themselves to Ambleside on  the pretext of a nice non aubergine based meal out and then leap out at them shouting ‘SURPRISE’ or ‘OH MY GOD, IS THAT THE GRIM REAPER STANDING OVER YOU JUST NOW?’ in the hope that Nature would take its course thus saving them a tiring slight incline.


Maybe just off the verges  by the start of the trail, there is a pile of annoyingly heavy bones chucked there centuries ago, like that bag of nappies and the coffin- bearers acted all innocently when they arrived fresh-faced and sweat-free in Ambleside. ‘Aye, she was on that new diet, that new fangled err Sticky Weed based one she read about in yon fashionable Almanac, looked good so she did apart when she died. Anyone for an overpriced Ploughmans? ‘


Maybe the second a portly but loved one started to slightly sicken or reach 30, the people around them thought of that incline and were all like ‘Mary, love, that’s quite enough pottage for you, have some nettle juice instead for the rest of your life, aye.’


Maybe that’s how MDF was invented.


I try desperately to dwell on death on a sweet early July morning but cheery walkers in sensible clothes keep ruining for me with their chirpy ‘hellos’ and the nervous etiquette that such things beget.


When does one say ‘hello’ first?

What if they don’t respond and you feel slighted by someone in too brightly coloured clothing that you never actually wanted to say hello to in the first place?

Do you say hello to all of the rusty retired healthy happy people in brightly coloured Gore Tex who live in pleasant tree lined streets in houses called ‘The Villa’ or ‘The Gables’ or just their amicable yet cold-eyed leader?


I am asked if I am allright by a concerned looking person a lot older than me as I slide down an embarrassingly small outcrop of pebble on my bum because I don’t trust my sandals or legs.


This is not walking a pilgrimage of the dead into the past.


All these stupid people people flocking somewhere beautiful and natural ruins it for someone like me trying to go somewhere beautiful and natural.


We walk to Hawkshead. A long winding road past  empty, whitewashed farmhouses with  old names etched recently in old font into modern slate outside to be clearly visible to the next booker. These farmhouses without farms, these houses without cats, dogs or chickens, these cottages with security alarms and pristine empty gardens, identikit windows with an identikit tasteful ornament in the middle, white curtains and a sign outside telling you how to book it.


Oh how we sneered at all the rural fakeness of it all when we arrived back at our pristine tasteful hotel.

It’s so easy to sneer. I think next time for authentic authenticity, I shall take the dead mouldering body of someone I love, scrabble desperately with it through mud, black and slime, my hands bleeding and calloused, my belly empty, my head fearful as I hear the hideous heavy thump of bones against wood roughly thwacking me off balance as my feet slide on some unholy slither as the woods creep slowly in and I don’t know if it is the the branches of a tree or something , something else clutching me as I fall.


I think this might be a unique marketing idea.


Oct 1 2016

Relating a pleasant apple based day to the misery of politics

It is 11.20am and Apple Day is doomed. bunt An over-officious and over-wrought woman who looks like Theresa May is explaining the various catalysts that have occurred since Apple Day’s official starting time of twenty minute ago to a volunteer Apple Day assistant who has  the contorted, confused but benign face that reads ‘Why did I agree to help on Apple Day? In fact did I ever agree to help on Apple Day?’ apple ‘It was a lot busier than this last year, a lot busier at this time,’ Overwrought Managerial Apple Day woman who looks like Theresa May says staring with bleak despair at the happy throng skipping towards the Apple Day festivities. ‘I think the problem is is that people looked at the initial weather forecast and planned home-based activities instead.’ I think about the concept of looking at a weather forecast and planning a home based activity in the unlikely event Apple Day in Ulverston  is called off. I think about the concept of a planning a home based activity. Either Overwrought Managerial Apple Day Woman who looks like Theresa May  knows better people than me or they don’t get CBBC in Ulverston. boar Overwrought Managerial Apple Day Woman who looks like Theresa May has not finished explaining yet. I wonder when she actually started. She shows the volunteer a basket of lumpen sturdy apples and explains the concept of the game. The concept of the game is to peel the longest unbroken piece of apple skin. Then the health and safety kicks in. ‘This stall can’t be left for a minute. Because of the peelers’. apllllll Suddenly all I can see through the warm October shards of sunlight are cruel twisted faces of evil. Evil that given a chance will peel you with an unguarded peeler and leave your broken slimy entrails dangling by the apple related bunting whilst it goes to to peel and peel again.


Serious faced people trundle past with manky apples in wheelbarrows to see them transformed into what strongly resembles the viscous  first wee of the day. There are Morris Dancers! There is bunting, apple cake, apple pie! It’s like if the Great British Bake-off and that poem about spinsters on bicycles playing cricket or whatever has all become one great ‘Brexit’ dream about the identity of England. rot A Blackcurrant Fruit Shoot adrift in a fake purple shoe on the vaguely apple themed tombola is Judas and all the genial looking men proudly holding warty but honest apples are definitely Jeremy Corbyn. shpot A polite well dressed man smiles amicably as his dog has a shit near the playground and suddenly I remember the heady days of Nigel Farage. Oh England. Oh Apple Day. Oh Blackcurrant Fruit Shoot on a raft of fake shoe with a trail of bedraggled peeling glitter behind you. I do like you.   lat

Jul 22 2014

The Best Pub In The World (made up for camping)

ravenstonedale 1

I hate camping. The waking up at a 90 degree slant with a dry mouth, an over- full bladder and a hairbrush molded painfully into your pelvis after someone on ketamine called Ketamine Pete stumbles over your tent-pegs repeatedly and his mate, Si, laughs with a really annoying high pitched burst  at irregular short spaced intervals all night long.

Then you semi-wake from drifting uncomfortable burning/broiling hellish semi-consciousness with either the unrelenting sound of rain smashing against the sagging flaccid Ketamine Pete shaped dome of your Eurohike or burning relentless sun making you feel like an unappetising hairbrush and stale alcohol flavoured pizza in a sagging burning  Eurohike topping.

It will be 5.35 am at this point and you will NOT get back to sleep.


And if you piss in the saucepan, the saucepan is always too suddenly too tragically too late small for the surprise enormous piss and you discover the hurriedly  emptied by being splashed outside the tent saucepan being used to make baked beans by a cheery eyed fellow tent-person who loves camping.


This cheers you up.


I hate camping. I have only ever done it at festivals  for the pure reason to be gruesomely debauched at a  festival and certainly never ever considered it festival-less with a small child. I’m not an idiot.


It is festival season now and I am with a small child in a campsite minus a festival. It is a very pleasant campsite, Low Greenside Farm, hill and field ringed and pleasingly free from the sea of irritatingly jolly expensively water-proofed campers I was fearing wide-eyed at four am the previous morning. I’m not a general fan of people. Especially when they rustle.


Tragically, I greatly enjoy researching holidays on the internet. Since the decline of cash and the arrival of the child, the excited search for the best deal on boutique hotels in Edinburgh ( ‘well someone on Tripadvisor said the lavender chocolates on the pillow were the same for two days running!’) has been sadly discontinued.

Now I am looking for cheap campsites in a safe proximity  to our house.

I try to utilise  this to my advantage and look for campsites near good pubs. The Lake District is out because our only view would be the kayak on top of the car that is worth more than our house in the queue in front on the M6.


Hmmm,  Ravenstonedale- 45 minutes away and two good pubs, the campsite looks refreshingly deserted of hoards of ruddy faced pains (who might even sing in a jolly fashion-that has been another major concern )  in Hunter wellies, indeed pleasantly free of anything apart from toilets.

I approve of toilets. They are better than people.


Ravenstonedale itself (and is that not the best name for a place ever? You think of err, ravens, stones and even dales if you have a particularly imaginative frame of mind. Often places called things like Cherry Tree Orchard have been named by Persimmon or Barrat Homes to replace what was previously there but here in Ravenstonedale ( say it again and it’s all Tolkien) there are no Barrat homes, just jovial people who beam at you and give a jolly ‘hello’ and a coment on the weather before touching up the Tudor exterior timber on their annoyingly ancient beautiful house like that is a totally normal thing to be doing in 2014. In a recession. In the North.


It is a village that time and Barrats Home forgot. Apart from the prices of a large red wine. And we all know that is a major theme of Unicycle Emptiness.

However and you will probably all faint at this. I have finally been to the BEST PUB IN THE WORLD.

good p

That’s it now. I have jumped the shark. Life is now meaningless. My search for the best pub in the world (well within a close proximity to the North West of England) is over. It is the Black Swan. I feel a bit like Edmund Hillary.

If Edmund’s main endeavour had been sitting getting slightly drunk in a massive pub garden that he discovered on Tripadvisor.


It is a particularly massive beer garden though with all the things I am doomed to never discover in a beer garden again- a stream with a tyre swing over it,  a friendly cat, red squirrels, a hammock, trees, garden games such as quits and skittles, a bbq hut and bbq selling for a reasonable price freshly grilled local meat or in my case a portobello and halloumi burger with watercress (£4)

Oh and the camping? Reader, I managed it.

Despite the five am rain.



Jun 8 2014

Appleby Horse Fair 2014

An elderly female volunteer looks out of the window of the charity shop and her eyes fall on a Traveller girl wearing approximately eight inches of platform wedge and six inches of neon nylon.

‘ Aww, she looks likes she’s dressed for a night out’, she beams in delight.

It is 11am at Appleby Horse Fair and I am in a slight state of shock and awe.

And annoyingly fear.


totness better 20130413_124357tree

I am on my own as deciding the three year old bolter was probably not suited to a place featuring fast moving horses, I have left him and his dad at Kirkby Stephen to wholesomely look at trains.



The train from Kirkby Stephen to Appleby is surely the best ever way to spend four pounds (return fare) Fifteen minutes of mountains, packhorse bridges and fields slide past in a happy glow. The man sitting opposite me with the Sunday Times and a real ale ( it is not yet 11am at the point) is probably in even more of a happy glow.


Then suddenly Appleby, a small quaint town normally sitting in a homemade snug smug nest  of pastel bunting and Very Nice Cake.



I am suddenly the only person on my own. People seems to be travelling in herds, laughing, swearing and joking. I go to cross the road then seeing the horses and traps whizz past, wonder if it is viable to just stay on the same side of the road all day.


I feel pale and old compared to the vibrant throng around me, the Spectre at the feast. The feast I can’t eat as the smell of meat permeates the air. There seem to be no other pale mid- thirties single vegetarian Goths here. I don’t normally define myself as a Goth but compared to everyone else’s skin tones, I appear to have been recently exhumed.


It is of course utterly brilliant. I have heard about the fair, seen the horses and bowtops traverse through Lancaster, romantic and timeless (‘unless you’re stuck behind one’, I hear an angry voice from the Daily Mail shout)

Now I am bedazzled by primary coloured throngs, snatches of equally colourful banter and the horses, the only staid placid things in this merry carnival. Until you try to cross the road.


Oh and just as an aside to the imaginary Daily Mail reader shouting at the back, they are all in fantastic condition. Glossy eyed and haired, well kept coats and no signs of neglect. And today I learn the Fairy Liquid is the best horse shampoo ever. You would be an idiot to mistreat an animal here anyway as the RSPCA, the police and Blue Cross are out in force.

In fact I am probably the only thing in Appleby without glossy eyes and a thick mane of hair.


Snatches of conversation drift past (‘sure they may be beautiful girls but..’) intangible and alien accents when trying to decipher through a cloud of whinneys, splashes, shouts and car stereo bass.


Some Traveller girls step out of a cafe into the path of  a mobility scooter plowing through the crowds. They apologise. She stares at them angrily and silently before continuing her constantly thwarted quest along the pavements of Appleby.

I’m still hungry but the pubs and cafes are rammed and either there has been a massive VAT rise since I last came to Appleby several months ago or cafes are cashing in Glastonbury style- a fiver for a bowl of bloody soup from a distinctly average slightly sticky cafe? i decide to just not eat. That’ll show them.

I queue in a smart polite line for the cash machine. You don’t see that sort of thing on ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.’ Then someone throws a bottle out of a 4×4 whilst laughing. Bugger. I hope no-one from the Daily Mail notices. But  a thousand telescopic lenses flash around me in a cacophony of glee and spite. Possibly.


Dyspraxia means I walk around the town three times looking for the market until someone tells me the actual directions and I realise I don’t have time to go. Or indeed to look at the rows of ancient gypsy caravans which was my original intention.

I have just spent three hours trying to cross the road to be cross about the price of soup and envying teenagers thighs instead.


For fucks sake.

Next year will be very different.










Apr 11 2014

I forgot a clever thing I was going to write about Milnthorpe

There was something very clever I was going to say about Milnthorpe.

I was pleased with my splendid wry bon mot. It was definitely a site specific phrase as well. I don’t normally do this but because I was amazed with the fecundity of my brain, I laboriously stabbed it into the Notes app of my dieing Samsung. Just like Charles Dickens. Then did not press ‘save.’

Forgetting and/or losing something you have created instantly make is it the best thing to have ever existed.

Milnthorpe is quite small and I was waiting for a lift anyway so I walked around it again for that ‘oh fuck, that was the inspiration for that amazing witty thing what I wrote then deleted then forgot.’

But the squat grey buildings stared at me impassively.

I have either missed a major artery of Milnthorpe or am just stupid (both equally valid options) because in my head there was a really good bit (now escalated to just like Narnia in my head)  but in real life, just struggling veins clawing out of the main artery of  a few random shops  and a Friday only market where I guilt purchased a small amount of  shockingly priced cheese because the man was nice and I did not want him to think I was poor.


Then I sulked about being nice but poor  in a graveyard whilst eating a tiny piece of organic blue Yorkshire cheese.

There was definitely something funny and humorous that I wrote about but I just can’t see it.


When I saw it, I thought of my few readers rolling in the aisles at my sly dig at The Funny Thing.

But I looked around Milnthorpe again and did not find anything funny anywhere at all.

This will haunt me for ever more.


Sep 29 2012

About Not Going To Kendal

I am nervous and insecure. I am scared to do things in case I fuck them up. I rationalise my fears, make adjustments, plans and safety nets but still things fuck up. I give up trying to be independent and stick to ambling around Lancaster, looking in the charity shops so frequently I am slightly embarrassed at myself.

But I am 33. I am a mother. I can Do Things.

And I Am Going To Kendal.

I think about and am excited by the thought of Staff Of Life artisan bread sold from the genial Dickensian shop in an alley. I cannot sleep for fretting over whether to have lunch in the cosy wholesome vegetarian Riverside café or have feta cheese pizza in the slightly more stylish Brewery. Or to just have a pasty because I cannot really afford to do either but it is the last Friday at the end of the month which means riches, sweet riches for a day.

6,00 am: I plan things meticulously, packing a bag of chocolate, nappies and mascara.

My friend and I are meant to be getting the later straight train at 11am

8.00 am.  I am so bored and nervous and sick of Mike The Knight on Cbeebies, I text my friend and we arrange to meet an hour earlier and change at Oxenholme.

9.30 am. I am so stupidly earlier due to fears about being late despite us being able to hear the train announcements from our house,thus the toddler is already bored and threatening to revolt.  The train I meant to get is late so we hop on the one beforehand.

I try to keep the toddler quiet with threats and Cadburies Buttons but a man grabs his can of Carling and moves to another seat like its not bloody 9.57 in the morning. I feel somewhat wronged in the whole social etiquette of the scenario.

But everything is going to be Ok because I planned this operation with meticulous efficiency.

Far before we need to stand, I stand, gathering pushchair, bag of bribes, baby and friend to hustle them towards the door. We wait, I can almost taste the Elderflower sour dough bread.

Oxenholme speeds by.

Kendal speeds past.

Wrong fucking train.

I am shit.

10.20: I am swearing at the pushchair as Jay Rayner walks surprisingly past.

10.37: Nothing good is going to happen in Penrith because it has All Gone Wrong.

But I like the under embellished red brick castle opposite McDonalds and I do like these little twisty grubby old alleys and charity shops so busy, the filthy Button smeared toddler is parked in corners left to poke at unflattering tweedy Per Una dresses as I delight in a ‘10p table.’

More places should have a 10p table. It makes kings out of paupers.

11.30: It is lunchtime because the grimy toddler who due to sweaty desperate train bribes is now covered in a light coating of cheese flavoured dust and chocolate has now furiously fallen asleep, still clutching the side of his pushchair in a grim comatose rictus grip.

The red brick streets of Penrith throw up No 15 -art gallery, bar and café where a vegetarian mezze featuring from memory, garlic oven baked mushroom, sweet potato cakes, falafel, olives, Turkish salad, flatbread, tzaiki, potato salad, sundried tomatoes and something with courgettes is £7.50 and I still have half of it left leaking pleasantly and herbily into my handbag.

I read today’s newspaper, a rare and exotic treat until a primal roar resounds from the pushchair and we swoop into the sudden rain to leave the other quiet good customers to continue to enjoy sanctuary and such wonderful, fresh and decently priced food I want to take a picture of the menu and clutch it to me at night on my damp and Basics instant noodle sodden pillow. I might even gently weep at the sweet sweet memory of it all. At least I will still have my handbag to sniff.

1.30: I have been to a posh grocers shop in an intimidating embossed grandiose shop on the square and now paper bags leak Good Oil into my handbag. I have a leek, blue cheese and mushroom pie for £1.65, a £1.10 treacle tart and a £1.75 sun dried tomato foccaccia-and I have possibly moved up a social scale.

2.30: An ancient charity shop up a little side street. The two elderly women behind the counter are chatting. ‘I think I might have just heard a car beep there,’

“Oh dear, people are so impatient these days.’

3.00: Another little charity shop and I buy a lovely wooden truck for a tantrumming toddler trying to fling china saucers about as people try to be polite about his vile behaviour. It is £2.00.  Upon arriving home I see the original price of £30 is still on the bottom. I suspect another Bad Toddler only wanted Fisherprice.

3.15: The rain has cleared and what a staggering beautiful place Penrith is. Its Tolkien country with forests looming over the little staggering town and mountains looming beyond.  But it still has a Bargain Booze. I like Penrith. Not entirely cutesy chintzy prostituting itself to tourists, not entirely four drinks for the price of two in a bar that flashes a cocktail glass every two seconds.

It has a Tapas bar featuring a tiny diorama of bulls being killed with toothpicks. You can spend 10p on an unpleasant plate or £10 000 on a nice ring within minutes in this shambolic town, neither here nor there, neither posh or not but where nature surrounds and the trains stop more frequently than at Oxenholme Lake District.

4:00: The toddler is screaming, a bag full of charity shop bounty swings him in the face every time I try to pick him up/smother him/quietly swear into his evil ears. I cannot get down these steps and then up those steps to get the train. A group of about five loud girls in loud clothes surround me. They then fight about who is going to carry the pushchair for me. I nearly weep in gratitude and embarrassment as they shove to carry the pushchair aloft even when there is a flat surface it could potentially be rolled upon.

4: 12: Then I realise I have automatically chosen the platform I arrived on to go back to. The wrong one. I am so scared of upsetting, annoying or confusing the lovely loud girls on platform 1, the antithesis of what you expect you expect loud girls in velour to be like and what my response to their benevolent actions turns them the other way?

I told you I over think things and am nervous.

4:18: So back down the stairs, smack smack smack smack.

Toddler has a tantrum. Headwhack, headwhack.

Back to Platform 1, smile guiltily at the teenagers, open the train door, close the train door, nowhere to put pram, thank fuck for Cadburys Buttons, apologise to people with iPads as the toddler is very keen on them, give him to my friend, sweat heavily.

4.45. I’m Not Going On An Adventure Again.

But it was worth it.

Jun 30 2012

Cartmel is posh but I am not.

Cartmel is the poshest place in the world. Seriously.

And I used to live in Bath.

This scares me.

I do not know where 20 fags and some Tampax could possibly be purchased here. The residents here must live on over embellished cupcakes, unpasteurised ewes milk cheese cut from a block and a sense of their own self-satisfaction.

It is undeniably a staggering beautiful village, the sort of village you imagine in a trench when about to be shot to death because it is the Essence of England, like something Cath Kidson has spewed up in a dotty bunting bedecked dream in the Cotswolds.

Being sort of hidden somehow between Lancashire and Cumbria, on minor A roads, you are expecting a small village that excels in its rightly famous sticky toffee pudding and the Priory that you have read about somewhere and feel you should really go and look at and pretend to be interested in even though you are actually only interested in the haunted gatehouse that you read about in a rubbish local book about ghosts you were embarrassed to be seen ordering from the library.

Oh and L’Enclume, the famous Michelin starred restaurant which has unlikely foams and things and you secretly hope that there might be a two for a tenner lunch special even though you are actually aware that won’t ever ever happen.

There are waving meadows in front of hanging basket-bedecked cottages, the cottages all have names engraved on little slabs, and tasteful dust free antiquities are displayed on quaintly gnarled windowsills.

A woman is splashed (oh so slightly) by a car and when I smile and make a sympathetic joke, she keeps repeating the word ‘idiots’ and she is very angry indeed. It was only a small puddle but the car had young people in which I suspect may have been the problem.

The centre is bigger than expected; should one wish to have a nice cup of coffee, there is so much competition there is clearly controversy galore as one coffee shop also delighting in the excitement and daring of selling sodding cupcakes, (prostituted tarted up fairy cakes) has a sign that says ‘best coffee in town or your money back’. I like Community in Action.

I am nearly run over by a Bentley, which I am a bit pleased by. There is a fiver in my purse and some coins and I feel rich rich rich with my paper money knocking splendidly about but a sticky dense loaf of three cheese and marmite bread from the bakery and a Cartmel Apple and Toffee Crumble Bake has knocked me into overdraft.

The Priory is glorious but I feel guilty as do not have the politely requested three pound donation so post all my remaining cash through the slot where it gleams with accusing copperiness. The bread won’t fit through, anyway the marmite and three cheeses will surely jam up the hole so I run around quickly, trying not to get three pounds worth of viewing. If it crumbles into a ball tomorrow, it is my entire fault. But the bread was worth it.

A Farrow and Balled pub up a side street has the classic meal deal of soup and sandwich but for a tenner. The nearby L’ Enclume is indeed so classy and non ‘two for a tenner’ there is not a menu outside, nor indeed any sign it is in fact a place to eat. It could be a media hub in Shoreditch or an Anorexic clinic for supermodels in Richmond were it not for the fact that there is an ancient cat on a windowsill opposite sticking its tongue out at me and yet another pony has just gone past.

It is hard here, to imagine the reality of the recession, which is why it might be so bustling.

If you can afford the petrol to get here and a tenner to spend on cupcakes and coffee, you feel like a Barclay Brother. A woman cheerily bemoans to the staff in the bakery (a bakery so posh it sells virtually only bread) that she will simply never get the time to read her ‘papers’- (the Daily Telegraph was tucked under her arm) but she ‘buys them anyway’.

I look at my toddler leaning dangerously and angrily away from me, coated in Smartie Batter and consider leaving him here. Like a pub cat, he would be fed on lovely tit bits by tourists and well heeled locals, be patted and smiled upon and probably be extremely happy.

Then as I look upon a cheeseboard and wine platter, displayed vividly and erotically upon a chalkboard, I decide to simply sell him instead.

Oct 29 2011

Halloween, a crumbling castle and a brush with evil…

It is nearly Halloween and I am paying a fiver to have a quick revel in misery and death through the ages. I actually wanted to pay eight pounds which would allow me on the Ghosts and Murders tour and thus far more misery and death but it is about to start, I need a wee and more to the point, all the other people on the ghost tour have an enthusiastic school child with them. My baby clearly does not want to know about ghosts and hauntings so to go on the tour would mark me out as being a complete and utter loser. I stare sadly after the small huddle led by a man in Victorian garb and wish I was into something cooler or more age appropriate.

My spirits are however raised in a very real sense when I see the shape of a woman dressed in black old fashioned clothes walk through the doorway to the keep and then simply vanish. This is it! I have seen a ghost! Then I see she is merely lurking in a corner and is wearing too much foundation, hardly the behaviour of the true undead especially when I see her later with a plastic key fob (not even a great big iron gnarly old key) going through (but in a prosaic normal way) a glass door.

But here are dank and ancient stone steps leading down to the bowels of the earth from where guns were fired at attempted invaders. I swear for a minute that a black form appears and disappears in less than a second in the narrow passage ahead but I am tired and in a highly susceptible frame of mind.

I trot through dark passages, up spiral staircases and peer into claustrophobic little hell holes.

Some mesmerizing  intricate carvings can be seen on a wall but are annoyingly behind the glass door that the fake ghost went in and locked behind her. I have a sudden terror the ghost tour party are allowed in this bit and am filled with a wholly disproportionate sense of anger and horror.

Then down in the dungeon, we catch up with the ghost tour who are listening to the grey haired guide cheerily inform his captive crowd that upwards of three hundred bodies could be crammed in this small space and points at the grooves in the rock, said to be from the tongues of desperate Jacobites trying to moisten their mouths with the damp running down the walls. I want to hear more but am scared I will be accused of trying to steal some Ghost tour so lurk uneasily around until they file past me.

The grey haired guide as if to show me what I am missing by having not handed over the extra three pounds, orates grandly-‘Next, we are going to see THE HAUNTED ROOM! ‘

I want to see the haunted room too, more than anything else ever even though it must be one I would previously been in but stupidly not sensing its hauntedness. I am sure with a grey haired guide and some sensibly dressed parents and slightly less enthusiastic children, I could not fail to have a face-to-face meeting with a portal into another dimension. An extra three quid seems a positive bargain. I want to follow but there must be some sort of rule about following ghost tours without paying the extra three quid. I look mournfully after them then begin the ascent back from hell into the sunny courtyard.

I read later than the ghost is said to be a woman found holed up clutching the skeletal remains of her child. It doesn’t seem so much fun then and the growing realisation of mans inhumanity to man is frankly more terrifying than any ghost I can possibly imagine.

Oct 25 2011

Clones in North Face Jackets, etiquette terror and Grizedale Forest

A small swarm of blonde female clones wearing North face jackets, jeans and slightly pinched expressions surrounds me.  It would be nice to surmise they are also bitterly resenting paying six pounds to park in the car park but I suspect this is more a bugbear for me than for anyone else. And it will continue to be a bugbear for me until my last dying breath.

We are in the café at Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. One family has bought along a shape sorter for their baby just in case she is not intellectually stimulated enough as her parents rustle seriously about in branded waterproof clothing, sensible hiking shoes and rucksacks. My baby is happily gnawing on a packet of Morrison’s own brand wet wipes.

This is all my boyfriend’s fault for not letting me Google places where there was a murderer or a ghost for us to have a walk about in. He walks a ‘pleasant aesthetic walk that’s not all murdery’ apparently. So we are here.

I am wearing a turquoise minidress from which the crotch of my tights appears underneath so already the aesthetic pleasure of the walk is somewhat diminished. Good.

But never mind-there is a sculpture trail! I am looking forward to seeing big singing ringing things aloft suspended, abstract and mesmerising, walking through ancient woodland, communing with nature.

But there is a choice of three routes. Red, green or Yellow.

We follow the Red route-it is described as ‘Strenuous’ and uphill, hence the red for danger and I am excited and scared. Will we get lost in swirling mists, our desiccated corpses found years later? No because the Red route is clearly signposted, micro managed, pristine and the path could easily fit an Eddie Stobart lorry down it and the majority of the route is identikit pound shop conifers. Or the wasteland where they used to be which makes you feel sentimental over identikit pound shop conifers.

I keep looking for the amazing singing ringing sculptures but I have got them mixed up with a dream or something and just find the occasional small carved bird.

It is a scramble to the top but not a Strenuous one and we have a baby gazing wide-eyed on our unwaterproofed backs and a heavy rucksack filled with nonsense and junk food. There is a pleasing circular sculpture and a view, which nearly makes the car parking fine worthwhile. Nearly. But I am materialist to the core and eye the glorious nature surrounding us angrily and beadily spying all the potential free car parking spaces.

And now we have come off the empty perilous Red route we come face to face to people who have driven miles in sensible branded outdoor clothing to plump for the Yellow route.  And face-to-face means the perilous comedy of manners, which is  ‘To Say Hello Or Not To Say Hello.’

That is the question. Whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by not saying ‘hello’ first and either thus replying too brightly out of guilt and seeming a bit mad and Jehovah’s Witnessy or muttering something like ‘heyllaaa’ because you haven’t formed your brain to mouth action quickly enough and it all goes a bit wrong and you spoil the walk for yourself. Or neither of you says ‘hello’ first and you feel desperately guilty in case the other walker was hoping you would say ‘hello’ first and is now despairing against haggard looking inappropriately dressed people for their rudeness and disregard of pleasant greetings on nice autumnal days.

Or you take arms against a sea of troubles and say ‘hello’ first and risk seeming a bit mad and Jehovah’s Witnessy when some people slink past saying either nothing, ‘heeylla’ or an appreciative response and a bright elderly smile.

The youth don’t seem to do ‘hello’s anymore. I know this because I nervously scout the oncoming pedestrian and try to work my greeting/lack of greeting/’heeylla’ accordingly.

It’s a minefield out there. A minefield with occasional carved birds, an overpriced car park and a lot of pinched blonde women in North Face Jackets. I shan’t be returning soon.

But I shall look for real nature.

Sep 21 2011

Druids, stones, witches but only one brand of ketchup

Two people are earnestly looking at a rock. One of them is talking knowledgably about the rock with an air of great authority. The other one is taking photos of the rock with an expensive camera. I sneer inwardly and then realize I am here to look at the rocks as well. And my boyfriend is photographing the rocks.

These were not always rocks though-they were WITCHES! It’s true. The naughty witches  led by Long Meg (the long stone of course- see it all fits together)  dancing (no doubt widdershins) on the Sabbat were turned into stone by a furious anti-revelry God who really needs to see what is going on in the average Wetherspoons on a Sunday afternoon if he wants to get enraged and do a bit of good old fashioned smiting.

Apparently it is impossible to count all the stones correctly but if you do the magic of the stone circle is lost forever. This leaves the reasonable supposition that someone over the ages might well have counted the stones correctly because delightful as the stones are, there appears little in the way of Magic, more drizzle, rabbit burrows and earnest men talking knowledgably about rocks.

Long Meg and her daughters are made even more pleasing due to the fact that a weather-beaten sign points to ‘Druid Stones.’ Everyone knows that the prefix of Druid makes everything more exciting, mysterious and swirled in the shadows of an ancient past that was all sunsets, chanting and dark dark sacrifices like some sort of real life Dungeons and Dragons but without the acne.

But just when the novelty of patting each standing stone has begun to wear off slightly, we come to Long Meg and nestled against her in a hollow lies a shrine.

Against the sombre greys and greens of a wet day is a cluster of colour-a Hindu statue, two playing cards which must have some amazingly exciting occult significance but I am buggered if I know what it is, a letter, flowers and trinkets like some tiny little pagan pound shop. Finding an impromptu slightly hidden shrine at Druidy witchy standing stones is impossibly exciting and I am happy.

Little Selkirk Mill, a ‘biodynamic’ tearoom and mill is nearby and we decide to go in, enchanted by the bright paint and tumbling flowers surrounding it. Ducks waddle, chickens huddle and we discover that ‘biodynamic’ means bloody expensive. It all looks very nice but a fiver for some soup and bread is just too much. We buy a loaf of £2.20 bread. It is heavy, earnest and joyless. I demolish it sadly and butterlessly in the car. Now THIS is what they mean by middleclass poverty.

The house is a tip and there are many important things that we really need to sort out like stair gates so we decide to not go home and keep driving. As far away as we can. And that means Alston.

Alston has to be the remotest place in England. It is a happily long way away from a house with an unfixed stair gate and little cairns of baby sick on the carpet. We get there along a long winding hilly road through high moorland and warning signs. The town itself is a small grey nestle on a hillside. A little shop that sells all that cutesy homely stuff like slate hearts on ribbons is closing. As has a ‘artisan’ bakery. Alston is one of those places that straddles rural poverty and Cath Kidson- there are boy racers revving up the high street and old men in sadly over-smart clothing booming ‘hello’ as they slowly pace up and down, up and down. The isolation hits home when seeing people with full sized heaving trollies going around the small Co-op which is clearly the only ‘supermarket’ for a long way around. This scares me more than it should.

The thought of living in a beautiful rural setting but only having one or two brands of ketchup to choose from fills me with a claustrophobic terror. I fall in love with a quaint detached three-bedroom house with wood burning stove, dining room and walled garden for under a hundred grand in the estate agents. But it would feel a hollow pretence at life to live there with such a sparse range of branded products for sale nearby. I realize there is an echoing void where my soul should be as I look over the now sun drenched moors and mountains and suddenly have a burning desire to get in the car and fuck off to the nearest Asda.