Play it again…

I realise that society channels us into repetitive routines but even when the constraints of work and so on are removed we still tend to seek out repetition. When we’ve enjoyed something we immediately start wondering when we can do it again. Liked eating at an Indian Restaurant? Let’s do it again next week. Enjoyed watching TV? Let’s do it tomorrow. Like bathing in the glow of that little flat screen you’re holding in your hand? Don’t stop.

I suppose there’s a case for arranging to repeat ourselves when by so doing we can improve certain skills. If I only pick up a bow and arrow now and again I’ll never become a great archer. However, when the activity is indulged in purely for fun does that aspect really matter? I enjoy swimming in rivers. I don’t do it particularly fast. My swimming technique, though effective, is poor. I don’t want to improve, though: I just want to enjoy myself.
It’s not just the things we enjoy in a big way, either. It’s everyday routine. I get up. I eat museli, drink coffee, do the crossword.  At the risk of sounding insane -I don’t think I am as, from what I see of others most people seem to be more-or-less the same in this regard-  I seem to have a little policeman in my head telling me what to do most of the time. He speaks so quietly I hardly notice he’s there. We tend to constantly deny ourselves freedoms without realising it. Thinking along these lines, I got up the other day and thought, what the hell, I’m going to drive off in the car instead. I’ll go to the top of the hill and see what I can see. I might get out and walk about a bit, admire the view. And I did.
Of course there’s a big ethical side to this: how many freedoms we deny ourselves depends to an extent on our personal wealth and how we think we should use our resources. However, if I wake up at 4am I don’t consider going to the seaside to walk on the beach and then reject it because I can’t justify the use of (or perhaps afford) the petrol – I don’t consider it at all. The little policeman in my head simply tells me to make a cup of tea and turn on Radio 4. Farming Today will be on soon, he says, and you like listening to Farming today, don’t you? Yes, I say, for some reason. I’m not even a farmer. What am I thinking of?
Karl Marx once wrote that in a communist society it would be possible for him “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” However, even if it were possible for him to do all these things, would it occur to him that he could do them? And if he found he enjoyed the fishing most of all would he not quickly find himself fishing morning, afternoon and evening? As Homer Simpson said, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll spend his life on a riverbank drinking beer.
I’ve just been watching this Youtube video. I think it’s a magnificent piece and the way it forces one to confront that which is out of the ordinary makes it an appropriate choice here. I know it’s a cliché to say so but it makes me laugh and cry, all at the same time. I saw it performed in London in the 1970s – but in a concert hall. It wasn’t staged like this!

Walking with the Ghosts

My son and I went for a walk yesterday along part of the Pennine Way. We started from Standedge Cutting, where the A62 crosses the hills on its way from Huddersfield to Oldham. We headed North along the top of  Standedge itself towards the next outcrop, known as Northern Rotcher. We carried on for four or five miles as far as Windy Hill radio mast, which stands next to the M62 motorway. Then we turned back.

This is a section I’ve walked many times in the past and is, I reflected as we walked, one of my favourites. I used to live quite close to these hills: they aren’t particularly high but the ridges that connect them stretch for miles. They’re small enough to be accessible to anyone who wants to walk or run over them while being big enough to discourage attempts to civilize them. Their sides -especially in the West- are steep. The path often runs along the edge, which gives you the feeling of being in the sky, looking down on the villages and fields around Oldham.

To walk it now is to recall what I can remember of my feelings and impressions from when I walked it in the past. I find myself joined by a young social worker. He’s not much older than my son. It’s his day off. It’s a weekday: his daughter is at school and his son, asleep, hangs from his chest in a baby-carrier. He’s driven out of town to get away from it all for a couple of hours. He likes nothing better than to climb the hills in Scotland and Wales. He regrets leaving London. He used to live there – he merely survives here. He might dream of Tryfan or the Cuillin but he is in the process of forming a deep attachment to these little hills.

Then I’m joined by a slightly older man. I get the impression he’s going through the motions. He can’t quite lose himself here but then he can’t quite lose himself anywhere. This is as near as he can get. He wants to write poetry. He’s a slightly alarming character. It’s obvious to me, now, as I walk along with him that whatever he’s going through is not going to end well. It’s not yet obvious to him or, if it is, he’s not quite faced up to the fact. He’s working too hard and he’s being pulled in too many directions at once to survive in one piece. He survives from day to day by making plans, setting his sights on good things that might happen. He’s an incorrigible optimist. He doesn’t know it but his world is about to fall to pieces. He recites a poem he’s written about rock-climbing not far from here:


From one angle
it looked
like the head
of a man.

I climbed up.
The grit slashed
the pale skin
on my knuckles.

I held on-
to the nose-bridge,
pressed down
onto the cheekbone,

rested my hands
on the forehead,
looked at the sky
reflected in the rain-

-pool worn
into the rough pate
of the stone.
I rested there,

a temporary statue,
relishing the touch
of a dark moon,
newly inhabited.

Then there’s my son. He’s here, now.  He’ll soon be as old as the young social worker. When I was his age I felt so old… Perhaps one day in the future he’ll walk this ridge again and find himself walking along with his father and his younger self.

Then there’s myself, in the future. Assuming he’s still around and can manage a bit of light fell-walking, what will he make of all the younger men, walking along beside him?

windy hill