Tuesday, February 28, 2006


It was only there for a matter of seconds, a snapshot on the retina, a picture momentarily framed by the window of the railway carriage. The elements gathered together, coalesced into a coherent, memorable whole, then dispersed as the scene dissolved and a fresh one took its place.

The bright morning sun and clear air made colours more vibrant, shapes more distinct, fine detail sharper. Sunlight sparkled on the lightly rippled surface of the lake, whose colour reflected the paint-box blue of the early morning sky; grassy shores shone a luminous green and through a thin veil of slender silver birch trees could be seen a group of six or seven dazzling white swans gliding serenely over the water.

Okay, you can take your fingers out of your throat now. But even if that description sounds preposterously over-endowed with adjectival superlatives, it’s only representing the scene as I perceived it in my mind. That image existed for just a moment, then vanished. But in that instant, it touched something in me – the purity of the colours, the freshness of the air, the regal presence of the swans, awoke something and caused that moment to stand out and gave an uplift that lasted for the rest of the day.

One swan in particular caught my eye at the head of an arrow-sharp wake, it seemed so sure of its direction. It’s easy to see why swans are associated with royalty; what adjective could be more appropriate to them than regal? With their air of self-assurance, calm purpose, serenity – they have no need to hurry, for who would dare stand in their way? – one would instinctively bow and submit to their innate authority.

The time was so short, all of that impression couldn’t have been communicated in its entirety in just those few brief seconds. No; the feelings evoked by the scene came from within, not from the scene itself. The visual image served to trigger old memories, bringing a set of pre-existing responses and feelings to the fore.

That’s why such scenes, and even an excessively rose-tinted perspective on them, can be so valuable, as they blow the dust off of a way of seeing the world that has sat forgotten in some unfrequented corner of the mind. It’s as though the mind’s appreciation circuits all too easily fall idle though lack of use, and benefit from an occasional kick-start.


Sunday, February 26, 2006


One o-clock. A uniform blanket of grey wetness envelopes the landscape. The wind has dropped, and seen from this distance, the rain patterns the lake’s surface like frosted glass; trees on the far side merge into a continuous dark overcoat covering the hillside, then disappear in the slopes above amidst grey tatters of cloud which hang motionless amongst over the treetops. We might be at the bottom of the sea, and those are the grey undersides hulls beached among the trees.

We’ve been walking steadily for four and a half hours – out of the hills now, the last couple of miles have been on tarmac roads, making for rapid, if monotonous, progress. This part wasn’t in my original plan, so I have only broad notion in my head of the lie of the land. A signpost points the way up the hillside to our left: “Moscar house via Derwent Edge”. Moscar… isn't that near where we started yesterday? A quick look at the map shows the distances to be about equal, whether we go either ahead by road and forest track, or up over the edge of the moors. The hills may be harder work, but they’re more interesting - decision made.

A steep climb up a slippery stone-paved track leads after a few hundred yards to a cluster of old stone farm buildings. Through a gate, a sign indicates the right of way through this apparently deserted farmstead, over what is presumably private land. Head down, hood up against the rain, with blinkered vision that now has only the end in sight, I nearly miss it; I glance into the square, door-less opening, expecting to see a dirty, wet corner filled with old farm implements. But at least it might give some shelter, and without a door to keep trespassers out we’d hardly be intruding.

I laugh out loud in amazement and delight; the wet, weary traveller would have been grateful for being able to hunker down in a damp, dirty, musty corner out of the weather - by contrast with the expected image, the sight that meets his eyes is like something out of a fairy story: the raised stone floor is clean and dry, the inside is bright and airy - there’s a high level window opening in the end wall - and, joy of joys, opposite the entrance stands a sturdy wooden bench, with a view out over the lake; there could be no more perfect spot for lunch on a day like this.

And to keep us entertained, there are even pictures on the walls – well, in the walls to be precise.

(click this one to see the detail carved on the stone in the niche)

What stroke of genius inspired this? A comfortable, sheltered seat; a view; room to spread out food, maps, gear; a link in imagination into another time and place - probably a much warmer, drier one - I can almost hear the echo of the schoolchildren’s voices, and see them in their classroom creating these works of art. Most surprising and uplifting of all, the knowledge that someone, somewhere cared enough and had the imagination to create this little haven. The combined effect on flagging morale is near miraculous.

Having eaten and drunk, we open out the map and study it at leisure, then decide, after all, to return to the track below and continue by our lower level route – it looks as though it’ll be quicker, after all. But those few hundreds yards extra were worth it.

It just goes to show; you never know what unexpected treats lie around the next bend, or over the next hill.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Creeping civilisation 

There’s a custom among walkers in Britain’s hills – and, for all I know, the world over – to exchange a word or two of greeting as you pass each other. Typically, a brief “Morning”, or “Hi there!” or “Beautiful day” – the latter words used whatever the weather, in a tone ranging from sincerity to sarcasm as appropriate. On a tough ascent, the words might be mouthed, but the only sound that comes out is an incoherent grunt as you struggle up a steep rocky staircase. In general, both parties are too intent on their forward progress in opposite directions for much more than this, although on occasion there’s some undefined flash of recognition that prompts a longer exchange; these are moments to savour – even though the words are superficial, so often you know that you’ve encountered a kindred spirit.

Like I said, it’s a custom among walkers in the hills. On the second day of our recent hike over the moors of the Derbyshire Peak District, we decided to descend out of the hills sooner than I’d originally planned. The tops were shrouded in mist and rain and looked likely to remain so all day (as indeed they did) – navigation would be much harder and progress consequently much slower, moreover P. had woken up with a cold, so we changed plan and took a more direct, lower level route back, walking alongside the River Derwent and then beside the series of three reservoirs, created in the middle of the last century by damming the river.

You could estimate with some accuracy how far we were from “civilisation” (read: places accessible by a car) by the number of people we passed who shared a greeting in this way. For the first few miles we met no-one, since only those camping out would be this far into the wilds this early on a Sunday morning. But before long we began to encounter others –to begin with, mostly mud-bespattered mountain bikers – who, without exception, were clearly initiates to this custom. Then came the Sunday morning strollers; these fell into two distinct camps. Those dressed in what you might call serious outdoor gear, even if they didn’t speak, at least gave a smile of recognition – our packs must have identified us as kindred spirits – but the fluffy pink anorak and trainers brigade (whom one must at least salute for getting quite a long way out there in frankly rather unpleasant weather) behaved exactly like anyone else you’d pass in a city street – which is to say they remained apparently oblivious to anyone else’s presence.

The encounter that struck me most though was one from the previous day. I wonder if there’s any significance in the fact that, high on the ridge in wind and sleet where only dedicated outdoors types venture, the one hiker who failed to return our greeting was also the one with a bright yellow GPS navigation device hung around her neck? “Civilisation” creeps ever further into the wilds…

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Boldly going... 

You are Geordi LaForge
You work well with others and often
fix problems quickly. Your romantic
relationships are often bungled.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

I guess that's not so far off the mark. Thanks to Winston for the link

Late developer 

Sit a starving man down at a table laden with gastronomic delights and he’ll stuff himself, with little appreciation for the finer flavours of his feast. He wants to consume – hugely, endlessly, randomly - quality takes second pace to quality.

So it is so often, to a degree, when I go into the hills. After months of urban living, I’m so desperate to gorge myself, sampling every delicacy that the outdoors has to offer, that I set a punishing schedule, trying to cram into a couple of days as much as I can, and so risk defeating the very purpose for which those days were intended. Through eagerness to reconnect with the natural environment, as untainted as I can find it by all those works of humankind that would keep it from me, I inadvertently start to pile block upon block that if I’m not careful starts to build an unseen barrier to that very connection I seek.

Even had we set off on schedule, Saturday’s itinerary would have left little time for tranquil appreciation of our surroundings. But somehow we unintentionally used up our entire potential ration of such time through our rather leisurely start. So it was that, by the middle of the afternoon, still with several kilometres to go before we’d reach our proposed camping spot, at the furthest point of our horseshoe route, I was watching the angle of the sun closely, gauging by its height the time we had left before darkness fell. Curious, I thought to myself, that even though I’m wearing a watch, I still go by that ancient method of assessing the progression of the day, gaining a feel for the point at which found ourselves in the endless cycle of light and dark.

We pressed on, but it was becoming clear we’d not reach our intended goal before nightfall. True, we could have stopped and camped wherever we happened to be, but any miles left incomplete today would have to be added to tomorrow’s total, since running down the axis of the horseshoe walk were three large reservoirs formed by damming the River Derwent – no short-cuts to be had through them! In any case, on the very top of the moors, the northernmost point of the Derwent watershed, the ground was exposed and offered no chance to replenish water supplies from a running stream, so we’d still benefit from a detour into the head of the valley.

So onwards we went, into the gathering gloom, until a compass bearing on a small summit off to the south marked the place I’d identified as the best point at which to swing south-west, leaving the featureless flat-topped “ridge” and drop down into the valley. By this time, 5.30pm, the sunlight had all but departed and the moon, although full, was hidden behind thickening cloud, which as luck would have it chose that moment to release its load upon us. The thought wasn’t lost on me that, had we kept to schedule, we’d be comfortably installed in our tent by now. Time instead to don waterproofs and pull my head-torch out of the rucksack.

It’s easy to see how easy it is to go round in circles when there are no visual cues to mark your direction. When we got moving again, I nearly set off in precisely the wrong direction; although I’d set a compass bearing, in the darkness I nearly followed the wrong end of the needle since that was the way my senses were telling me to go. Thankfully, reason hadn’t quite been usurped by haste; its alarm bells, faint as they were, were insistent. Check, check, and check again: was the needle stuck? Was I inadvertently holding something ferrous nearby? Did P.’s compass show the same? Yes, it agreed with mine. Turning somewhat disbelievingly around (it’s hard for an outdoors junkie to admit that his sense of direction has been fooled), the rapidly fading outline of the hills fell into place as I recognised over to our left the low summit I’d used earlier to locate our position, just discernable in the murk against the darkened sky.

Although the ground was still relatively level on a large scale, on the step-by-step scale revealed in the pool of light from my head-torch we still had to negotiate hollows knee-deep in heather and peaty ice-bottomed groughs. Time and again our path was turned by these obstructions, compass checks showing how readily we diverged from our set course.

All the while we’d been stopped, P. had been laying back on his rucksack, getting wetter and wetter. I made the suggestion that he might like to don waterproofs and find his headtorch too, but the suggestion fell on deaf ears. I let it go; he’s adult and can make his own choices – he didn’t need his dad fussing around and ordering him about and I had no wish to add a relationship chill to the physical chill of our circumstances.

Ideally, I was headed for the more level area of grassy ground next to the river,

but that was still a kilometre or so away, down a steepish, trackless heather-covered slope, scored by muddy gullies where the streams gathered speed as they left the plateau to descend the slope to the river. Some were clearly quite deep – I could make out a deep V-notch in the near horizon. It wouldn’t have been easy ground to negotiate at the best of times – with clear vision of a circle only a few feet across, progress was slow since we had no desire to step over the edge of one of these gullies and find its bottom many more feet away than we’d imagined. So when P. spotted a relatively level patch of ground, it seemed worth checking out. Yes, it was as level as we could expect to find, on a patch of heather still thin from one of last summer’s moorland fires. There were enough streams about that water couldn’t be more than a few yards away – yes, here would do.

P.’s 2-man tent is quick and easy to pitch, even in the dark by torchlight. At this point, fatherly concern took over from avoidance of dictatorship – anyway, it was entirely logical that, since I was the one wearing waterproofs, I should stay outside in the rain and prepare our evening meal, whilst he removed his wet outer layer of clothing and organised the tent. By now it was raining steadily and as we’d stopped moving I was getting chilled and starting to shiver. We still had enough water between us to prepare our meal – dehydrated pasta in sauce – so I didn’t need to go water hunting just yet. In theory, we didn’t really need to go to the trouble of carrying stove, fuel, pans etc just for one night’s stop, but I wanted to “do it properly” – just to know what a fully loaded pack felt like when carried over that kind of terrain. I was glad I did; in our tiny tent out on the moors, a hot meal made all the difference. Outside it was dark, wet, windy, cold;

inside, sitting crouched half in sleeping bags, eating hot pasta by torch-light, the relative comfort was of 5-star hotel standard and we were soon warm again. Just two thin layers of nylon separated us from wind and rain but the protection they gave felt almost womb-like, especially when snug inside a down-filled sleeping bag. The only fly in the ointment was that I wasn’t prepared to sit outside again with a pan of water on the stove for a coffee, and the porch was full of rucksacks, boots and wet weather gear - no space left to use a stove safely under its cover.

At least a late camp reduced the amount of time in which we had to find amusement for ourselves before sleep. Sharing the earpieces from my MP3 player, we lay in the dark listening to Jacques Loussier's interpretation of Bach, followed by Diana Krall. Perhaps not as spiritually inclined as we might have been in such a remote, peaceful spot, but at that point in the proceedings R&R assumed a higher priority than one-ness with our frankly rather inhospitable environment. Laying out under the stars could wait for another time.

It all turned out rather differently to how I’d pictured this evening to be in my imagination. In my mind, I’d seen us reaching a level grassy shelf next to a bubbling stream,

surrounded on three sides by peaks (of a peaty kind!) with a view down the valley. We’d pitch the tent as the sun dropped below the horizon, watching the light fade as supper cooked, then when darkness fell we’d spend a few moments lost in the wonders of the moonlit view – may be even see the Milky Way, something invisible against the light-pollution of south east England - before retiring into the tent and enjoying one of those discussions on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. P. is rarely short of enlightened – and enlightening – conversation.

Was I over-ambitious? Perhaps. Did it matter? Not one bit. Yes, I was sorry to have missed that idyllic evening under the stars, but I have a perverse streak that relishes this kind of challenge; even the minor hardship that accompanies it. On the scale of things, this may have been nothing special – a night out on the moors in the UK, even on a cold wet February night, is hardly the stuff of survival epics – but it was a first for me and brought with it the same kind of innocent excitement in the novelty of it all that I might have experienced as a teenager. And although I have no specific plan yet, this is also a first step along the way to fulfilling some of these dreams.

First wild camp at 51? Maybe I’m just a late developer.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

When is a peak not a peak? 

If you’re used to the idea that peaks are tall, jagged, pointy things, then a visit to the Peak District in Derbyshire, England, might cause some puzzlement. The name conjures up a vision of classic triangular profiles, lofty spires and exposed rock summits, yet you’d struggle to find much remotely peak-like, at least by that definition. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d mis-heard the name – maybe it was the peat district? With one or two exceptions, these “peaks” are flat-topped moors, covered by thick, black, often waterlogged peat.

Paradoxically, the summits are often the wettest, boggiest places – rain falling on these giant sponges (which it does often) has a hard task of finding a way downhill; it soaks into the peat, sits in pools (like the frozen one below), and when it eventually finds a way off the plateau, it carves a deep mini-valley in the soft peat, known locally as a grough.

Crossing this landscape can be hard work – in the less frequented areas there are often no paths as such, as any that form through the passage of many pairs of boots soon become an impassable bog and so are abandoned in favour of virgin heather. However, that heather can be deep and forces feet to be lifted high over its tops; it covers hidden hollows and embryonic watercourses that will greedily swallow a carelessly placed boot, sending its owner unexpectedly sprawling across the ground. Negotiating a grough entails a drop of maybe a metre into the muddy stream bed, a jump across the stream at its narrowest point, hopefully selecting a landing point capable of supporting your weight without sinking ankle-deep in soft muddy black peat, then scrambling up the slippery opposite bank, aided by pulling on handfuls of heather.

We were fortunate – the ground was frozen hard, disarming the bogs of most of their treachery, so we were able to stride across with impunity. Most of the time, that is; occasionally we’d hear the ice cracking and creaking and feel movement underfoot, and realise we were walking on a frozen crust maybe a couple of inches thick, below which lay several inches of unfrozen bog, anxious to make our acquaintance should we be careless.

Although these less-frequented areas made for a welcome feeling of isolation, they also made for slow progress. Given our schedule, it was just as well that some of the most popular parts of the route have been paved in stone. It’s curious though, how the knowledge that you’re walking on a surface placed by man can put you one step removed from the landscape. We were in exactly the same spatial relationship to the surrounding landscape as we would have been without the path, yet the presence of those square-cut stone slabs somehow separated us from it, almost as if we were walking through a glass tunnel.

There may not have been any peaks surrounding us, but the landscape isn’t without its rock features. For one thing, the moors are often edged by gritstone crags, such as Stanage Edge. Stanage is Mecca for many UK rock climbers – at another time of year, we’d probably have gone no further but spent the weekend on its crags.

As well as the crags, the gritstone forms impressive Tors:

– on the exposed moors these provide excellent shelter for a lunch stop. And yes, that white stuff is snow. Perhaps not quite as much as Fred and Doug have been having, but the real McCoy, nonetheless. And although it may have been small in scale, ours was no softly falling blanket, but was being propelled horizontally across our path by a powerful wind.

Thankfully though our micro-blizzard was short lived, and by mid afternoon we were treated to blue skies and dazzling sun - by happy coincidence, just at the time we were at the most scenic part of the route.

I was hoping to carry on the story a little further here, but tonight's blogging time has run out.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I could live here… 

I downed the last dregs of my coffee and as she approached, reached into the tent for my wallet. In these days of extreme political correctness, one hesitates even to mention gender, but there’s no two ways about it – it is unusual to see a woman in this kind of role, namely National Park warden. At first glance, her long hair and fresh face gave the appearance of youth, although as we talked I became aware, without registering any specific visual cues, that, not to put too fine a point on it, she’d “been around a bit”. Was it the weathering effect of a life spent largely in the open air, or the maturity of years, or perhaps stress lines from dealing with a site full of raucous, inebriated campers on a hot summer weekend that I could see in her face?

On the phone, I’d asked if we could leave the car on the site on Saturday night, whilst we were camped out on the moors. I wondered if she’d misunderstood – I’d half expected a jobsworth answer along the lines of “sorry, but this isn’t a public car park y’know” – so I thought I’d better double check.
“Oh, it’s Andrew, is it?” (I must have been feeling unusually formal when I left the answerphone message, to have left my name unshortened). “Yes, that’s fine. It’ll be a pound a night for the car.” (Which is a lot less than a public car park, and that in any case would be much more at risk of break-in). How refreshing to find common sense and cooperation instead of petty officialdom!

The chances were that, outside of the conversation between P. and I, this was the most interaction we’d have with another human being for the next couple of days; and with such knowledge I appreciate the contact that much more. How different from city life! I know these are clichés repeated a thousand times over, but they’re true: the people are friendlier and the pace of life is more relaxed in the countryside. Every time I visit this particular part of the country, I’m struck by what a lovely place it would be to live; how much I could feel at home here. There’s just the nagging little issue of how to earn a living…

I still haven’t figured out where the next hour and a half went. It was just before eight when I was paying our fees, yet my watch showed nine thirty as we shouldered packs and left the site. I can only suppose that, after the rush of the previous week, the tranquillity of our surroundings had already begun to infiltrate my soul, and my pace had slowed to something more in keeping with rural rhythms. However, pleasant though that may have been, we were an hour later leaving than I’d planned, a delay which I felt as a constant background pressure to keep moving throughout the day, and for which we’d pay when nightfall came.

Writing this, on the day in which I’ve had an interview for a job that would plunge me ever deeper into corporate affairs, yet again I’m struck forcibly by the contrast between how completely at home I feel in the world of the outdoors, and how utterly alien corporate life has become. And now that the retirement age has gone up from 60 to 65, I’m faced with the prospect of enduring it for another 14 years. Perhaps that factor will finally tip the balance?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


My son P. rang from university: “What are you doing next weekend?”
“Nothing special. Why?”
“I wondered if you fancied going out for a walk somewhere.”

His question couldn’t have come at a better time. Of course, I fancied it very much indeed, but left to my own devices, fancy was all it would remain; I’d stay trapped in the clutches of the weekly routine. Yet a seed of possibility had already been sown – a few weeks ago, butuki pointed out in a comments thread how easy it could be to achieve some of my outdoors-based dreams. Now P.’s question gave that seed a little water and sunshine and so it began to grow and bear first fruit. In saying “Yes” to my son’s plan, I could claim just enough altruism to tip the balance in its favour: yes, of course it’d be good for him to have a weekend out of the confines of his rodent-infested student flat (I kid you not – they caught 20 mice over Christmas!!) - naturally, I’d be happy to oblige.

His plan, did I say? A careless slip; his idea, I should have said. Somehow, the planning still fell to me. It took my every spare moment, from Sunday night to the moment of departure on Friday evening to prepare (so you see, for once I had a worthy excuse for blogging silence!).

Sunday, consider locations, travel times and possible routes; Monday, firm up on the itinerary; Tuesday, panic when information on the web shows the campsite at which I’d planned to stay on Friday night to be closed until Easter, followed by relief when they return my message left on their answerphone confirming that it is open after all. Wednesday, sort out those items of P.’s gear left at home, plan menus and shop for food; Thursday, check over tent, sort gear and pack my rucksack, noting how over-weight and over-size it is; look enviously at my son’s down sleeping bag (borrowed from his older brother), half the weight and bulk of mine, and lay in bed poring over catalogues of outdoor gear, kept conveniently close at hand. Gear freak? Me? Surely not… Friday before work, unpack rucksack again and remove non-essential items. Note how over-weight and over-size it remains and make last-minute decision to buy a new down-filled sleeping bag to replace my old, cheap, heavy, bulky synthetic filled bag. Make choice – easily done, there’s one clear leader in that price/specification range. Heart sinks when a search the following morning shows it to be out of stock on the website of the only reachable retail stockist. Heart recovers again when a phone call to the London outlet reveals they have one in stock, which they’ll put on one side for me. Slip out of work a little early (shhh!!), pick up sleeping bag, look with satisfaction on now-sensibly loaded rucksack, check over the car and head for Nottingham to pick up P.

As it turned out, it was a very positive end to an uncharacteristically positive week. I’ve been applying for jobs in our new structure at work – one of those reorganisations where the Powers That Be throw all the balls in the air and catch them again in a different order, dropping a few along the way – and on Wednesday I had to do a role-play session as part of the selection process, observed by a psychologist from Assessment and Development. These days, my job requires very little meaningful human interaction – I often end up spending 8 hours in front of a computer with only occasional interruption – and it was a real pleasure to engage with another human being, even though he was an actor and the situation was entirely artificial.

Even the car radio on the way to Nottingham conspired to add to my joyful mood, playing Janacek’s Sinfonietta, followed by extracts from Handel’s Messiah. A just sufficient number of the fingers from my left hand stayed on the steering wheel; the remainder couldn’t help but join in the exuberance, conducting an invisible orchestra. Butuki was right - when one’s delights are so simple, it shouldn’t be difficult to find them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Momentary bliss 

Have you ever noticed how the best part of the day is often some little in-between moment, where the flow pauses at a cusp of fulfilment, a transition where one strand of activity slows, stops, and just for a short while the world stands still and the present is all that there is, before the world starts to spin again and fresh activity takes off? The moment doesn’t need to hold any great spiritual import; it can be as simple as the time when you arrive home exhausted after a lengthy shopping expedition, dump the bags unopened in the hallway, and sink those weary bones into the comforting embrace of a favourite armchair.

The first coffee of the morning is sometimes like that (depending, of course on the level of one’s caffeine addiction!) In the flow of a normal day, it may be a cusp that is no more than a minor blip, but when out camping on a wintry February morning its significance is amplified to a moment of sheer bliss.

Out of the cocoon of my sleeping bag, the bite of the chill air immediately grasps me and my body tenses against the cold until I’ve donned enough extra clothes to keep it at bay. Brushing frozen condensation from the inside of the tent as I leave, my feet crunch over frosted grass as I head for morning ablutions in the unheated washroom.

The preliminary steps of early morning routine complete, I turn to more important matters. Fingers rapidly numb as they fumble to attach a gas canister to the cold metal of the stove; my lighter has to be clasped in the hand to warm it sufficiently to generate enough gas pressure to sustain a flame; once alight, the stove mutters busily to itself, and I wait…

Then that magic moment, heralded by the sudden flow of steam released from under the lid of the pan and rising to form a small cloud in the still air, as restrained impatience gives way to expectation of imminent fulfilment. Mug clasped in the both hands, the first scalding sips - the caffeine-junkie’s fix – usher in a moment of serenity; P. still asleep, no sign of activity from the few other tents dotted about, the stream chattering quietly through the woods which surround the site, a pink eastern sky telling of the sunrise hidden from view behind the steep shoulder of the valley in which the campsite nestles.

A moment of calm contemplation not to be repeated until late the following afternoon – after 32 miles of hiking over the moors with a near-40lb pack, an overnight camp on the open moor, and weather that seemed determined to give us a sample of every variety - the best and the worst - that England has to offer; nondescript overcast, horizontally blown snow, clear blue skies with blinding sunshine and endless drizzle.

Watch this space for the illustrated story. I’ll probably have to drip-feed it, as with two job interviews this week, priorities will be juggled even more so than usual. Never a dull moment…

Sunday, February 12, 2006

My hotel room last night... 

Just got back. In between hanging up a wet tent, sorting the washing, putting away the gear, I just had to take 2 minutes to give a tiny taster of what I've been up to this last couple of days. More to follow as and when...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My idea of heaven... 

Tony Richards has one of my favourite sites on the web. Nothing flashy, but day in, day out, he's out there with his camera taking shots of one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, in all seasons and all weathers. If I can't actually be there, this has to be the next best thing.

Last week's selection included this shot, which might almost represent my idea of the perfect home:

In ten minutes, you could be out of the back door and up that hillside to watch the early morning sun rise over the far fells, the bite of the crisp winter's air in your lungs a reminder that you're alive and part of this world; or on a summer's evening you could take a lazy wander over the field down to the stream, and pretend to be a child again, splashing around in the shallows or jumping from boulder to boulder with the dog joining in the fun.

Definately my idea of heaven.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wouldn't it be nice...? 

Call me naive, but wouldn’t it be good to be paid for being nice to people? Oh, I don’t mean that doing good deeds necessarily deserves a reward, or that there should be any expectation at all of getting anything in return. It’s just that I’ve been applying for jobs, and when you look at the competencies and behaviours that are being sought, there’s a distinct undercurrent suggesting that the personal characteristics which are rewarded are anything but nice.

Take a look at what’s behind some of these phrases:

“has strong influencing skills” – is a manipulative control freak
“understands the importance of relationship development” – knows how to get close enough to people to find their weak spots/ spike their drinks/ dig the dirt
“analytical thinker” – scheming bastard
“has commercial acumen” – knows how to bend the rules without being caught

Am I too cynical? I may be exaggerating, but there’s no smoke without fire. I bet you smiled in recognition at some of those interpretations. When was the last time you saw a job description that asked for kindness, compassion or love? They’re just not commercial. It seems that, just as money can’t buy love, so love wont be associated with money. And that’s just as it should be.

I never did say anything about why I quit counselling, did I? There’s much to tell, but although I’ve tried writing about it several times I always get bogged down; the subject is just too big to contain in a few paragraphs. But there was one incident which was the catalyst that prompted my decision.

I’d missed a session at short notice. Normally 48 hours notice was required for cancellations if the cost of the session was to be waived, but my wife had to go into hospital unexpectedly and I wanted to visit her; although I only gave 24 hours notice, I imagined the circumstances would be classed as extenuating, and there’d be no fee. I was wrong, and I was utterly taken aback. Not by the logic, which was entirely reasonable – there was a clear agreement, by whose terms I was responsible for payment - but because I’d always kept the human and the commercial elements of the counselling relationship quite separate in my mind, and now they were brought abruptly together in a way that confused and disoriented me. I had always seen my counsellor as a trusted guide on my voyage of self-discovery; now I also saw her as a businesswoman, profiting from my muddled mental state. All of a sudden, it was a stranger who faced me across the room, and the foundations of our relationship were shaken and crumbling. I didn’t know how to deal with it and became unexpectedly and uncharacteristically angry. I quit the next week. My anger had gone as soon as I had realised its source – fear of the unknown – but so had my faith in counselling when undertaken as a commercial arrangement.

At one time I found the idea of being a counsellor myself very attractive, but I could never quite get my head around the idea of charging clients money for the service. I might offer counselling out of caring, out of concern, out of love, even for the pleasure it might bring me in being able to help others, but never in return for money. In hindsight, I realised I’d even avoided eye contact as I handed the cash over at the end of each session, as though I was pretending this part of the process wasn’t really happening.

I’ve never bothered with working my way up the Corporate ladder, for the simple reason that neither money nor status have ever meant a great deal to me, which in turn of course means that I’ve never amassed much of either, at least in comparison to most of those immediately around me (although in global terms I suppose I’m probably in the top few % on both scales). But when you live in a world that seems to operate exclusively in those terms, how do you make a living out of ways of being that occupy a totally different paradigm – a paradigm where value is attached to such unfashionable notions as goodness and kindness? Even non-religious types tend to agree with the Biblical saying that “A man cannot serve two masters”.

So I wonder what’ll happen if I get called to interviews for any of these jobs? Looks like I’d better brush up on my manipulative skills influencing skills and learn to be a scheming bastard practice my analytical thinking. Either that, or figure out what “Making a living” would look like in this other paradigm.