I only took a single photograph on the final day of our 2022 Coast-to-Coast hike. This was of a gap in a hedge that seemed ridiculously small. The landscape on this section was less epic than what we’d become used to. Wainwright himself was not a fan of this stretch, apparently describing the town of Danby Whisk as a low point in more than just elevation.
Getting on and off hiking trails can be a problem, as the best ones are in the middle of nowhere. Dave had had a van dropped off for us in Richmond, which meant having to return to the town at the end of the day. We decided to get a taxi to Oak Tree Hill and walk back from there. It also meant we got to bump into most of the people we’d encountered on the previous few days travelling, who were continuing in the traditional direction.
Finding a taxi to take us into the middle of nowhere that early in the morning proved tricky, and I was glad we weren’t trying to persuade someone to collect us from the wilds. The day’s walk, about 10-12 miles, was a slightly underwhelming ending to this leg of the walk. Pleasant but not spectacular. It’s a comfortable stroll through farmland, with a few small villages breaking it up, but very little to take the attention. In a way, it’s good to be tossing it away as a half-section.
The route brought us back to Richmond, ready to finish our hiking for that year. It was a shame to come off the trail, but walking six days rather than our usual four had been a great experience. Next year, only a few nights remain to finish the Coast to Coast.
The walk from Reeth to Richmond was another short day at just over ten miles. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out where to stop on hiking trails. Most people stop in both Reeth and Richmond, since the journey from Keld to Richmond would otherwise be an imposing 21.5 miles – not impossible, but a lot if the weather is against you. Going direct from Kirkby-Stephen to Reeth seems like a bad idea, as Keld provides a good chance to regroup from crossing the peat bogs near the Nine Standards. This means it’s hard to avoid a run of short days.
This was a day of relatively few photographs, although the landscape was charming. Given that the trail was leaving the Pennines, things had started to flatten out a little. We took a long lunch on a bench in Marske then finished the walk into Richmond, arriving early in the afternoon.
Richmond is a pretty town, and we took the chance to explore, although an expired English Heritage card meant we skipped see the castle. We stayed at the Black Lion pub, which had the best vegan food I’d enjoyed on this section of the trail. We also found a coin tree.
Back in 2019, I was part of the Cerne-to-CERN pilgrimage, travelling from the Cerne Abbas giant to the centre of CERN’s large hadron collider. On the way we stopped off at the Damanhur community in the Italian alps. It was one of the strangest and most exciting things I’ve ever done.
The event was organised by theatremaker Daisy Campbell, who was recently part of an interesting discussion with Leslie Claire and Kate Alderton. In it, Daisy spoke about the metaphor of the mycelium network:
I found mycelium a useful metaphor for underground culture, because here are all these artists beavering away, like we’re kind of carving something in the subsoil. But we are crossing our threads with all the others who are genuinely following their deepest impulses. And a mushroom may well appear in the above ground. This mushroom might take the form of an actual art piece, or it might take the form of a new movement, or a new consciousness even, and the world above can see this mushroom and probably will begin to commodify it. But what they cannot see is this incredible network of underground threads.
I love this image of a counter-cultural underground, where artists are reaching out to collaborate or meet up, with great things emerging from that. There are several things that have emerged from the pilgrimage or that are linked to it, such as the 2021 collaborative zine Bodge, published by Liverpool Arts Lab. Another example is the F23 podcast, whose choice of guests maps out more of these threads.
Later in the interview, Daisy explores how this culture can be nurtured, to produce even more mushrooms: not just by nurturing the mushrooms but by supporting “each individual thread’s trust in its own process”:
[I’m working on] finding and learning more and more mycelium-like ways of structuring any endeavours. That probably means moving away from authorship and the idea of the individual visionary.
Another image Daisy use is the imaginal cells in a caterpillar chrysalis, seeing the creatives around her as part of a larger transformation (“everyone I meet is an extraordinary genius these days”). The body of the caterpillar resists the imaginal cells during the early stages of metamorphosis, but eventually enough appear to take the process forward.
For me it’s a really hopeful perspective because it also allows for some compassion for the reactionary forces. Might we be able to bless the dinosaurs? Could they simply be holding the old body steady in the best way they know how whilst we imaginal cells find each other?
Speaking to Daisy in person, she is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the world. Visions like this mycelium network are the sort of thing we need to help us through the future.
I’ve focussed on Daisy’s part in this interview because I’ve been thinking about similar things recently. Kate Alderton’s discussion of dreaming is also inspiring, and her The Dream-Fishing society is an important part of the mycelic network, providing new ways to encounter and interpret the world.
We are now 766 days into the pandemic (counting from the day after the government advised against “unnecessary social contact of all kinds” and my office was closed). I’ve not written much about my personal experience of coronavirus recently, but I wanted to make a note of how this current phase feels.
The government recently announced that it was time to get back to normal, and that coronavirus has to be accepted as little more than a bad flu. Testing is no longer free. In shops and trains I’m now often the only person wearing a mask. I even heard from a family member about a teacher who wore a mask to class as they were teaching after testing positive. At the same time, daily deaths continue, with the total for yesterday reaching 646 running around 250 or more (the 646 figure on 21/4 apparently included data from several days over Easter).
The question of how this might end has been there from the start. Despite the Prime Minister’s blithe promises that things would soon be back to normal, it was obvious that any permanent solution depended on preventing transmission of the virus either through ‘zero covid’ strategies or herd immunity.
Both of these options soon became unfeasible – the virus has escaped even the most intolerable and inhumane quarantine regimes. The vaccine, while an impressive scientific achievement, does not provide permanent immunity. For a time it looked as if the government would be bringing out regular vaccines but this seems to no longer be the case, (although further boosters are being provided to the clinically vulnerable).
As far as I know, I’ve not been infected with covid, but with the omicron virus being so transmissible this is inevitable – there was even a case recently of someone catching two variants within three weeks. I had my last booster on Christmas Eve, so my protection from the vaccine is waning. ’Long covid’ is affecting 1.5 million, a number that can only grow. For the more severe cases it proves impossible to work, yet diagnosis and intervention is limited.
It looks as if the current plan is to muddle along for now. People will catch and recatch the virus, with rising cases of long covid. It’s an alarming situation but people seem happy to go along with it, and few wear masks. Eventually, a new, more dangerous variant will emerge, or the toll of long covid will be unignorable. Those problems are being left for the future to deal with.
Faced with an unsolvable pandemic, the government has decided to do nothing, while not being honest about the impact this will have. While mitigating covid is expensive, even the affordable steps have been ignored. We wasted billions on corrupt PPE deals, incompetent testing, and Potemkin Nightingale hospitals, yet spent little on ventilation for spaces like schools and offices.
Since there’s little I can do, I’m getting on with my life like everyone else, albeit with a little caution. There’s a strange feeling that everything’s normal when it isn’t. Welcome to life in the Anthropocene.
Back in 2021, my friend Dan Sumption held a kickstarter for his book Mostly Harmless Meetings and I signed up, even though this wasn’t my usual sort of reading. The book contains a series of ‘encounters’ to be used in role-playing games. Dan describes the project as “a TTRPG zine containing tables for random countryside encounters with birds, beasts, trees, plants, and landscapes“.
I read Dan’s book book cover-to-cover last week, treating it like a strange piece of literature. It definitely works that way, becoming a sort of Borgesian/Oulippian take on British rural folklore, with a series of creatures and things you might meet. Dan’s encounters describe a place that is definitely England but a little.. wonky. An environment of woodland and hedges, with strange quests delivered by small creatures. It’s a place you could run into enchanted trees, rabbit funerals or talking spiders. The book is also beautifully illustrated with “art by dead artists”.
Mostly Harmless Meetings is an interesting example of Indie publishing. Dan joined a “zine jam” at the end of 2021, setting up a kickstarter for the zine, with a budget of £400 to print and post 50 magazines. The project boomed, receiving over 250 pledges. My favourite thing about the zine was the feeling of an ephemeral community building up around the project. It’s got me thinking about how Kickstarter seems to be its own genre.
The board games and role-playing communities are going through an incredibly exciting time, and Dan’s work through Peakrill Press is part of this. It’s a long way from the role-playing games that were around when I was a teenager, heavily in debt to heroic fantasy and epic sci-fi. Mostly Harmless Meetings is a glimpse into this wider world, and has me curious about what else is out there.
Dan is currently working on his next zine, Learning to Draw Trees, about a drawing experiment he tried in 2021 and what he learned from it – which also features a simple role-playing game by Côme Martin called You Are a Tree where you get to play a tree. I can’t wait to read that. There is a Peakrill Press mailing list, which you can subscribe to from their site.
I found an odd story in Fortean times a few months back. Apparently, in June 2020, a group of 50 people were seen walking towards Ardingly Reservoir carrying suitcases. This was reported in several Sussex newspapers, including the Brighton Argus:
BIZARRE reports of 50 people with suitcases walking to a water reservoir remain a mystery. Police officers were called to reports of a suitcase-carrying contingent at Ardingly Reservoir near Balcombe on Thursday. But after a search nobody carrying a suitcase was found at the popular fishing spot.
This happened on June 25th 2020, so such gatherings were legal at the time, I think. It’s a strange story though, and a powerful image. Digging through the news reports, all of them refer to the same pair of tweets from police Prevention Inspector Darren Taylor, who started working in Sussex a month or two before. An article in Sussex Live talks about his new job and how he will use twitter to publicise his work. His account has since been deleted, but the original tweet is quoted in the articles:
Team are currently responding to calls from members of the public in regard to approx 50 people walking towards Ardingly reservoir, carrying suitcases! pic.twitter.com/ozM8HURJjd
The linked image no longer exists. A single follow-up tweet came just after:
An area search carried out and the team could not locate anyone with suitcases…most bizarre.
I guess it was a hoax – I mean, any sort of happening involving 50 people should have produced some content. But then it seems to have been taken seriously enough for the police to go out and investigate. The police twitter account even refers to multiple “calls”. So, while this is almost certainly a hoax, who was the hoaxer?
Forteana often finds a channel through local newspapers publishing quirky pieces which are then quoted elsewhere as evidence. Here we have a story that was printed without asking any of the obvious follow-up questions, with content sent direct from twitter to print. I guess that’s a reflection of the way media works now – the Brighton Argus is basically an online organisation, reduced to begging for stories from social media. They are so short-staffed that most stories simply cannot be dug into.
Maybe one reason for not investigating this is that it’s too good a story to ruin by investigating it. The idea that this happened is more interesting than it being a hoax. But I’d love to know what was going on.
I spent much of January in the pandemic doldrums. I’d been planning to do more with my free time, but just can’t get enthusiastic about risking covid. But, at the same time, I’m spending too much time on my own, and need to make some effort to explore my new environment. It’s hard to know what to do. The combination of virus and political chaos sets a depressing backdrop.
But, while things are bleak, I’m trying to make the most of it. I had visits from Katharine and Kaylee, the latter bringing along her DJ equipment. I was tempted to get a set of my own, but had to be honest with myself – I don’t know how I’d find time to use them. I also visited family back in the midlands, and made a day-trip to York to visit Justin.
One of the things I wanted to do with 2022 was to put more writing out. This month I brought out a new zine of South Downs Way stories, Weird Tales. I also set up an etsy shop for my zines, something I should have done long ago. Putting the zines on sale is making me think about how to make my writing more appealing. This is feeding back into the writing of Volume 5 and, I think, making it stronger.
Another change for 2022 was reducing my daily walking commitment from 10,000 steps to 5,000. Despite that, I managed a total of 294,048 steps, a daily average of 9,485 – not that far off my old target. This was helped along by a few long hikes, and my highest total of 29,672 was a day out with the local Ramblers around Hebden Bridge. I got soaked, which serves me right for being complacent about Calder Valley weather. I didn’t manage much other exercise despite what I had promised myself. I must at least do my stretches.
It’s been a good month for TV. Snowpiercer and Ozark have both started new seasons – although Ozark suffers a little from spending too much time on the Byrde family and not enough time on Ruth. I’ve finally got hold of How to with John Wilson, and love the beautiful weirdness of Wilson’s New York. I came to Yellowjackets a little late, but it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in years, and I binged the series in five days. The only film I saw was a rewatch of Midsommar.
I finished eight books this month. Last of the Hippies by CJ Stone was an interesting discussion of British counterculture, focussing on working class experience. Paint my name in Black and Gold described the early days of Sisters of Mercy and how Andy Taylor from Leeds was taken over by Andrew Eldritch. It was exhaustive in some aspects (Eldritch was partial to Fruit Shortcake biscuits), but I was sad not to hear any stories of the Sisters touring with Public Enemy. Also, Eldritch tried to get Werner Herzog to produce his album, although it faltered when Herzog suggested he and Eldritch go camping along some ley lines. Best book of the month was Olivia Yallop’s Break the Internet, which explored the world of influencers.
Like everyone else, I’ve been playing Wordle and enjoying the mix of luck and skill. I’ve also continued to waste time on Days Gone. It’s not a bad open world game, and I like the fact that it’s not entirely nihilistic. But sometimes it just feels like having a boring imaginary job.
And so we move into February… Let’s see what it brings…
This month, I published a new zine of stories. This is the fourth in a set of flash fiction zines set along the South Downs Way. The stories are intended to work indepently, but contain links and recurring characters. Copies are available direct from me (drop me an email) or via my (new) etsy store.
This volume is slightly harsher than the other three. It had a long gestation period, which included the tough Winter 2021 lockdown. Some of the stories were influenced by reading Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass, which examines the politics of the British landscape. The stories also take a weirder tack than the earlier ones, and I love embedding this strangeness in a landscape I know well.
I’ve now written four volumes of this collection (the other three are also available on etsy) and am now working on the fifth. It’s been a long time since parts three and four, but I am looking forward to finishing the next set of stories. Between producing these booklets, I’ve been thinking more about the formats and how to share them. I’m also getting more excited about building links between tiny independent stories.
Given the review headlines for Matrix 4, I didn’t expect much. Whatever, I loved the film from the start and kept waiting for the moment where it turned shit. It never did. As the credits played, I thought that might be one of the best films I’d seen in years.
Matrix 4 is not a perfect film. I can see why some people didn’t like it – particularly when it was so uninterested in topping the spectacle of the previous three movies. Instead, there was a thoughtful film about nostalgia/retro culture.
I can’t claim my responses as a cis-male are as interesting or important as those of trans fans, but I took a lot from it. For me, it was a film about growing older, and losing touch with the power and optimism of youth – how ‘they’ “made you believe their world was all you deserved”. This is particularly poignant, given how the themes of the first Matrix film have been co-opted in the years since.
I like that this reboot did not just go for nostalgia or outdoing the original (I mean, Star Wars 7 and 9 had fights in the literal ruins of the first trilogy). Undercutting the originals seemed a good way to go. Some additional, miscellaneous points:
There seems to be a split in reviews between those who wanted stylised violence and those who loved the story. The makers did not seem interested in outdoing the violence and, indeed, the Morpheus office gunplay seemed half-hearted and slapdash. I think that was intentional.
I love that Neo never picks up a gun in this film.
Earlier this week I visited a museum in the town of Craven Arms, called ”The Land of Lost Content” (that’s content as in “contented”, not media – it’s from a poem, by AE Housman). It’s basically a social history museum, displaying goods and artefacts from WW2 onwards. I’ve never been to a museum like it.
The collection is eclectic. There are clothes, toys, foodstuffs, fads and consumer goods. One picture frame includes some documents relating to the Hoover free flights fiasco. There is Ajax scouring powder; a Woolworth’s Pick’n’Mix Barbie set; a rubbery cushion that looks like a Wotsit’s packet. One mannequin sported Pantalungs, plastic clothing designed for weight loss.
It was certainly something to see years of ephemera crammed into the space (it was a little like a flea market where nothing was on sale). You could see how the developments in materials over the decades had been adopted, with plastics and brighter colours becoming commonplace. But there was also something melancholy about all things that were once aspirational and are now ridiculous.
I wondered what an alien would think if they tried to interpret our civilisation from this museum. The collections was eclectic and provocative and with such a range of items couldn’t help be be interesting.
One complaint I have about the museum was its treatment of racist artefacts. These were mostly confined to a single cabinet, and showed how casually and openly racist British society once was. While this is important, these are hurtful and offensive items. Maybe they should not have a place within the museum where they could be so easily encountered. The text beside them needed to be more condemnatory. The “innocent acceptance” of racist imagery can’t be brushed aside as the “olden days” – the BBC was screening the Black and White Minstrel show in my lifetime.