…to the National Parks.
Tag Archives: outdoors
S’s miniature dachsund chases a fox across the common. The fox, which has a dead rat in its mouth, increases its pace slightly above a walk and the dachsund on its two-inch legs immediately begins to fall behind, looking crestfallen. “This crestfallenness,” I suggest, “seems to indicate a more socially complicated transaction than first appears. It must always have been perfectly clear to the dachsund, for instance, that it wasn’t going to get any of the rat.” “The tragedy of miniature dachsunds,” S agrees, “is that they are only ever looking for one thing: recognition as dogs.”
I bought a set of cheap cast iron dumbells. They arrived in the kind of plastic case you associate with home drilling equipment, which smelled strongly of whatever compound the manufacturer had used to keep the iron from rusting. It was an intrusive smell–not quite mineral, not quite organic–so, since I intended to store the weights in the case, I put it out on the balcony & left it to the cleansing rain of Suburb Barnes. It’s been out there ever since. Internally it has the shape of a set of dumbells with the weights affixed in increasing rather than decreasing size, & it opens flat. Within hours these graded rectangles were full of water. A few days later the squirrel turned up &, after an angry look around to make sure nobody wanted to make anything of it, took a drink. She’s been visiting the new pond daily ever since. If I keep still I can watch her suck it up, an act she performs with as much aggressive, whole-body physicality as she does everything else. Chemical residues don’t seem to have turned her into any more of a monster than she already was. I’ve had a lot of use out of the weights and now the squirrel has too. I was wondering: if I introduced a few small fish, would I perhaps attract a heron.
Where the stream slows and deepens it is the colour of petrol. Grebe, mallard, tufted duck, moorhens, all with young. The older moorhen chicks look less downy than hairy, like some combination of mammal and bird. A mayfly is stuck on the surface of the water. Later the afternoon turns windy and cold. We pass some half-timbered houses with steeply-pitched roofs, trapped between sewage works and a railway line. New build is going up all around them. Two guinea fowl huddle together, staring intently into a bow window; while through an open side door we glimpse a figure running up stairs. “You can tell water’s deep,” B says, “simply by looking at its surface.” By the time you’re ten years old, she claims, you’ve learned to interpret its colour, the way the light plays on it. Over quite a short period you’ve learned to weigh it by eye. “There’s an organic need to make estimates like that.”
The park, yellow & brown. Water standing in short grass. It’s water on everything & stags’ heads over the bracken as if someone’s crouching in there holding up horns. The hill opens out & I’m back thirty years: I’d have spat on a park then. I would have run it so totally into submission, seeing myself drift instead down the side of Kinder waving my arms, utterly free (apart from a bad knee & no money). In the park’s car park I check out this really brutal-looking Subaru Impreza WRC then walk thru walls of trees to get back to you. Never imagine I don’t have such talents.
Richmond Park. Cold & clear but no frost. An argument about how few cyclists are out this morning–C rightly points out that all we can know is that there is one cow in Scotland & one side of it is black. We run downhill at first, round a wood, along a stretch of bridle path slightly up hill in sand. Stags regard us with momentary irritation from the bracken, then go back to honking & clearing their throats at one another like theorists. It isn’t the Peak District but I feel good just to be outside & not in a street. Later at the hot snacks stand, two men chat about computers. “Of course, of course,” they agree. They laugh. They’re knee deep in terriers, one of which–a Border bitch dubbed “Maisie” –is very clever with a stick. The sunshine looks as if it was applied to every individual item during the night, like gold leaf. It’s as if someone worked so hard to make things nice for the people who come here from Kingston, Richmond, Barnes, East Sheen, as far away as Clapham. Later, Billy the bloodhound arrives, queen among dogs. The Saturday trade is mainly in bacon sandwiches, although one boy eats a frankfurter with thick squiggles of mustard & ketchup at 8.30 in the morning before he gets across his rather beautiful road bike.
Dubious & formalised, as in Bilbao’s ex-docks or Sheffield reinvented as an apres-steel boutique: from industry to heritage industry. Wreckage needs to be real. It needs to be free. The central, inevitable & useful thing about a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond is that it’s a bent & rusty girder sticking up out of an overgrown cooling pond. Anything else is so pathetic: cleaned up, saved from itself (separated from the entropic processes it was always part of) & fit for a place on the mantelpiece in a nice front room. That teaches us something about the sublime in general: ie, really, it’s the Black Spot, the beginning of the end. So try & avoid capturing, recapturing or–especially– “celebrating” it. The urge to convey the authentic glee & terror of the post industrial wasteland is the beginning of the processes of romanticisation, postmodernisation & domestication. From the raw horror of a working blast furnace, through the uncanny of that much rust, to the kitsch. We need to live in the ruins; forget them; then live through them all over again, as whatever the landscape makes of them. Anything else is the media souvenir.
What I liked about Climbers was its one-to-one relationship with stuff. My first climbing rope was braided polyprop. They told us: don’t, whatever you do, buy a polypropylene rope & top-rope on it. So we all went out & got polyprop & drove down to the sandstone & top-roped on it. 100 foot of polyprop cost about £3.00 at the time. Nobody was daft enough to do anything but top-rope on it.
So I top-roped my first route at Bowles on three turns of polypropylene rope round the waist. There was a really neat way to tie a bowline on 3 turns, which I probably don’t remember now. My polyprop was blue & in better nick than the string in the picture above. I did a classic abseil on it the same weekend while wearing shorts & a T-shirt & burned big grooves in myself. We weren’t supposed to abseil yet, but I had a book with a diagram in it.