Tag Archives: outdoors
Danny MacAskill is essentially an entertainer. That’s how he earns his living. The combination of technicality, discipline & sheer joy of living he displays in this video leaves most popular fiction–100% a form of entertainment–looking sludgy & banal, even in its own terms. Why doesn’t popular fiction encourage writers as entertainingly skilful as this? Because we do not value the skillset itself, only the story it mediates. We long ago separated the skillset out and donated it to literary fiction. Danny MacAskill doesn’t tell a story. He just is. Indeed, by the look of it, he just is the skillset. As a result I cry every time I watch him perform, because the performance is so much more intense than anything I’ve ever made.
Nettles grow high up in the bank of the lane, leaning over to head height where the pavement is narrowest. They smell dry even when they’re wet. Shocking orange berries on a shrubby rowan tangled in the hedge. The retirement builds set back from the lane always smell of cleaning and washing. Further along, the woods lean over too. From this point, you can sense the river down there in the gorge. The bridge too, although you can’t quite see it. I turn off abruptly, contour the slope into more open land, trudge up to the Hall, and bring back three kinds of willow leaves to identify. My body, perhaps retaining muscle memories of eight years in the Holme Valley a generation ago, is adjusting quickly to this kind of morning walk, shedding its London weight, leaning enthusiastically into the sharp little hills and grim old weather.
It’s very Garner. Sunken lane with holly trees. Witch’s pool, steep-sided and dry. A cliff made, on closer inspection, of something friable between mud and stone. It all drops away steeply into the valley. But before that a dozen footpaths and neat, well-serviced boardwalks open up, all signposted by competing outdoor quangos, agencies, trusts, conservation bodies, nature reserves and local councils. They flex their muscles between the trees, run precipitously into one another, stumble into brand new stiles, topple into overgrown quarries and out again the other side, indicate in a quiet panic in all directions. They are saying, This way! and, This way! They are offering access. They are offering so much access. It’s confusing. The OS records two rights of way, the more significant of which, though it remains on the map, vanishes from the ground just as you have become used to it. To make things worse, half a mile into the wood we meet a woman in a Boden summer dress and high heels, walking away from an isolated house in the upper rooms of which a dog can be heard barking. I check to see if she is wearing gloves, because the rest of the outfit looks suspiciously 1950s.
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.