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Wednesday, 16 September 2020

North Yorks Walks

Map of the North York Moors

It was great to be out on the North York Moors again, although there was a time when I would not have said that. It is where my first proper walks were, with boots, cagoule and rucksack, fifty years ago. My friend Neville used to drive us up on Saturdays in his Ford Anglia and we would spend the day walking. Don’t ask me where: the names Helmsley and Chop Gate sound familiar. Neville had been walking for longer than me and knew all the routes. He persuaded me along and I just followed – literally. 

More often than not he would disappear off into the distance and leave me trailing behind in wretched misery, with swollen ankles, and feet blistered by badly fitting boots. That first pair was fine for a few miles but I could never get the right combination of thin and thick socks to avoid rubbing. Nowadays I wear just one thick pair and stick on a piece of micropore tape at the slightest hint of trouble, which is not very often. As for ankles, from quite an early age I was forever going over and spraining them. I once jumped half way down the stairs and went over with a crunch. The pain was unbelievable. I always went over at least once on Neville’s walks, and still do sometimes, but it doesn’t usually hurt now. Mrs. D. says I’ve got lax ligaments. People cringe when I put the soles of my feet and my knees together at the same time.

On one walk, on Fylingdales Moor near the strange radome “golf balls” (replaced in 1992), I was so far behind I took a wrong fork, and rather than backtrack two hundred yards took a short cut across an area signed “Ministry of Defence. Danger. Unexploded Mines”. I was past caring. Another time, Neville organised a group of us to attempt the Lyke Wake Walk – a 40-mile crossing of the moor from Osmotherly to Ravenscar – but I had to give up less than half-way with one ankle puffed-up like a balloon, and red-raw heels and toes. My heels had blisters upon blisters and my toes looked like they had been stripped with sandpaper. It showed the world for what it is: the beauty and the pain.

The beauty won: the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside. Somehow, I persisted, and my feet, ankles and even I toughened up. We walked in all weathers. I must have been very warm-blooded because, even in the coldest winds and wettest rain, I wore only a cagoule over t-shirt and jeans. I would even go out like that in ice and snow. Now, maybe ten pairs of better-fitting boots later and owner of warmer clothing, I wish I got out more often. So, on holiday last month, it was great to be out on the North York Moors again. One walk was around the enigmatically-named Hole of Horcum.

Panorama of the Hole of Horcum
Panorama of the Hole of Horcum, 2007 (Adam Jennison, Wikimedia Creative Commons)

The Hole of Horcum is a huge natural amphitheatre 400 feet deep and three-quarters of a mile across, just west of Fylingdales Moor. Legend has it as ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’, formed when a giant threw a handful of earth at his wife. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Apart from the fact that no one would even dream of throwing a handful of earth at his wife, the giant was called Wade, not Horcum. I think Horcum must have been his dog, one of those enormous English Mastiffs, and the hole is where he buried a bone and then dug it up again. In any case, curmudgeonly geo-morphologists have to go and spoil things by telling us the Hole was formed by a process of water-erosion called spring-sapping? 

The Hole of Horcum
The Hole of Horcum, 17th August 2020

My own picture is from roughly the same viewpoint as the panorama, taken from the edge of the hole soon after we began circling anti-clockwise. The purple heather was putting on a better show this year. On reaching the far right-hand side we went off at a tangent along a path to a five-way junction at Dundale Rigg (what a name for a folk band!). From there you can divert to Skelton Tower (an 1830s shooting lodge) and marvel at the steam trains on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway far below. However, we continued on to the sleepy village of Levisham and then looped back East and North along the side of a wooded valley, picking our way through nettles to reach the footpath across the floor of the Hole, visible in the above photograph. In seven miles we had walked the whole of Horcum.

Levisham Village 2002 (Stephen Horncastle, Creative Commons)
Levisham Village

Entering the Hole of Horcum
Entering the Hole of Horcum, 17th August 2020

Another day we walked along the cliff top, along the track bed of the old Whitby to Middlesboroughbrough railway, which closed in 1958. Some of the now-dismantled structures along the line, such as the Staithes Viaduct, were remarkable. At Staithes you can still make out the brick abutment on the hillside across the valley from the village car park that was once the site of Staithes railway station. The viaducts survived as potential Second World War targets only for unaffordable maintenance costs and declining passenger numbers to achieve what Hitler did not.

German WW2 photograph of Staithes Viaduct

We joined the track at Sandsend, following in the footsteps of the intrepid Mr. Yorkshire Pudding who was there last year, and also ourselves in 1997, with the same two people in the next photograph as above. Whereas Mr. Pudding’s group continued the six miles north to Runswick Bay, we turned inland towards the village of Lythe and returned to Sandsend by a higher path across fields, giving a bird’s eye view of the resort.

Sandsend 1997
The old railway track north from Sandsend, 19th September, 1997, looking towards Whitby Abbey

Sandsend 2020
Looking down on Sandsend from the higher cliff path, 16th August 2020

The final photograph is from the cliff tops south of Whitby near the Abbey, which gives fine views in the opposite direction, north towards Sandsend. You can see Sandsend and the wooded cliffs where we walked.

Whitby 2020
Looking north to Sandsend from near Whitby Abbey, 21st August 2020

From the Abbey you descend the famous 199 steps back into town.

For more photographs, this guy’s web site is a real treat:  
Sandsend to Runswick Bay
Hole of Horcum (he starts at Levisham). 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Review - J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye

J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye (5*)

Another book not picked up since I was a teenager at school, indeed, to be honest, the very same book in which roughness on the inside of the front cover betrays where the school label has been cunningly removed.

I was unable to finish it in those days. I went through several years of not being able to read anything much at all. I would begin earnestly enough but quickly find myself stepping mentally away and thinking good, I am now reading, really reading, which meant that I wasn’t, which is why I am having to catch up with all these books now.

That sounds almost like the kind of thing the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, would say. I can still, just about, identify with him. Holden has been kicked out of boarding school for failing in nearly everything. He wanders aimlessly around New York for a couple of days, avoiding home and parents and trying to pass for older than his sixteen years. He books into a hotel and goes out for drinks. The lift man fixes him up with a prostitute and then beats him up. He sees an old friend and falls out with a girl friend. He nearly freezes to death. Throughout, we hear his constant, drifting thoughts: hating everything, disliking everyone, moaning about all the superficiality and insincerity he sees; the original angst-filled teenager.

The thing he hates most is “phoneys”: the headmaster who will only talk with influential parents; his older brother for cashing in his talent to write for Hollywood; the lawyers in it for the money rather than to help people. Yet the biggest phoney of all is himself. He tells you the one thing he can’t stand is the movies and then a few pages later talks about going to see them. He pretends to like teachers who try to help him. He gets into conversation with the mother of a pupil he dislikes, and lies about what a popular and sensitive boy her son is, the complete opposite of what he really thinks. He then lies to her about why he is not in school:
‘No, everybody’s fine at home,’ I said. ‘It’s me. I have to have this operation.’
‘Oh! I’m so sorry,’ she said. She really was, too. I was right away sorry I’d said it, but it was too late.
‘It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumour on the brain.’
‘Oh, no!’ She put her hand up to her mouth and all.
‘Oh, I’ll be all right and everything! It’s right near the outside. And it’s a very tiny one. They can take it out in about two minutes.’
Then I started reading this time-table I had in my pocket. Just to stop lying. Once I get started, I can go on for hours if I feel like it. No kidding. Hours. (p62)
The only person Holden genuinely respects is his young sister Phoebe, and when he sneaks home to see her she accuses him of liking nothing and of not wanting to be anything. He says the only thing he wants to be is the catcher in the rye:
You know that song “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye”?  … I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye … And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff … That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye. (p179)

which shows how adrift he is. “It’s if a body meet a body,” says Phoebe. “It’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

Many will hate this book and find Holden Caulfield repugnant. I loved both. Holden is real and vivid enough, I imagine, still to ring true with teenagers today. I laughed out loud at some of his overstatements, such as when he meets “... one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you” (p91). Most of what he tells you is a façade: he is yet another unreliable narrator with a distinctive first-person voice. Beneath the resentment he is intelligent, perceptive and generous: he reads a lot, lends his jacket to a school friend and writes an English essay for him – the one subject he is good at. Only when his sister Phoebe trusts him unreservedly in her readiness to run away do we glimpse hope as he starts to accept responsibility. He catches her from going over the edge of the cliff. Which takes us back to the start of the novel when he is recovering in an institution and telling us “... about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.”

Only one scene has stayed with me from my attempted reading so long ago, which is when Holden looks out through the darkness from his hotel window into other illuminated, uncurtained rooms to see a couple at play and a man dressing up in women’s clothes. Funny what you remember.


Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

New Month Old Post: Jim Laker, Mr. Ellis and the Eagle Annual

(First posted 12th April, 2016)

 “You can bowl, Hunt.” Mr. Ellis threw the ball at me, hard, his superior smirk turning into a contemptuous sneer. 

He had mistaken me for Dave Hunt. It was easily done, we were both thin and feeble, but to correct him would have gained yet more of his unwanted attention. He was right though: I could bowl, except he didn’t know it yet.

We were in the school cricket nets. Mr. Ellis had decided to demonstrate some batting strokes and for once had invited one of the sport-averse, wimpy weaklings to participate: someone whose ineffectual bowling would be easy to deal with. What he was unaware of was that, coached by the Eagle Annual, I could put quite a spin on the ball.

Eagle Annual 7 (1958)
It might have been an aunt or uncle who bought me Eagle Annual 7 for Christmas in 1958. It was far too ‘old’ for someone who had not been reading long, and the stories, adventure strips, factual articles and activities were mostly beyond me. I just looked at the pictures.

The original disappeared long ago, but I won this scruffy replacement on ebay for little more than the cost of the postage.

The Laker Grip
And there, on page 98, is ‘The Laker grip’, the drawing that fuelled my imagination all that time ago. It shows a hand with a cricket ball wedged between the first and second fingers, the way Jim Laker held it.

Jim Laker (1922-1986) was a Yorkshireman who played for Surrey and England, but sadly, never Yorkshire. To cricket statisticians, he is notable as the first bowler to take all ten wickets in a single test match innings, playing against the Australians at Old Trafford in 1956.


Jim Laker 1956
Jim Laker after taking
19 for 90 in 1956
In that particular match he took nineteen wickets for the loss of only ninety runs, 9 for 37 in the first innings, and 10 for 53 in the second: an incredible achievement. It says this in the text, although I don’t remember reading anything of it in the nineteen-fifties. All I remember is the illustration. It caught my attention because we had recently started playing cricket in the street.

I have a thing about objects in flight. Even now I scare my family by spinning knives in the air and catching them by their handles. The sharper the better, two revolutions rather than one, sometimes three, but never four: last time I tried four I caught the wrong end.  

And so it was with a cricket ball. How satisfying to be able to bowl with a spin to make it bounce up at an angle. I practised for hours with a tennis ball, and by some semi-conscious combination of shoulder movement, wrist rotation and finger friction at the point of release I could choose to turn it quite viciously either to the right or to the left. When at a later point someone bought me a proper cricket ball, hard and heavy, with a seam to give traction, you could sometimes hear it buzz when I let it go.

I know nothing of technicalities such as off-spins and leg breaks, and it never occurred to me it might be possible to make a ball curve in flight. We only played across the street, with a lamp post for a wicket and occasional pauses to let the Council lorries go past on their way to and from the depot. After things became all homework and television we stopped playing cricket completely. I don’t think I bowled again until that day a year or so later when Mr. Ellis decided to show off his batting prowess.

It was a beauty. As it left my fingers it whistled clean as the wings of a Pontefract pigeon. It bounced in front of him and jumped aggressively off to the left, just clipping the edge of his bat as he came forward to meet it. Anyone behind in the slips position would have caught him out first ball. Mr. Ellis poked disparagingly at the ground with his bat as if to flatten some non-existent lump or divot, thinking unevenness must have caused the deviation. 

He threw the ball at me a second time, a little more thoughtfully than before, and told me to bowl again. This time I turned it to the right and hit Mr. Ellis on the pads. In a real match he would have been out leg before wicket. He looked up almost in admiration.

“Well done, Hunt! Excellent! I wish I could move it like that. I bet you can’t do three in a row.”

So I surprised him with a straight one, as fast and accurate as I could send it, and this time it did seem to catch some irregularity in the ground, causing it to squeeze past his bat into the stumps. 

And true to character, when a little bit of assertive self-promotion might have elevated me to the glory of a place in the school cricket team, I kept quiet about not being who Mr. Ellis thought I was, and when the names of the second eleven were revealed for our annual grudge match against Hemsworth, a bemused Dave Hunt was one of the bowlers.