From the vaults: Magazines revisited (29/07/2012)

Some time back I decided to set about the task of retrieving, a few at a time, my stockpile of old walking magazines; rescuing them from their dusty purgatory and scanning those articles and reviews which I felt would be worth keeping for posterity. ‘Setting about a task’ obviously implies different things to different people; some would see my extended conceptual stage as nothing more than prevarication, and dismiss my measured approach as merely idleness in a posh frock. To those people I say “Pah”; this is a task to be treated with respect, savoured, approached with a slow-burn philosophy…

Okay, I’ve stared at the pile quite a lot and not actually got very far. There has been some small progress though…

The oldest issues I still had lying around dated back to 2002: not a full year; slightly more than half, as it happens: June to December for both TGO and Trail, plus – and this was a bit of a puzzle – a single edition (December) of Country Walking. Here, in typically scattergun fashion, is a small selection of snippets from the archives (of TGO only – re-reading old copies of Trail would be a bridge too far):

The cover price in 2002 was £2.95 – meaning an increase over 10 years of £1.00 and just under 34%. How that compares in percentage terms with life’s other little luxuries (Badger’s Fursty Ferret, polenta,Sky Sports, tickets for a Neil Diamond gig) I have no idea. Arguably Fursty Ferret is more necessity than luxury, particularly after wading through back copies of TGO.

I have rediscovered – and read again – many of the extended, meandering, thought provoking articles so typical of Jim Perrin in the days before he was reduced to the role of reviewer of vintage books – a worthy enough feature in itself, but hardly one to make the best use of Jim’s elegant prose.

Alongside the enduring stalwarts, there were many pieces from former regulars who have, over the intervening years, become less frequent contributors or elected to pursue other outlets for their talents –  Ian Battersby, Andrew McCloy, the new-age mystic Dave Key. Mike Harding was still around (and not yet tucked just inside the back cover). Sad reminders too, of the much missed photography and writing of the late Jerry Rawson.

And then there are some who have been away and returned – the nutritionist Chris Fenn being just one example. As a generalisation, the columnists who have survived the various metamorphoses and re-stylings seem to have done so at the cost of a few more wrinkles and grey hairs, and maybe a little extra weight. And why should they be exempt from any of that?

The binding of the magazine was then as it is now – flat spine, glued (there’s probably a technical name for the technique). The ‘staple years’ seemed to start sometime in 2006 and will be reached eventually at some indeterminate future date. Well, possibly they will – let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The September edition was purchased – in August, obviously – from W H Smith in Pitlochry? How do I know this? The receipt was still tucked inside, and will remain tucked inside when the magazine moves to wherever its onward journey takes it.

Some articles I remembered reading first time around, and found it slightly disturbing that so much time had passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. There were others of which I had little recollection, including an excellent piece by Bill Birkett (October) on scrambling on the Bla Bheinn traverse.  There was sad news of the loss of Galen Rowell in the same issue (followed by an extended feature in December). There was a fine extended article in the July edition on the life of W H Murray.

In contrast, there was a serious study of flatulence by Chris Fenn in November, and welcome news of the return of Pete’s Eats, post refurbishment.

Anything else? Well, yes…plenty; here’s a few to be going on with…

  • Pacerpoles were still very much the new kid on the block
  • There were more adverts for compasses, and very few for GPS. Smartphones were still the stuff of Startrek.
  • The maps accompanying routes and feature articles have changed significantly in style over the last decade, with the spread of computerised mapping software. There were many more hand drawn illustrations back then; some of them real works of art.
  • The lightweight revolution was more trickle than spate. A test of daypacks in the August issue was restricted to Golite (who contributed a couple) and a handful of others; most of them in strange colour schemes.
  • Lightweight waterproofs were being described as those weighing less than 500 grams – plenty of them costing £180+ and some at well over £200. Shoes might, on average, have been a little cheaper than today, although it is difficfult to be precise with changes in models and the effects of on-line discounting.
  • It was certainly possible, even a decade ago, to pay £216 for a 62 litre backpack. Admittedly the item was from the Arc’teryx ‘if you need to ask you probably can’t afford it’ range.
  • An advert for the dial a stalker scheme was much less sinister than it first sounded.
  • Oh, and TGO was being congratulated (in the letters pages) for highlighting the issue of wind ‘farms’ and making the case for new generation nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture. 10 years on, not too much as changed on that front, other than the number of turbines.

It’s been entertaining (in much the same way that Drygarn Fawr in sleet is entertaining) and I’d almost like to hang onto them. But they have to go.

And so we move on to 2003. That is a full year and may take a while

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From the vaults: Have we mentioned the weather? (03/07/2012)

I keep hearing statistics bandied around: the coolest since records began; the wettest since before records began (that would presumably involve an element of guesswork?); weather conditions unprecedented since the time of Moses – a fine 400 metres hurdler long before he became a reference point for climate change.

Growing up in the Black Country, you’d often hear the old-timers say “I’ve never known weather like it”. Mostly, we ignored them; after all they were old timers – forgetful, prone to exaggeration, the worse for drink. Latterly – being further down the road to old-timerhood than I’m really happy to admit – I now find myself saying, quite frequently as it goes, “I’ve never known weather like it”. Obviously the fact that I’m forgetful, prone to exaggeration, albeit annoyingly sober, has to be taken into consideration, but the sheer remorselessness of April, May and June seems to be taking things to new levels. And no pun intended either for those who are bearing the brunt of the overloaded watercourses.

Our local hills are of modest proportions, but some of the steeper sections have become all but impassable. The ground is so sodden that effectively the entire slope is little more than a semi-liquid mudslide hanging loosely from the side of the hill. There is potential for a very rapid descent in a number of places.

A few miles away, there’s a sandstone ridge, which usually soaks up everything that even the worst of weather can send along. Today it is a quagmire and the adders, which at this time of year you’d expect to find basking on the open heathland, are nowhere to be seen.

Around the garden there are a number of small to medium DIY jobs in need of attention; nothing major – a couple of fence panels needing repair, a few courses of loose brickwork in need of re-mortaring. The kind of low-risk task that can be quite therapeutic, given a warm, dry day and a bacon sandwich at lunchtime. If only…

We planted runner beans a few weeks back: “Be sure they get enough water” – that was the advice from those who know their beans. Well, whatever other obstacles they may encounter in their brief lives, dehydration is unlikely to be an issue.