A different way of living

The problem with having a favourite time of year is that it will inevitably pass. In even the best of years that passing will come too quickly. Particularly in the best of years it will come too quickly.

For a time it felt that spring 2020 had not so much passed as simply been placed just beyond reach by random circumstance. Not cancelled – the familiar party would go ahead, same time as usual give or take. Humans just wouldn’t be on the guest list this time. Stay at home – it’s for the best.

And to some extent it seemed that it was: traffic noise suddenly seemed like a recollection from a more primitive time; the air – even at its most urban – was more fragrant, smelling of… well, nothing really. And clearer too: Venus visible in the western sky long before the sun had dipped below the horizon, burning larger and brighter still as the dusk deepened. Compensations in troubled times.

We knew that lockdown, long before it finally arrived, had become an inevitability; a ‘when not if’ acceptance that the road back to familiarity was likely to be both extended and arduous. Some of our first thoughts were for those communities along the Severn Valley floodplain – Ironbridge, Bewdley and many others – barely started on the process of salvaging possessions and livelihoods from receding floodwaters and now dealt another body blow. If there was ever any inclination to feel sorry for ourselves, it was quickly dissipated by the infinitely more serious plight of others.

It became important to focus on making the best of what was still available to us, particularly the sudden and unexpected availability of that most scarce of resources, time. We were diligent, observed the ‘one period of exercise per day’ guideline (albeit, on occasions, stretching out the time taken); eschewed the car and set out from the front door; combined the local trails and bridleways more creatively than at any time before. We watched bluebells, wild rhododendrons, fields of rape and asparagus, appear, disappear, change beyond recognition. We saw the last of the departing migrants and the first of the arrivals. Saw their creativity in choosing nesting sites and turning them into places to raise a family. Nothing is ever wasted in nature, least of all time.

This year has altered perceptions about many things. People have endured far worse these past few months than the triviality of our cancelled holidays and disrupted plans for days in the hills. There are some, too many, who won’t see another spring.

If we’re all still around to see the flycatchers and redstarts return to Gilfach and Elan Valley in 2021, I hope we remember to be as appreciative as we ought to be. I doubt any of us will be taking anything for granted.

Stay safe out there; help others do the same.




A goodbye to 2016

So much has been said and written about 2016 that there are probably few, if any, stones left to turn. The level of attrition among well-loved and iconic celebrities seems to have been unprecedented; the shifts in the political landscape certainly caught out the commentators and experts – pollsters included; indeed pollsters in particular. If I’m left with any overriding impression, it’s of a year where seminal, potentially life-changing events seemed to have moved beyond the control of anyone and assumed a momentum all of their own.

Turmoil: it’s not exactly a new phenomenon but it does make me grateful for the cathartic effects of walking among the hills, getting some separation, if only temporarily, from what passes for reality. This year, those have been the best of times; and that’s probably true in most years.

The worst of times? If I had to single out just one, it was the senseless, incomprehensible killing of Jo Cox.

On a personal level, I shall forever miss Leonard Cohen; there won’t be another to fill that particular void, not in my lifetime. Since his passing, I’ve listened to a number of discussions about which was the best cover of Hallelujah – Rufus Wanwright? John Cale? Jeff Buckley? The list, like the debate, goes on…

There’s a custom in football of, in exceptional circumstances, ‘retiring’ a shirt number worn with distinction by an outstanding player: Cruyff, Baresi, Zola, Henrik Larsson as just a few examples. Similarly, every now and again somebody just makes a song their own, for posterity…


Jo Cox : 1974-2016

A happy 2017 to all: perhaps we will get to live in uninteresting times for a while.

Lazy stereotyping (23/11/2014)

There’s a lot of it about: certain politicians (and by certain, I mean most); smartarse television and radio presenters masquerading as investigative journalists; tabloid hacks masquerading as human beings; lobbyists, publicists, advertisers and PR flannel merchants; football people.

It would be easy to level some of the blame at Twitter, with its 140 character limit, but this all started long before the age of the tweet. Reductio ad absurdum – that’s nearly what I’m talking about; not quite, but I don’t know much latin. It’s more this modern day partiality for reducing even the most complex and nuanced of issues to a single, over-simplified, one line conclusion.

A few days ago – in the middle of a relatively low-key conversation about turbines – someone suggested to me that it was a “well known fact” that all environmentalists are in favour of wind farms. There was genuine surprise when I responded that I consider myself to be very much an environmentalist and that there are more definitions of caring for the environment than those promoted by the high-profile NGOs and their political allies. I pointed the chap in question in the direction of some of the outdoor blogs, with the assurance that he wouldn’t find a bunch of people anywhere who cared more about the environment. I know that he took me at my word, read a good few of them, had his eyes opened and will continue to read more.

But it’s apparently easy to sell a lie; and the more glib the deception the easier the sale seems to be. Terms like ‘The environmental lobby’ are bandied around, go unchallenged, and become part of the currency; it’s convenient, precludes the need for analytical thought, and suits a particular agenda.

The alternative – acknowledging that there’s no such thing as a single, homogenised, collective representing the complete spectrum of environmental opinion and thinking – well, that’s a lot like hard work and very difficult to condense into a soundbite. It’s disturbingly easy for those with access to the right channels to marginalise others who refuse to be compliant; disturbingly easy to bypass or subvert proper democratic and consultation processes. No need to win a debate if you can arrange for it never to take place.

Quite where I’ve gone with this I’m not sure; even less sure about where to take it next. Introducing new people to the outdoor blogging community is a small start, and an enjoyable one. It will have to do until I can think of something better.