Music Project Up and Running!

We are up and running, as the title would suggest. The journey travelled on this project has thus far been an extremely long one. Any moments of note have been subtle and certainly spread pretty far apart. The latest update therefore represents something of a significant milestone. It is the first palpable collaboration with outside parties since the whole thing was conceived. Very exciting.
 
Just yesterday was the first jam session with an assembled group of musicians – the first I hope of many (specifically 11). Without revealing too much about the song to take this opening accolade, I can at least give it’s name (Nightdrive) and a rough genre (prog rock). Enter Tom (bass), Marcus (drums) and Sanj (lead guitar). Never before have I and these three individuals occupied the same room together and yet, perhaps through some sort of universal musical magic, I think everyone hit of off well! Added to that we managed to get some passable music going and we are now poised to get the track down and recorded as had been the plan all along.
 
The day kicked off with a general chat through the track and some initial chatter. Sanj and Marcus bonded over some mutual appreciation of thrash metal and Tom brought along a ridiculous pedal board that lit up in many beautiful ways. Then we got down to learning and developing the song. Considering it was the first time any of us had really played it (including me having pieced it together into a demo bit by bit) I think we did rather well. A short break and a beer, during which we put the musical world to rights, pointed out some choice opinions on the local music college and discussed the pros and cons of life as a session musician. Then back to the music.
 
Throughout the course of the afternoon, it was noted how, seemingly for the style of music on display, there seemed to be some patterns emerging. Firstly, a propensity for physics and data analysis amongst us. Indeed, between us there were 2 physics degrees and one for electro-acoustic engineering. Secondly and more to the point, three out of four of us had long hair – something surely of statistical significance. I would argue that, if a straightener were taken to Tom’s curls, we could easily make that four out of four.
 
Anyway, satisfied that good progress had been made (and me safe now in the knowledge that I think this project is going to work!) we headed to the pub for some well earned beers. Amongst some fairly deep musical philosophising, we mused over the best decade for music. If you’re interested, the 80s won.
 
 
 
So far then, off to a good start. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on this trick and others as we begin to pick up speed.
 
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Ps. if you haven’t the faintest idea what this is all about, go to the following website (www.wap-uk.org). I promise you the link is fine!

Dartmoor Camp

I’m wild camping again and this time it’s a two-nighter on Dartmoor. That’s right, we’re really raising the bar with this one. Rich is back, my long haired companion who looks, as ever, the professional camper. But that’s not all. We are lucky to be joined by a new character in our ongoing wilderness-taming saga that started by the Thames before moving to the coastal paths of Cornwall. Enter Ross, a former army soldier man who now plies his trade as a teacher. With his survival skills learned through both vigorous training  and from tours in Afghan and his intimate knowledge of key stages 1-4 in Geography, his presence could prove vital. 

The sometimes brutal peaks and troughs of Dartmoor are no joke so we’re going in prepared. While one might call the utilisation of all-terrain vehicles along with a full support crew ‘being prepared’, we’ve instead plumped for a Corgi called Bowie. Time will tell whether that was a good call or a terrible mistake. 

Our aim is to hike out into the wilds of Dartmoor, pitch up and lose ourselves in the midst of nature once more. As I drive into Dartmoor on the Friday evening, I have Ross in the passenger seat and Bowie in the back. The sun is getting low and once off the A-road, the routes become stupidly narrow very quickly. Bloody quaint though, as if Hobbiton is just around the corner. Just as we comment on how it’s like going back in time, a spectral white horse canters into the road out of nowhere, like an ethereal vision; an omen of the land we are entering. Not sure if that’s a good sign or not. 

As I mentioned, we are doing a two-nighter. For this we need to assemble our full team and for that we need Rich. He’s at the pub already in a lovely little place called Chagford. Screw camping for the night, we have some food and beer and decide to stay there. It’s a five-star inn after-all and we don’t want to get trampled by white horses in the night. There is a picture on the wall of a man that looks like a cross between Monica’s Dad from Friends (talented veteran actor Elliot Gould) and Prince Andrew (sweaty royal). The food is good and the company excellent. Bowie sleeps in my room and is mildly well behaved, if not a slight pain in the arse. 

As Corgis tend to be, Bowie is small and annoying. He has short legs and a long body. He is two years old now and is extremely intelligent. He can be charming and very sweet but I am convinced he would leave us all to die if it meant he was allowed to lick the plate after dinner. He recently developed a sudden and appalling limp after coming down some stairs that convinced me he had broken his leg, only for it to instantly disappear half an hour later when someone opened the back door through which he rushed with gay abandon. I am becoming increasingly convinced that he is a psychopath. 

Breakfast lives up to the five star nature of our digs. Cup of tea and an eggs benedict for me. We discuss that if Rich were to release his own run of cereal bars he would name the brand ‘Nutrient Rich’. Ross gets out his OS map like a pro and we plan our adventure on the wooden table of the pub beneath its ancient wooden beams. We identify a spot where we can leave the cars and strike out into the wild not twenty minutes away and so off we go. On the way, the scale of the moor opens up around us and we cut our speed to avoid the suicidal sheep that throw themselves in our path every twenty metres or so. 

We arrive at a visitors centre where we park up. Immediately two things become apparent. The first is that there are a load of spotty teenagers running around with oversized back packs on. Upon asking why there is such a high frequency of the greasy angst ridden vessels of emotion, complete with all their Harry Styles badges affixed to their clothing, we are told it happens to be the weekend of the Ten Tors Challenge. According to its website, The Ten Tors Challenge is attempted by 2,400 teenagers in 400 teams of six, navigating routes of 35, 45 or 55 miles (depending on age) over the Northern half of Dartmoor, visiting ten nominated tors / check points in under two days. Rich seems indifferent to them, Ross shifts noticeably into teacher mode, his face lighting up as if it’s Christmas. I briefly contemplate setting Bowie on them all. 

The second thing that becomes apparent is the lack of bins on Dartmoor. This particular issue comes to the fore as Bowie drops trow and squeezes a steaming pile out right in front of the visitor’s centre. Naturally I have to clear it up but, after some fruitless investigation, it looks as if the poo is coming with us. It seems that extra carabiner I brought along was worthwhile. I can’t fit the poo bag onto the back of my pack without help and so we invent a sophisticated code to help us. Whoever fastens it on shouts out ‘poo secure’ to signify the fact that the poo is secure and I can move off without disaster ensuing. 

Teething problems overcome, we set off and blimey it’s hot. I have been clever however as I’ve worn a white t-shirt and everyone knows that this is better at reflecting the sun on a warm day.  Presently, after passing several bands of teenagers, one of whom is carrying quite literally a ghetto blaster on his shoulder, we reach quieter climes and it begins to feel as if we’re finally in the grip of the great outdoors. Presently, we reach a stream and as we confront Ross’s OS map once more, it appears our chosen direction lies on the other side. While the stream certainly looks inviting in this heat, I note that we have full kit and a corgi who will definitely drown if he attempts to cross on his own. Bearing in mind we have only just made it through a muddy bog, I quickly rue my choice of attire. Bowie has, to this point, never been as wet and muddy as he is now. As I carry him across the river, my t-shirt will never be the same again. And the car is barely out of sight.

As we continue onwards,  and with the Queen’s jubilee approaching, I weather the obligatory comments from passing walkers and more teenage outdoor types, all eager to point out that Bowie is a corgi and that we’re all in the presence of royalty etc.  I smile through gritted teeth and just nod. 

Around midday we stop for lunch having climbed one tor and passed through several other monuments. Before we know it we have been walking for hours. Our task has been to find a spot as far away from any children as possible and late afternoon we hit the jackpot. Whether it be through blind luck or through Ross’s intimate knowledge of contour lines on the map, we find some stone circles on the side of a small valley that look as if they have been made for us. As we set up, we admire the lovely views into the distance and, mercifully, not a teenager in sight.

It has been a tough hike thus far and our water levels are running a tad low. While Bowie is content to drink from bogs and puddles, Rich, Ross and I have some standards. We locate a stream from which Rich can extract clean water with the help of his trusty water filter. As we set off over the ankle-breaking terrain I look back and notice a group of Dartmoor ponies sidling up to our camp. They have a swashbuckling twinkle in their eyes and so I double back to protect our home for the night from a proper ransacking. 

What follows is a bit of a staring contest as they loiter 20 yards away from our tents. One of them has a mane that makes it look like Sheena Easton. Then, all of a sudden, they all just pause, as if someone has just switched them off. I had no real idea that this is how ponies sleep until this moment. I sit fascinated until Rich and Ross return triumphantly with fresh H2O. 

As the sun sets, we cook food and drink whisky from a flask. These are the moments that make this sort of thing worth it. The air is clear and though the temperature is dropping, it’s okay because we have jumpers with us. I have brought along a camera trap which I bought from Amazon on a whim and am keen to see what small rodents are running around at night up on Dartmoor. I move someway off from the camp and fasten it to a small rock in front of what looks like a natural trail through the grass. 

Then, bed time. I have anticipated that Bowie will be exhausted by now but it quickly dawns on me that I am utterly wrong. If anything he is more alert and active now than at any point through the day. I have to attach him to my arm via his lead to stop him from running off in search of Sheena Easton and so he just sits upright outside my tent for 5 hours, barking at the moon. Needless to say I don’t get much sleep.

When I finally do get some sleep it must be only for an hour or so before the little blighter jumps on me and starts licking my face. We emerge from our tents amidst a dense fog. Rich almost immediately digs into the overnight oats that he prepared the night before with a decidedly smug look on his face. To be fair, this was a rather impressive move and Ross and I glance at each other in silent acknowledgement. I get up and collect my camera trap, eager to find out what has been going on out there. Turns out absolutely nothing has been going on. Just the breeze rustling the grass. At least I have a sausage sandwich to gobble up. 

As I discuss our route off Dartmoor with Rich and Ross, we sip on tea and coffee and I inadvertently melt my spork on the camping stove. I wonder whether this is how spoons were invented. I am keen to walk back through the nearby forest but am quite rightly overruled by my companions who feel our odds of getting immediately lost in there are high. As the fog clears, we see a military helicopter appear in the distance, landing on the horizon before rising once more and disappearing into the beyond. Later, as we retrace our steps from the day before, we see two more, this time flying right over us in the valley. The first moves with a meticulous slowness – it appears to be following all regulations to the letter and is probably flown by a pilot called Roger or Colin. But the second is really giving it some. It flies much lower and banks at crazy angles. I can’t be certain as to whether the theme to Airwolf  is actually playing or is just in my head. Rich says it’s in my head. 

After what seems like a much shorter walk than the day before, perhaps as our packs are a bit lighter, we reach the cars again back at the visitors centre. We head straight to the pub for some food with no regard for the other customers on account of how bad we all smell. I am exhausted, as is Rich. Even Ross looks tired. But Bowie is decidedly chirpy. Corgis are tough little things I realise. We bid Rich farewell and as I drive home, Ross channels his inner geography teacher by falling asleep immediately.  Overall, a great success and one which we all agree needs to be repeated. Watch this space. 

 

 

Wild Camp in Cornwall

You may or not remember my wild camping trip last year with my mate Rich. It was such a success that we vowed to do it again. This is the one where we do it again.

This time, we decide to get a bit more ambitious. A number of years ago Rich and his wife decided to abandon me and move down to the coast. Treachery aside, it does mean that I have friends and (crucially) a base in Cornwall from which I can stage an epic camping trip if needed. Rich has had his eyes on the south west cost path (a pathway of such significance that I was unsure whether or not to capitalise it – having just looked it up, it turns out I should have done) for a while now. This path extends for 630 miles from Somerset all the way round the Devon and Cornwall coasts, ending up in Pool in Dorset. It even has its own website. For a path, I think that is pretty impressive.

Our aim for this trip was to tackle a small section of it over a couple of days, camping on the open road each night while we did so. Rich’s plan was to start in a small, innuendo-friendly bay called Welcombe Mouth. From there we would camp our first night and set off southwards towards the town of Bude and, should the wind be behind us and the carbohydrates within us, beyond.

Logistically we (I) was struggling to see how we could start in one place, finish in another and then exfiltrate ourselves using the same infiltration method we’d started with. I hadn’t counted on Rich’s excellent wife who was happy to drop us off at the beginning and pick us up when we’d had enough a couple of days later.

Trip sorted. The weather is another issue. Of course for the entire journey there, it pelts it down with rain, but as soon as we arrive in the welcome mouth of Welcombe Mouth, the rain leaves us and the evening sun creeps out from behind the clouds in a really rather generous fashion. As a result, the waterproofs never see the light of day.

For dinner, we build a fire on the beach, strewn with logs and pebbles after a brief discussion on whether the tide is likely to swallow us up before we’ve even opened up our beers. We decide it won’t, so we open up our beers. Proven correct, we enjoy a seabass and vegetable foil dinner that Rich had already prepared. Such is the quality of this meal that, frankly, I would have been happy with it in a posh restaurant. Aside from a rogue pocket of hot slate that explodes out of the fire and a small rockfall that falls on the exact spot we’d initially set up on, we enjoy a superb evening looking out onto the open ocean. The vista we look out on is worthy of a desktop screensaver.

As night falls, we set our tents up on the cliff and, apart from a lone van in the car park, we are the only ones in the whole valley. At one stage, just as the light is all but gone, I become convinced that the headlights of the van flash at us from across the other side of the stream that runs through the valley. “Doggers,” says Rich casually. I can’t quite tell if he is joking but from that point on, I keep a close, untrusting eye on that van until we leave the next day.

Generally speaking, during the nights when I am camping, I invariably get a very cold nose. This one is no exception. I’m convinced it is ever since I got an elbow to the face while playing football. As we pack up the next morning and hike out of the valley, tents and all on our backs, I speak to Rich about my idea for a nose cosy. I would call it a ‘nosie’. He doesn’t really say anything but, tellingly, neither does he laugh so I can only assume he loves the idea.

The path itself is breathtakingly scenic, something we discover through the course of the morning. Nothing quite beats looking out on a sunny seascape whilst watching a frolicking seal in the surf. On the other hand, quite a lot of things beat lugging a backpack of a weight equivalent to Matt Hancock’s conscience up and down the steep sides of each valley. The coastal path is rife with streams running into the sea, each with its own deep carving through the cliff tops and so what is quite a short distance as the crow flys turns out to be a hell of a lot more in reality. After one particularly strenuous climb, Rich almost bunders into a hedgerow just as a nice lady bids us a good morning. Ah to have been a crow.

By midday I feel like I’ve worked my gluteal muscles so fully that I would feel reasonably confident opening a can of baked beans using just the cheeks. Lunch is taken in a small gulley through which a babbling stream runs and from which we replenish our water supply. Luckily Rich has one of those water filters so thankfully neither of us subsequently die as a result. I come up with the idea of camping slippers.

After lunch, we set off back into the Cornish countryside (we had already crossed the border from Devon to Cornwall earlier that day). As we approach a cool-looking government radio station, we pass some walkers. Not just any walkers though; they mean business. I hadn’t realised but the South West Cost Path (capitalised) is kind of a big deal and people really do go all in on it. If you’re trying to do the whole thing then to miss even a small section out is sacrilege. Such is the opinion of the cheerful gentleman who passes us coming the other way. Apparently we are on a small detour inland which he too has mistakenly taken. He informs us cheerfully that he is retracing his steps in order to ‘do it properly’. It can only be a few 100 yards difference.

A little while later, he catches up with us (he doesn’t have Matt Hancock’s conscience on his back) and, with a spring in his step, declares “caught you up.” Stating the obvious I think to myself, while smiling back at him. To my shock, he then adds the following words verbatim… “And my anal fixation has been satisfied.” Must be the man from the van I ponder. I am too otherwise appalled to say anything out loud.

It’s a long afternoon of hiking but we eventually make it to some semblance of civilisation (a café on a fairly isolated surfing beach) where we grab some drinks and realise we have both been cultivating an impressive sun burn on our faces, necks and arms since we began earlier in the day. I buy some sun cream and aloe vera (pricey) and a snickers (affordable).

We begin to debate where we are going to camp. It is tempting to retrace our steps a way to a suitable spot seen earlier. The opposing temptation however is to carry on, even though we are approaching the outskirts of Bude, making it harder to find a place to camp without being blatantly obvious. We choose the latter option and live to regret it. More quickly than we had anticipated, Bude looms into view and we are forced to get a bit posh and pay a local farmer £10 to camp in his field. Not quite wild camping then but we do have access to one of the best equipped portaloos I have ever had the pleasure of using. We have noodles for dinner with a view of the ocean over the cliffs and I note how manly my hands look as a result of the work they have had to take on during our journey. I invent the word mands which I think is my best suggestion yet but Rich doesn’t look so sure.

The next morning we pack up and head into town where we have an excellent fry-up and a big coffee, (Rich has some sort of mocktail that I don’t know the name of). I buy some more butane for my camping stove in a department store straight out of the 80s after which we climb out of Bude back onto the cliffs to continue our journey.  I stop at one point to look at the lifeguard trucks below. Purely by coincidence, I have been watching a lot of Baywatch recently and I get a bit excited.

We stop every so often to apply our newly acquired sun cream and I eat a protein bar that tops any other protein bar I have ever had. As we grow wearier, we decide to pinpoint our exfil site – a beach not much further where we can eat lunch and await Rich’s wife to rescue us. The beach we get to is a bit ropey to be honest. We pass the ‘Beach House Hotel’ which looks like the house from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and decide to eat instead at the local café. I’m glad we do as the tartar sauce sachets they have there are cutting edge.

After lunch, we decide to retreat to the one pub in the bay for the final stages and, in contrast to the scenic tranquillity of the British coast we’ve just experienced, we witness the human element to this landscape. We watch with interest as five generations of one family race around on the mini go kart track outside as we sip on much anticipated pints of Doombar. There is a parrot in a cage in one corner and a child plays nearby who we can only assume is feral. In fairness to the locals, the breeding pool is small.

Overall, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our journey over the last 2 days. According to Rich’s calculations, we have covered 15 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation. Rich is keen to get home now to address the ‘chafeage’ he has endured around his waistline (of all places) and I need to apply ice to my shoulders which feel as if they have been compressed beneath several tonnes of Matt Hancock’s promises.

Until next time.

My New Book!

With any luck, I’ll have a book out on Amazon in a week or so. That’s pretty exciting. As much as I would love it to be my novel however, that will perhaps have to wait. Instead, to get at least a foot on the ladder, I decided a while back to compile my medical columns published fortnightly in the local paper into a book. 

From an early stage I wanted to be realistic about what I wanted from this. Primarily, if any agents were swayed by my having published something then that would be tremendous. I had put a few feelers out to see if any agents wanted to get on board with this project but to no avail. Rather than wait forever, I decided to go the self publishing route. After a lot of research, it became a bit of a no brainer to go with Amazon. 

It is actually a pretty simple system. I have had to work pretty hard to get it all formatted and ready but once that is done, the process can be pretty much sorted in 10 minutes. I am at the stage where I have sent for a few proof copies to make sure the paperback version is not rubbish (fingers crossed) but once I’m happy, I just click the button. 

There have been a few choices to make along the way. What price I should sell it for is one of them. Amazon allow 60% of the royalties for the paperback which I guess isn’t bad in the circumstances and it is a print on demand system. In other words, people buy and order it online and it is printed once for each individual order. This avoids me having to print a bulk load of a hundred and then seeing me stand by as they are all pulped. Paramount in my mind when making this decision was the closing scene of Alan Partridge season two.

Lockdown has made the decision for me as to whether or not to buy any copies myself and flog them at book shops. My biggest outgoing therefore was a cover. I wondered whether this was something I could do myself and I gave it a go but in the end, to avoid hours of frustration and potentially getting the formatting all wrong anyway, I decided to hire a professional. This was also very easy via a great website called Reedsy and a chap called Anders helped me out with getting a nice professional design all worked up. He cost a fair bit but I didn’t really mind.  

If I make enough from the book, I might break even. To make any money on this was never the main goal and I realise that there will be a finite market for this one – essentially the readership of the paper. That market, although limited, is not insubstantial however. If I make a loss, quite frankly it will be nice just to see a book with my name on it. I could tick that off the bucket list at least and if I do make a bit of money, then all the better!

 

 

Camping Trip

We watch a lot of rubbish on our phones these days. While I may not be captive to the drudgery and soul sapping likes of Tik Tok and stuff like that, there is still a place for such mindless nonsense in my life. I talk of that specific point of the day in which you are tasked with something mundane but necessary. Making breakfast for example, or putting clothes on (not always necessary but, in general, recommended). Although I will occasionally binge something suited to background comfort viewing on the Netflix app, You Tube tends to be my go to medium for such things and I watch a plethora of useless output while I’m pottering around the flat. From videos of other people playing video games, some guy talking about watches, pens and spreadsheets (don’t ask), videos of what people carry in their pockets, the occasional compilation of people getting hit in the face with balls (my all time favourite thing) and, most recently, videos of people going camping.

In particular, credit here must go to a chap called Steve who has a channel called ‘Camping with Steve’. In it, Steve goes camping. It’s a simple as that (although the episodes where he goes stealth camping do add some variety and excitement to proceedings). Steve is an ultra-chilled, super friendly Canadian who takes the viewer on a trip into the Canadian countryside and allows you to imagine for a second that you are along with him on a nice sedate trip, away from the noise and responsibility of everyday life. Occasionally, he’ll bring along a mad looking gent with long hair and one of those beards so substantial that it muffles your voice, whom he refers to only as ‘Crazy Neighbour’ but whether accompanied or not, there’s something relaxing and calming about it all. 

So it is then, that I am now standing next to my car in a small gravel layby alongside a sleepy village green in the middle of nowhere, as if I’m a spy waiting for a drop. My bag, laden with the new equipment I have accumulated over the last week or so, (much of it snatched up in a frenzy from the, frankly obscene, sale the local Millets were putting on), lies on a grassy bank nearby. I am waiting for my mate Rich who will be my companion for the next 24 hours or so. My girlfriend has already made it clear she is ‘not up for it.’

Rich pulls up in his car, all suited and booted, straight from work. Like Crazy Neighbour, he too has long hair (that I have always been very jealous of) and a beard, but his attire does not paint him as someone about to embark on a wild camping trip. He dives into the back seat of his car to change and emerges looking like a different man. He now wears all green and camo, sports an army issue back pack and, with his hirsute appearance, looks as if he is just about to join a sit in for Extinction Rebellion.

‘It’s a short 30 minute walk to the spot’, he tells me cheerfully. Rich has been here before and knows the area better than me. As we set off, it’s a good chance to catch up as we’ve not seen each other for a while. We soon pass some ridiculous houses; the sort that have remote gates and the actual house is too distant from the road to be seen clearly.

I have quite a lot of stuff in my pack, including a tent and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a ‘short 30 minute walk.’ My knees are screaming at me but I don’t let on so as not to lose face. Rich seems unphased by the slope we are descending while all I can think about is the fact that we are going to have to climb this again in the morning.

Like an accomplished Sherpa, Rich guides me first along undulating paths and then into woodland (at one point identifying a rare type of fern as if Ray Mears himself were here with me) and soon, down a perilous slope which we have to edge down sideways. Arduous as this is, it’s great to be outside in the fresh air doing something a bit different. I see the glisten of the river through the trees and I know we’re almost there.

We reach the bank of the river and move northwards along it, past loads of rubbish left by wankers. This is why wild camping is not technically legal, we remark to each other. Not much farther, we find a perfect spot to set up camp and we crack open a couple of beers to celebrate. As we sit on a log by the water, we watch an Aryan-looking cohort of public school boys row past us. (Collective noun for posh public school boys? A cox-less four? A Parliament??). Instructors wail at them through megaphones from motor boats.

One lanky kid in a single tries to take a rest, completely unaware we are there a few feet away and watching with amusement. From some way away, he is suddenly told via megaphone to ‘get the bloody hell on with it.’

As the sun begins to set, we set up camp. I pitch my tent while Rich strings up his outdoor hammock. (Of course he has an outdoor hammock). I must admit, it looks pretty badass. There is a brief moment of horror as Rich discovers what looks like a lower jaw bone tucked into the trunk and it takes us a few moments to reassure ourselves that it isn’t human.

Next up we have dinner. I have managed to pick up some pretty nifty cooking stuff and I quietly congratulate myself on not only this, but also the fold up stool that I am sitting on as I cook; arguably the best thing I’ve brought with me. I heat up some tomato lentil broth with some delicious veggie sausages mixed in and I can honestly say I would be pleased with that in a restaurant. Quite the woodsman, I think to myself.

As the sun gives its last, we gather some firewood and light a small fire. As we compare notes on Netflix and Amazon programmes to ensure neither of us has missed anything awesome, we hear a rustle in the bushes. So dense is the darkness by now that not even my awesome head torch can make anything out. With the severed jaw in mind, we retire for the night, Rich to his hammock and I to my tent. It’s a comfy night and it is not long before I drift off. The next time I wake, it is still pitch black but I can hear rustling in the bushes again, this time closer than before. It’s fine, I tell myself. Rich has probably just decided to have a wander. The trouble is, I need a pee. I remind myself that this is the UK and it is unlikely there are any wild animals out to get me. (I am reminded of another time when I was camping in the Rocky mountains – legit bear country – this time in the same tent as my mate Dave who woke in the middle of the night having suddenly realised that the rustling outside our tent might have something to do with the sandwich he had left in his pocket.)

I leave the tent, take a piss and am not mauled to death or indeed horribly murdered. Other than distant machinery, probably work on the railway which is not too far from here, the night is otherwise unremarkable and come morning, I feel pretty satisfied. Rich tells me he has also had an alright night but was perhaps a bit cold and I am not sure if he senses my smugness.

While sitting on my trusty stool, I brew some tea and cook some bacon on my stove as the mist rises from the river. The tranquillity of the moment is rudely interrupted by the sight of an enormous spider crawling up my jumper towards my throat, which I have to get rid of pretty sharpish. I briefly remember a moment when, half asleep, I brushed something from my face; I thought this was my ever growing hair (my aim is to be as long as Rich’s) but I now realise that the spider was most likely with me all night.

This aside, it has been a huge success. Full with bacon and tea, I pack up my gear and as Rich and I walk back along the banks, we spot two nutters swimming down the rider with dry bags pushed in front of them. Lo and behold they reach the bank next to us and climb out. One guy is literally just in his pants.

‘Ya, hi guys. Did you camp out last night?’ (said really poshly).

We confirm to them that we did. It turns out that these two like to go for runs, then take a dip in the river midway through before trail running their way out again. Sure enough, a bit further along we are overtaken by the two of them, this time clothed, thank God. While Rich and I lug our massive packs up the impossibly steep hill, they prance by energetically, giving us a friendly lycra clad wave.

The familiar creek of my knees gradually returns. We have done our bit and taken away as much of the rubbish left further down the river bank as we can, so we are still weighed down somewhat. Halfway along, it is Rich that signals for a rest. I make out like that’s fine, if he needs it. In reality, I am rejoicing.

As we reach the cars, I realise we have made it and without a hitch. Rich’s expert location scouting has done the trick and though we part ways, it is on the understanding that this is but the beginning. I could really get into this camping thing and it beats just watching other people do it on You Tube!

Haunting at Frimley

This ghost hunting is fast becoming a thing. As we had a bit of time to spend away again not long after our trip to Bath, Rach decided we should go on a nice relaxing spa trip. I, on the other hand, had other ideas. More ghoulish antics were definitely called for. 

Step in Frimley Hall hotel – Spa and gym package on the one hand, haunted house on the other.

With our weekend all booked, our journey to Surrey is comfortably short and, whether it is a spike in confidence or just plain denial, Rach seems annoyingly calm. Perhaps she is focused on the impending dressing gown and slipper combo (slippers which, I would argue, provide sub-par purchase on the ground should she need to run from a ghost and that’s not even factoring in the trip hazard).

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a little disappointed at her laissez faire attitude but I am rewarded for my patience as soon as we arrive on the driveway at Frimley Hall. Her exact words are ” Oh my God, this is horrible.” Turns out she has just been hiding her anxiety a bit better this time around. 

Excellent, I think to myself. Her words are, in fairness, a little harsh to the good people at Frimley Hall. The building and grounds are lovely but I can also see what she means. It has a stately feel with lots of intricate nooks and crannies across its ivy-covered facade. It looks like the sort of place the location scouts from Jonathan Creek would be all over. 

We arrive just as the sun is setting and I can tell Rach is eager to get things sorted before it disappears altogether. Despite her barked instructions on how to carry our bags in, I can’t help be be distracted by the massive tree out front. I comment that perhaps it is the biggest tree I have ever seen in this country. The trunk is thick certainly, but the sheer height of it is quite something. Rach tells me to stop going on about the tree. 

We enter reception through a stone archway, its heavy wooden doors opened and propped either side. Pretty much everything in here is wooden – the stairs, the floor, the desk. I note that the tree outside is lucky to be still standing. The guy at the desk who checks us in has a really calm and sleepy voice and I have to stifle a yawn. As I stand there a bit dazed, Rach is staring up the wooden staircase, a little frown just visible on her face. This, I realise, is the exact epicentre of the hauntings at Frimely Hall. 

Legend has it that, back in the depths of time, a nanny took her eyes off the child she was looking after just long enough for it to have fallen down the staircase, dead. (Frankly, the stairs are so shallow and are so nicely carpeted that, for a child fragile enough to die from a tumble down these stairs, it was only a matter of time anyway).

Either way, from then on, it is said that the ghost of the nanny frequents the top of the staircase and the landing along from it, wailing in anguish over the time she dropped the ball. 

All checked in, we get to our room, not too far from the aforementioned landing but because it is a newer part of the building, I sense Rach instantly relax. Even more so when she realises there is a bottle of Prosecco waiting for us within. 

There’s a quick turnaround before dinner, punctuated by a brief panic when we realise there’s no hairdryer in the room. Rach leads the outcry but, as I’m currently growing my hair, I’m secretly bricking it also. Fortunately a quick call to reception (its the guy with the relaxing voice again) saves the day. 

At dinner, it becomes clear that the hotel is far from full. The Covid 19 pandemic has hit the place hard. The dining room is uncrowded and there are apparently only 6 staff present forming some sort of skeleton crew. The parallels with a Jonathan Creek mystery are beginning to strengthen. 

Dinner is lovely and halfway through Rach feels a chill behind her which neither of us can explain. She goes a bit pale while I examine the cutlery, with which I am very impressed – weighty, with a premium feel but really quite small so my hands look and feel massive.

Over desert, I whip out my phone to read a bit more about the building. Originally a family home, Frimley Hall dates form around the 1800s. After changing hands several times over the years, it became a hotel from the 1930s, briefly providing a location for the women’s naval service during and for a time shortly after WW2. 

To me, it is the wartime era that it most retains from its history. I can imagine the dining room as a mess hall and the drawing room next door somewhere the officers could retire to for cigars and brandy. 

It is to the drawing room we move to after dinner and, a little caught up in the feel of it all, I order a whiskey. The waitress hesitates when I asked what selection they have. Rach doesn’t hold back in asking why – they’re not exactly run off their feet so we have a good old chat here – and she admits she has to go to the cellars to get the whiskey I have ordered. 

‘Awesome,’ I say, as Rach recoils at the realisation that there are cellars here. Of course, we then ask about the ghost stories and it turns out they are ‘legit’. She talks of people having seen a white figure at the top of the stairs, of strange wailing noises at night, and of doors slamming for no reason. 

While we are talking, Rach grabs my arm and whispers to me that she can feel the chill again. I point out to her that we are sitting directly next to an open window. 

That night, we get to sleep without any drama. In Bath, our previous trip, I was woken quite early on. This time, I manage to sleep through a good portion of the night. However, around 4am, I am prodded awake. Rach is staring at me in the darkness, clearly terrified. 

‘What is it?’ I ask. 

‘Are you awake?’ she asks. 

‘Uh, yes,’ I reply.

‘Who were you talking to?’ she asks. 

‘What?’ I ask, extremely confused by now. 

‘You were saying “Yes please”. Who were you talking to?’

I had apparently been sleep-talking. Not something I usually do (with one exception in my early twenties when I was witnessed to have jumped upright while fast asleep shouting “cover me!”.)

I admit I have no idea as to what I was accepting, nor from whom I was accepting it, but I quietly acknowledge to myself an element of satisfaction that I remain polite even while unconscious.

This is only half of the story though. Rach then draws my attention to the sound of the zip on my suitcase. I hear nothing now but apparently something, or someone has been causing it to rattle for some time now. I laugh, thinking she is joking but her wide eyes tell me she is deeply concerned. I go back to sleep. 

In the morning, she tells me that the preceding night had been worse than anything experienced in Bath and that my nighttime conversation had been very creepy. I tell her I have no memory of it and suggest I may have been possessed. She hits me. 

The gym is booked after breakfast where we have a good workout and then finish with a dip in the pool. We discuss our plans for the day. At the George, we have the historic city of Bath on our doorstep. Here we have Camberly, Brookwood cemetery and Basingstoke canal. We decide to relax at the hotel. 

That afternoon, we return to the drawing room for some afternoon tea. We are challenged by the waitress to guess the flavour of one of the sweets. I realise this is a far cry from the pub crawls of my youth and half expect them to switch the T.V on just in time for Countdown. Mercifully, I realise it is the weekend, so no Countdown for at least 2 days. 

The afternoon tea is delicious, the scones artery-clogging. We have the obligatory ‘clotted cream or jam first’ discussion. Rach orders some chips. 

After a nap, we escape the confines of the hotel to have dinner at a local pub. The portion sizes here are north American and Rach orders the ‘Ultimate Burger’. I order the salmon and when they bring them to our table, the waiter assumes the burger is for me as it is literally the size of Rach’s head. 

As large as it is, both meals are delicious and make us rather sleepy. We pull up to Frimley Hall again, lit in moonlight and looking quite spooky. Rach is emboldened by an espresso martini or two, so we explore the landing and examine a picture on the wall we assume is of the nanny. I swear blind the eyes are following us and Rach hits me again. 

Fortunately the night passes without even the faintest of zip themed interruptions. Nor it would seem am I offered anything else in my sleep. We wake up ready for our morning gym session and I am in big trouble for making Rach go. The espresso martinis may have something to do with this. 

After this, we sit down for a nice leisurely breakfast and I marvel at the ketchup sachets. Rather than tearing unevenly down one side like the ones in Burger King or Macdonalds, these almost miraculously tear in a perfect horizontal line across the top. I don’t know why these things aren’t everywhere. 

After breakfast, we go for a full body massage. Rach gets the short straw – her masseuse apparently ‘didn’t have her heart in it.’

If hers didn’t, then mine certainly did. I’ve never had a massage this long or extensive and I walk out of it feeling like a million dollars. I didn’t realise they did the toes as well. And to top it all off, we weren’t murdered by ghosts. So, as we bid goodbye to the silken voiced receptionist, I think to myself that this spa thing isn’t such a bad idea after-all. I could certainly get used to it.

W

Ghost Hunt in Bath

Before I go any further, I don’t believe in ghosts. I will admit, however, that I suggested to my girlfriend Rachel that the hotel we were staying in this weekend looks haunted. 

This was, in retrospect, a bad idea as it turns out Rachel does believe in ghosts. Cue a quick google search for ‘Most Haunted’ and, lo and behold, our destination has been the focus for ghost hunters on several different occasions. It turns out it really is haunted!

We read some accounts from former visitors, one of whom claims to have seen a figure standing at the foot of his bed and another sensing pressure on the mattress, as if someone was resting there next to them. 

Rachel became rather transfixed on staying somewhere else after that but, despite her protestations, our weekend booking remained in place. 

The George Inn, situated in the village of Norton St Philip, is a 15 minute car journey from Bath. Neither of us had been to Bath before, so it was an ideal destination. 

We arrived on a blisteringly hot Friday afternoon, me looking forward to relaxing for the weekend and Rachel bricking it far more than I had come to realise. 

The George Inn looks haunted. It really does. Standing 4 stories high, it looks distinctly medieval with its thick wooden beams and its curved and warped walls, all askew. It is apparently 700 years old and claims to be the oldest inn in the UK.

Upon our arrival we are met by a pleasant but harried hotel employee, all masked up for Covid. Immediately Rachel asks if it is haunted, to which he replies with a well rehearsed speech that he has not personally witnessed anything but others certainly had. In my opinion, he gives only enough information to maintain the mystery. Clever.

We  are shown to our room, the King Charles room, up a creaky wooden spiral staircase on the 1st floor. The floor slants towards us so much as we enter that I’m sure any loose items would rush out of the door. A huge wedge is necessary under 2 of the 4 legs of the bed to keep it level. A portrait of a suitably unimpressed King Charles sits on one wall while a tapestry of a medieval polo game hangs above the bed. 

Elsewhere, other ancient drawings in the characteristically child-like (shit) style of our ancestors fill the gaps on the other walls. Rather excellently, the hanging sign for the inn is directly outside our window and it makes a creaking sound in the wind. Rachel looks a bit pale. 

We drop off our stuff and we go for a wander around the village. It seems very quiet and sleepy; a crossroads village really although it used to be big in the wool industry apparently. The view of the church against the backdrop of the fields beyond across the village green provides a photo op. 

As we walk, we discuss the possibility that the entire village is a front for an MI6 base. Rachel laughs this off but I’m not so sure. 

We linger in the church graveyard and look at some of the gravestones – some ancient, worn and overgrown and others fresh and well tended. Further on we pass a dried up stream and an oddly placed apple, rotten as if from the opening titles of the Walking Dead. Perhaps most chilling of all, I notice a cuddly toy (a rabbit I think) as it lies face down in an overgrown driveway next to some rusty swings that creak slowly in the breeze. I don’t tell Rachel.

Back at the Inn, we take a peek into the ‘dungeons’. This sunken area is cooler than outside and has been turned into a sort of second bar area/ function room. From the chains hung on the walls, its original purpose is clearly not forgotten. The story goes that a group of rebels who fought with the Duke of Monmouthsire in his rebellion to overthrow King James II in the late 1600s, were housed in the inn the night before their execution just over the road. 

Legend has it that a guard was also executed by mistake – a chap known as ‘the innocent bystander’. A chilling room then – in more ways than one – but though it keeps Rachel uncharacteristically quiet, I can’t help  but notice it has an excellent sound system. 

We eat dinner at the George  a bit later on and, bolstered by some Dutch courage, Rachel collars the landlady and probes into the hauntings a bit more. She is as evasive as her employee from earlier on, very much the party line I think. However, she throws Rachel one snippet of info – another guest having apparently seen or felt something the previous night. 

Armed with this news, we retire to our bedroom, this time under the cover of darkness at which point a vital and thorough conversation takes place. Which lights should remain on?

My argument is that all lights should be off. From a purely clinical point  of view of course, that’s just good sleep hygiene. Rachel argues the complete opposite. Fortunately my argument wins out and we settle in for the night. 

It’s 2.08 and I am shaken awake from a deep sleep. I have been efficiently working my way through some sort of checklist in my dream – a list that I am nine tenths of the way through. It is a list that I will now never know what it feels like to complete. 

I look to my left where my eyes meet Rachel’s, wide in the moonlight. 

‘What is it?’ I ask. 

‘Nothing,’ comes the reply.

”Why did you wake me up then?’ I ask again.

‘I can’t sleep.’ 

Clearly nor now can I. 

This goes on for a bit and eventually I am asked to stay up and read while Rachel goes to sleep. I cast my eyes around the room, searching the shadows for any obvious ghosts. There are none.

With a sigh I sit up and get my book out – a non-fiction about the periodic table. Even despite the fact that it is bloody boiling, this is not the sort of book that is necessarily suited to staying awake at such an early hour and, though I really do give it a try, the next thing I know it’s morning. 

Breakfast consists of wheetabix, a cup of tea and one of my top 5 rated croissants of all time. 

I receive quite a detailed account of the night from Rachel’s perspective. I hear a lot about noises from the floor below and about the creaking sign but no concrete evidence of any ghosts. 

My attention wanders to the impressive ‘George Inn’ branded napkins which are of such high quality that I hesitate to use them. 

To get Rachel’s mind off the upcoming night number two, at one point seriously under threat in favour of a Premier Inn, we spend the day in Bath. 

It’s a great day. We walk to Pulteney Bridge, which I read was built in 1774 and stands out due to the shops built into it. From there we take a walk around the market from which I buy a notepad to record some travel notes. I flirt with buying a flat cap which I have felt for a while would really suit me. Rachel says no. 

We have lunch at Bill’s although Rachel is almost denied entrance after recording a high temperature upon arrival. It turns out their thermometer is tricked by the warmth of her forehead from standing outside in the sun. Strange times we live in. 

From there, we spends a few hours exploring the Roman baths, glasses of prosecco in hand. It is genuinely interesting and the audio guide is good (not as good as the one at Alcatraz though if you ever decide to visit).

We both decide to upgrade our face masks in WH Smiths of all places. Now looking flush and significantly cooler in our sleek black masks, we head for drinks in a bar and from there onto a converted railway station to eat Italian food and listen to some live jazz. The drummer reminds me a bit of Jim Broadbent. 

I’m impressed with Bath. It is genuinely unique, with its sandy stonework and its sunken valley setting. Quite alternative; a bit like nearby Bristol or faraway Portland, though perhaps lacking the edge of those places, a bit more self contained and certainly without the same amenities that a bigger city might have. For those seeking a quiet and scenic existence, almost certainly a nice place to live. 

Back at the inn, it’s night 2. Before we go to our room, I see someone in the bar that looks a bit like my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. When I point it out, Rachel doesn’t care for some reason. 

To my surprise there is relatively little fuss as we settle down but once again, later that night I am awakened by a now terrified Rachel. She has heard something. 

‘Did you hear that?’ she asks. 

I shake my head, eyes barely open. We lie and listen for a while but there really is no sound at all. Through-traffic seems minimal at night; a real plus point I would say for the village of Norton St Philip.

There follows a very serious conversation about whether or not to sleep in the car but we decide that ghosts could probably access the car park as well as they might the King Charles room. I do my reading thing again, this time managing to stay awake for a bit longer. I learn a bit about sulphur and its biblical applications before I fall asleep again.

The croissant in the morning is not nearly as good. It must have been a freak batch the day before. Rachel looks very tired but is at least relieved that we survived the night. Only now we are leaving does the landlady reveal more detail, spurred on by Rachel’s enthusiastic questions. It turns out that another guest, seemingly unaware of the spectral nature of the inn had reported sensing the presence of someone in his room the night before last. I note a visible chill run down Rachel’s spine as the story is told, particularly when it turns out the seemingly obvious guest had described seeing someone in guard’s uniform in the darkness.

I don’t think Rachel will ever return to the George Inn, but that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the weekend. Over a roast on the route home, we discuss whether she would try any other haunted locations. She says no.

I remain hopeful though. And who knows, if any other vacancies at haunted hotels pop up, who’s to say I won’t be able to convince her to book a night or two again? Especially if she doesn’t know it’s haunted 😉

W  

 

Time out

I’ve had a bit of time off this week, in no small measure down to the current pandemic (still feels weird writing that). This was supposed to be the week I went diving in Egypt to see Hammerheads and all manner of other sea creatures. Instead of sunny weather and unlimited food served on a luxury boat, I have made do with overcast skies and ready meals from M&S. 

Not one to waste the time given though, I decided to dedicate the week to getting some music done. My goal is (and has been for some time) to get an album written. Since wrapping up my band a few years ago, I have wanted to get a collection of purely self indulgent songs written to cleanse the palate. Needless to say life gets in the way somewhat, particularly when this process often involves extended periods of time to work. It isn’t the sort of process one can just jump in and out of. (Not for me anyway).

It’s been quite a cathartic week as it happens. While I am no where near finishing, I now have a bit of momentum and I’ve had great fun exploring all the cool instruments I buy and then never get the chance to use. With no time pressure, the more creative I can be. That may not be the case for some but it certainly is with me. 

Meanwhile, my hair grows ever longer. I will admit I popped out to get it  cut for the first time in a few months yesterday. Just a minor trim though – I’m fully dedicated to growing this stuff out. Twice before I have tried and failed. I am determined the third effort will be a success.

Anyway, purely for documentation purposes, I left a camera rolling for much of it the songwriting activity so, if you’re interested, I’ve mashed some of it up to some music and here’s what it looked like. 

Black Lives Matter

To avoid letting all of that unfocused anger simmer into a lifetime of disquiet and more division, the movement needs a leader.

It’s been a few weeks now since the Black Lives Matter movement hit the headlines with a surge of media coverage. As we all know, it was triggered by one particularly heinous incident in the US but there have been countless other instances along the same lines throughout history. Why then all the furore now? Perhaps the shocking footage being circulated across social media, perhaps the need to lash out following weeks of being confined to homes. Whatever the reason, it all seems to be fading again. What has it achieved? Call me a pessimist, but perhaps not much. It is even possible things have been made worse.


While mostly peaceful, some of the protests have been marred by violence (far eclipsed by the far right counter demonstrations). More to the point, it has also highlighted, from my perspective, a vague sort of righteousness from many corners that in many ways feels a little disingenuous; as if one must speak out on this as more of a procedural duty rather than from any meaningful understanding. While many campaign, I wonder whether some really get it. ( I should say that most – the BAME campaigners, many of whom will have experienced some form of racism – will almost certainly ‘get it’ in one way or another.) Arguably however, the campaigning that does take place is not necessarily useful.

I understand from some points of view the need for democratic decision in a civilised society when it comes to removing a statue. The debates regarding the statue in Oxford are probably more in keeping with this rather than the unceremonious toppling we saw in Bristol. Having said that, if the democratic process is demonstrably failing to acknowledge the issues, I can’t be too critical of those involved. When you see young girls burning the union jack on the cenotaph however, it is clear to me that the emotions (justifiably strong) of some are misguided.


My fear is that this movement, as well meaning as it is, is merely deepening the divide. There will be a significant proportion of people in the UK I am sure who will see these protests in a negative light and this will galvanise inherent racism all across the country. (Particularly as they fell in the midst of a pandemic which many will have been diligently isolating from – don’t forget, those out protesting and not observing the lockdown may not become unwell themselves but will potentially spread coronavirus and be responsible for deaths of others that could have been avoided. Raheem Stirling said that there was only one virus. I’m afraid he is wrong.)


However, more worryingly, I can’t help but wonder if other more moderate individuals will begin to feel a little intimidated by the ease with which BAME individuals label anything that happens to them as ‘racist’. For example, I mentioned to someone the other day that a friend of mine was playing a character with a Caribbean accent and they replied asking if that’s ok to do? It got me thinking. Why shouldn’t it be? From my point of view, being able to impersonate and Australian accent or an American one but not a traditionally BAME accent deepens the divide rather than heals it. Many celebrities have come out recently apologising for using ‘black face’. This is a little more contentious perhaps but nevertheless open to interpretation in the same way. I would argue that, as long as done without malice or under a genuine misguided sense of superiority, it is not offensive. Of course, things are not often so simple and there is a spectrum but we must all use a bit of common sense from time to time rather than cry fowl at every opportunity.


In many instances, this oversensitivity is counter productive and could be seen as ‘political correctness gone mad’ by many. BAME individuals will inevitably be treated differently under this scenario, with many people tip-toeing around issues or even avoiding altogether in order to avoid making some unintended faux pas.


Of course, I do have sympathy to the reactions of many considering the unimaginable injustice that has occurred historically and unfortunately that still does today. My point is that, while racism must be tackled, tackling it in the wrong way makes it somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy. All the while, the more damaging and malignant stuff carries on underneath. In order to wipe out this sort of discrimination, it needs two things: time and focus.


Generally speaking, racist leanings are learned behaviours from parents or peers. Once learnt, they are very difficult to wipe. The call for education and inclusion in curriculums of things like slavery therefore is one of the positives of the Black Lives Matter movement. As the older generations fade, time will hopefully bring more enlightened younger ones. Hence time but also focus. Arguably the focus element is most important here. To avoid letting all of that unfocused anger simmer into a lifetime of disquiet and more division, the movement needs a leader.

It needs someone who is measured and accessible to people of all races. Someone who can guide the anger of those who have been wronged and help them to heal the divides and encourage others to heal their own prejudices. Someone who is able to build influence enough to discourage people from self destructive behaviours such as the protests during the pandemic (not all self destructive I should say because it has of course got everyone talking about it) but instead encouraging people to channel their emotions into more sensible and tactically more beneficial endeavours; ones that are not going to alienate the huge swathes of society that are probably the ones they need to win over the most.

While there are higher proportions of BAME people living in poverty, this is a result of historic disadvantage and current division and cannot be changed overnight. Poverty, from an economic point of view must be tackled as one issue, not divided up into white and BAME poverty or else the divides will continue through the generations. From a social point of view however, BAME poverty can be changed only by a focus on changing attitudes.


To find someone who can guide us all through such a change is challenging. Whether someone suitable will step up to the plate is hard to say. If no one steps up – or indeed if the wrong person does – and perpetuates the divisions further, then I fear this brief surge in popularity will have little impact in the long run.

W

Thoughts of the Week

It’s been however many weeks now in lockdown and, although easing a little, much of the entertainment (or at least unpleasant distraction) is watching our government muddle their way through things in farcical fashion.


Covid aside for a second, there was furore about the $26,000 (actually pounds but my keyboard doesn’t let me do a pounds symbol) or so salary limit on foreign workers, with critics accusing the government of not valuing the work of those on lower salaries. My gut reaction was to agree with the dissent until I heard another side to the argument – that workers below this salary cap can be more easily and more cheaply trained; not that the people and the jobs being done were at all not valued. I don’t like our government, don’t get me wrong, but it was a moment I had to check myself and remind myself that there is bias on both sides of the spectrum and there are always two sides to the story. This is something that we must all be wary of. Even when there is no attempt to deliberately mislead (and there are plenty of examples of that), the sheer strength of opinion almost took me to one side of an argument that, when one looks closer and puts aside bias, is not quite as simple as it seems.


I tried to remain measured when it came to Cummings. I really did. ‘If it was just a trip up to the house in Durham to isolate there’ I said, ‘then well I suppose I can understand that’. Of course, everyone now knows it wasn’t just that and to defend it is indefensible in itself. If you disagree you are hopelessly deluded or there’s something in it for you.
It is this sort of blatant disregard for accountability and flagrant shamelessness that we have come to know and love in politics in recent times, to the extent that even those who have practised it in the past have called Cummings and the PM out for it.


Our leaders are a bit like that naughty child at school. The one who constantly pushes his luck and plays up, each time emboldened when the consequences are far less severe than anticipated, the bluff of punishment having been well and truly called.


Not many succeed at this better than Donald Trump but, to me at least, it is obvious in our government too. Frankly I wouldn’t even trust Boris or anyone of his cronies to take a picture of me lest they run of with the camera. What surprises me is that some people are surprised. There are those who are now saying that this blatant refusal to be held to account in a position of power is a slippery slope. Of course this is true but what many don’t realise is that we’re half way down that slope already.


Enough of that. In other news, I’ve been reminiscing on my childhood Wednesday evening tv viewings (the slot just after the Neighbours/Simpsons power combo of my teenage years). Star Trek is not my favourite of the “Star” franchises. Despite the tangled and ill thought out mess of the recent Star Wars films, I favour the original trilogy above all else. Having said that, I did enjoy Patrick Stewart in the Next Generation, if not just for the outstanding potential for quotes. (“engage”, “make it so” etc). The new Picard series was something I was a bit sceptical of as reviews had, for some reason, been a bit cold. I have no idea why because quite honestly it’s brilliant. Clever, action packed, stylish, nostalgic and quite poignant so far, I am absolutely loving it. I genuinely don’t want it to end (although I will definitely finish the series, unlike my refusal to watch the last season of Lost, thereby somehow making it last forever in my head). Anyway, watch Picard, it’s awesome.


One final note, this week on cyclists. This lanky and lycra-clad species are a perpetual menace to me at the best of times. Let me be straight, I am never aggressive and am always safe when I drive but deep within me, I boil over with rage whenever I see one on the road. They are particularly irritating when strong in numbers, sitting lazily in packs across an entire lane and quite literally stealing 10 minutes of my life away from me. The rage is intensified all the more as they sail straight through a red light, presumably safe in the knowledge that they’ll just phase through any oncoming traffic without so much as a hair out of place (although is it just me, or are a lot of them not just tall and lanky but also quite prone to balding as well?). Either way, I don’t know if it’s the lockdown, the weather or both but there’s bloody loads of them out at the moment. They need to stop it. In the interests of balance, I will mention the one cyclist who waved me past him as the traffic light went green the other day. I was so shocked that he’d even obeyed the law enough to stop at the red light, let alone reveal some semblance of a conscience, so perhaps I didn’t thank him as much as I should have done. Regardless, he is in the minority. Get rid of them.


Ps. As a doctor, quite apart from the environmental benefits, I would say cycling is an excellent form of aerobic exercise, especially if you want to take the load off your knees and it should be unfalteringly encouraged.
W