Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Long way up



There are days, walking in the hills of the Lake District, when you wonder what on Earth you are doing. Perhaps you have slept badly; for example, a 2 am heavy downpour of rain may have drummed with thunderous intensity on your tent, waking you and keeping you awake for some time. Other times, perhaps you are not as fit as you were, or had thought that you were, and the relentless trudging almost directly uphill, begins to feel like a Sisyphean task. Then there's the weather. As I have pointed out to people on a lot of occasions, there is a reason why there are a lot of lakes in the Lake District; in my experience, I think that I have had more good weather days than bad when walking in the Lakes, but that does not detract from the fact that it can rain a lot.

Recently, having returned to the Lakes to try and tick off some more of the Wainwrights, I had a full hand of the above irritations. I had slept badly, and as I trudged to the start of my walk, the valley was overcast, with the cloud sitting discouragingly low on the hills I was proposing to climb. Nevertheless, it had stopped raining, and I started my walk, determined to at least give it a go, before the weather and my own dozy sluggishness defeated me. Very soon, it turned from wet to warm, and I had to remove my rainproof jacket. Even then, it felt like walking in the tropics, and my glasses refused to stay on the bridge of my nose, but repeatedly slid down on a slick of sweat that poured off my reddening face.

Slowly but surely, I reached the top of Seathwaite Fell (a hill of around 600 metres in height). There, sitting by Sprinkling Tarn, I ate some lunch, and drank a small bottle of orange juice with indecent haste to try and quench my parch. Across the little body of water, I could make out the lower slopes of Great End; at 910 metres, the highest hill I was aiming for. I say "lower slopes", but I suppose I really mean "cliffs", and it was far from clear where the route I had picked out on a map actually led. Having fed, I headed towards the cliff wall, and scanned it again for a way up. Eventually, I made out The Band, a kind of breach in the hill's ramparts, which was supposed to lead to another path that would eventually climb up the hill.

I am not a walker who disdains the SatNav, and today I found mine particularly useful in confirming where on the bleak side of this hill I actually was. SatNav can only lead you so far, however, and I was fortunate, eventually, to pick out the subtlest hints of a pathway leading up the apparently otherwise unassailable rock. To the experienced walker, the polish on well-worn rocks and the occasional line of grit amongst the native rocks are all indicators that you have not lost you way, and I was relieved to follow them. Then they abruptly stopped at a twenty foot high wall. I looked up at it. There might, it occurred to me, if one was feeling adventurous, be just the barest hint of steps, but I was walking alone, and was wary about getting myself rock-bound; that terrifying sensation of being unable to go forward or back, without the risk of a fall and a breakage.

I retraced my route a little and scanned the rocks around me. No, I had followed the right route; this was it. I returned to face the mini-cliff and reevaluated the scariness. On reflection, it seemed slightly less terrifying, and before I knew it, I had scrambled up it, and onto the next stage of the climb. I am not normally a walker who enjoys scrambling, but as the climb progressed, I found myself enjoying the mental as well as the physical exertion. One of the greatest things about walking is its capacity for clearing the mind of everything but the essential. One cannot worry about deadlines and other work problems, when you are also at least partly focused on not dying, for the moment.

Eventually, the gradient lessened, and I finally took a moment to turn around and see where I was. For the last half hour or so, I had been climbing in the mist, so I was not expecting to see very much. It was with a tangible surge of emotion, then, that almost as I turned, the cloud lifted, and I found that I had an exceptionally glorious view all the way down to Derwent Water, about six miles away. I breathed deep of the clean mountain air, and grinned. This, I muttered to myself; this is why I do this.

Monday, 12 September 2016

I'm not afraid of any ghosts


God, but I love New York. Even before I visited it, I think that I had been building up to loving it, having been quietly indoctrinated by watching countless movie and television representations throughout my whole life. Nevertheless, I was dumbfounded by how much - and how hard - I fell for the city. Even now, over a year after my first visit, I feel an enormous sense of almost proprietary pride in the place, and a passionate longing to return to it, whenever I see something about it.

Perhaps, films aside, it has something to do with the truly international nature of the city, almost more than any other I have visited. An example of this was driven home to me, whilst wandering the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, almost obscenely overstuffed with art from all over the world. My attention was drawn, in particular, to a bust of Caroline Campbell, Lady Ailesbury, created by her daughter, Anne Seymour Daimer, Britain's first famous woman sculptor. The sign beneath it noted that a copy existed in a church in England, and my girlfriend asked me if I knew it. I replied that, yes, I knew it. My parents had been married there, and it was where I had been Christened.

For all the high culture, it is also hard when walking around the city, not to be distracted by the many many famous film locations one comes across. In the year that has seen a new Ghostbusters (brilliant, go see it), I was reminded of finding the iconic firehouse (more correctly known as Firehouse, Hook & Ladder Company 8) at 14 North Moore Street at its intersection with Varick Street in Tribeca. Like the film tragic that I am, I sought out the location and, later, 55 Central Park West (below), another key location from the original Ghostbusters was the line between real New York and film New York blurred that little bit more.



Saturday, 10 September 2016

Pinewood, wouldn't you?


I have just achieved something that I feel like I have been waiting a lifetime to do; visited Pinewood Studios, near Iver Heath to the west of London. I went to see the recording of a comedy for the BBC, but for me the real reason for going was to be allowed inside the studio gates and have a bit of a look around. Sadly, Pinewood Studios do not do tours, nor do they allow casual visitors; they provide facilities for visiting production companies, and are naturally protective of their clients' confidentiality and intellectual property. For that reason, there are plenty of signs prohibiting photography, and studio audiences are not permitted to wander at will around the streets.

I didn't care. Just being there was enough. I have been wanting to visit Pinewood since I was a child. An avid fan of James Bond from my early years, I was well aware that Pinewood was the spiritual home of the series, and as I grew older, I was delighted to discover that the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. training base in From Russia With Love was actually Heatherden Hall, the Victorian manor house in whose grounds Pinewood Studios developed. The car chase in Goldfinger, in which Sean Connery's Bond crashes his Aston Martin DB5 into a wall, was also filmed in the back alleys of Pinewood Studios; today, the location of his crash is named, appropriately enough, Goldfinger Avenue.

I arrived ludicrously early for the recording, something that was not lost on the friendly security guard whom I asked for directions, and after abandoning my car in the Visitor's car park, I went for a wander around the perimeter of the studio. Turning left out of the grand new entrance gate, pictured above, I walked north along Pinewood Road, and was pleased with my view of the latest incarnation of the famous Albert R. Broccoli 007 stage, one of the largest sound stages in the world. It was originally built in 1976 for The Spy Who Loved Me, to house an enormous Ken Adam set, and has been destroyed by fire twice; in 1984 and 2006, the current version being completed in 2007.

Off to the right, new sound stages are springing up, the Studios having finally been given the green light to expand. As I walked along the road, I could just make out tantalising glimpses of sets wrapped up in black plastic on the new backlot, but the extension has been developed with large earth bunds protecting the view from nosy gawkers, like me, and I could see very little.

Just before the road bent round to the left, I noticed a small wooden gateway, which I realised excitedly followed the western boundary of the original studios, and I went in. This turned out to be part of Black Park Nature Reserve which, owing to its location, has also featured in a number of films, including Goldfinger, where it doubled for Switzerland in the night time car chase. It has also been used to film the 2006 version of Casino Royale, as well as Batman, Sleepy Hollow, some of the Harry Potter films and Robin Hood.

From the delightful woodland path, I could see marquees bering signs reading "Crowd Make Up". Further on, tall red-brick sound stages loomed, away off to my left and, eventually, the enormous blue-screen that backs onto the large exterior water tank came into view, through the trees. Cutting through a path to Pinewood Road, I walked back up the road to the gate, past the original mock-Tudor studio entrance, which now appears to be a turning for the local bus. New houses have been built, across the road from the old gateway, in what has been named, perhaps inevitably, "Bond Close".

Later, after the recording, we were directed back to the car park, past the 007 Stage itself. The pleasant but no-nonsense stewards were keeping us on the walkways marked on the roadways, but it was tantalisingly close. After a brief internal struggle, after which I decided that I would kick myself if I did not at least try to make the most of this chance, I approached the nearest steward and asked if I could leave the path and touch the stage. She considered the question and, to her credit, did not openly mock me for asking. Eventually, she agreed, provided I did not take any photos. Thanking her, I sprinted across Broccoli Road and slapped my palm against the concrete of the 007 Stage; I had touched the Bond Stage. It was all I needed, and it made me very happy.