Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Jewel

Inigo arrives with all the extravagance we expected. He has a small army of people with him, but fortunately most of them wait outside the museum.
     The Director welcomes Inigo with a broad smile and undeniable hesitancy, which I am pleased to see. Caution will be necessary today.
     Inigo and his team are led into the museum and down to the basement level. Here we stop and the Director requests that only Inigo proceeds with our staff into the next part of the museum, usually reserved for employees and high level researchers only. Inigo is persuasive, however, and has paid a lot of money for this visit and so after some bargaining he is allowed to bring two of his posse along.
     Now we head in to the bowels of this ancient building and Inigo is taken to a room where we will bring what he has come to see.
     'Can I not see where you keep it?' he enquires.
     'We have hidden it away and very few people, even within this building, know its exact whereabouts,' replies the Director.
     'But why would you keep such a fabulous item in the dark, is there not a secure location in which it can be displayed?'
     'Indeed there is, but this is not something simply to be looked at or used for light entertainment, it is to be treasured, and so it is kept safe from all harm.'

At this point a curtain is drawn back revealing a small hole in the wall. The Director pushes a button beside the hole and a metal box appears from some mysterious location. The Director takes the box and places it on the table in the middle of the room. Carefully he lifts the lid and removes a smaller container, seemingly made entirely of glass. This he lays delicately in front of Inigo who has become silent, watching every move. Slowly he looks down into the glass cube. Suspended within it is a perfect jewel, fiery red and yet with a soft, golden flicker to it, almost like a star.
     Inigo stares at it for an age. Everyone is silent.
     'Amazing,' he remarks, eventually. Another pause follows, but then comes the question we had been expecting.
     'And how much is it worth?'

The Director glances at me and I nod. 'There is no price attached to it,' he says.
     Inigo is still gazing at the jewel. 'Well humour me,' he replies, 'what would you value it at. I'm the son of a billionaire. Big numbers neither surprise me nor terrify me.'
     'The problem is, you see,' says the Director, trying to keep his voice steady, 'that true value is determined not by an expert but by what someone has paid or is willing to pay, and no one has ever paid for this jewel, at least not with money.'
     'Well, as you may have guessed,' puts in Inigo, 'I am willing to change that, indeed I am willing to pay what I think it is worth for it.'
     'I'm afraid you don't understand,' says the Director, quickly, 'this jewel is not for sale. There is no price you could pay. It is truly priceless.'
     'But why would you not accept payment for something you keep but nobody sees?' Inigo seems genuinely puzzled.
     Again the Director looks at me, again I nod. 'Because it has been placed in our care and the instructions we were given is that it will never leave. If you really want to know what it cost to bring it here, I will tell you.'
     Inigo says nothing, but concentrates fully on the Director, who takes a breath and continues, 'the man who brought this jewel here paid for it with his life. This is the only value that can be attached to it.'

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Kentmere Fells

Relaxing after a good walk in the hills is always nice. Today I completed 12 miles and bagged seven new peaks, all in five and a half hours.

It was my first visit to Kentmere and a cosy, tucked away village it is too. I arrived at 8:30, avoiding the rush of walkers and other adventures (they'll turn up later) and set off up Garburn Pass under gloriously clear skies. It was cold, possibly still below freezing in the shade, but the wind was quiet so it was an easy enough start.
     An attempt at a (marked) shortcut proved slightly misguided when the boggy grass was suddenly no longer frozen and I ended up with a boot-full. Not good after only an hour, but I soon rejoined the main path and the bright sun did a good job of drying the outside of the boot.
     The first peak I topped was Yoke (706m), a fairly gentle summit, although with a sudden drop on the north side that appears out of nowhere. Then it was on to the more challenging peak of Ill Bell (757m) which I arrived at after about a hour and half's walking. Ill Bell offers wonderful views on all sides; south to Windermere, east to the Dales, west to the rest of the Lake District and north to my next summit.
     The descent off Ill Bell (on the north side) is steep but then it's a quick jaunt to Froswick (720m) - possibly my favourite name for a mountain. I didn't stop here but continued on up a longer slope towards the well-known High Street, but then nipped off to the left to bag Thornthwaite Crag (784m). It's a rather plain and level summit. Indeed the on the approach it could have been that I was walking in a field anywhere in Britain, with a low, tumbledown wall to my right. Only turning around revealed the majestic mountains and reminded me that I was actually quite high up - that and the dainty patches of snow huddled under the wall.
     Unimpressive though Thronthwaite may be, it does boast probably the best cairn I have seen in the Lakes. Built as a solid tower of rocks the beacon must be at least 10 feet tall!
     Coming down from Thornthwaite I again cut the corner off, this time more successfully and got some good views of the peaks I had just covered, then I nipped along to Mardale Ill Bell (760m) before 12 o'clock and sat down for some lunch. Sadly this was cut short, as the clouds, predicted so wonderfully by the weather forecasters, decided to show up 3 hours early. I had seen them building in the south and east, but wisps of mist started to whip in over the hills.
     I packed up again and headed down to the ridge that joins the hills together and then ascended up the steepest climb of the day, passing through the cloud onto Harter Fell (778m). It seems that everyone in the area today was playing some elaborate game, with the instruction 'all players gather on Harter Fell'. Having seen very few souls all morning there were suddenly swarms of people arriving from all directions. Lone walkers like myself, pairs, mass groups and enough runners for an Olympic games (almost - but there were a lot of runners today), all saying equally unimaginative things about how nice the day was and how interesting the clouds were. I moved on.
     By 1pm I passed Kentmere Pike (730m), my final peak of the day, and soon after began a slippery descent back to Kentmere itself. I say slippery, this was not because of ice, I left that behind on the mountains, sadly, but reeds and mud. My recently dried boots were wet again.

My first three peaks of the day, from the left: Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick

Friday, 13 January 2017

La La Land

The power and spectacle of cinema, the sound and the colour, is never more mesmerising or enthralling than with a musical. You can keep your big action movies or small indie dramas, they're good (sometimes) but once you've seen them, that's it, or it is for me. But when a truly original film (if such a thing still exists) combines with song, dance, lighting, script, storytelling and great performances, then you realise why movie making is such a special art form after all..
     La La Land would have you believe that too, but it's open pandering to Hollywood and the American Dream (something intended to bring hope, when it can actually suggest the opposite) is the only issue I have with it.
     The film is a beautiful painting. It feels both old and completely new; it references many great predecessors and yet has it's own style and charm, combining the very best of cinema. Ryan Gosling (possibly the best all round actor at the moment) and Emma Stone give superb performances, while the music and dance captivates, as it should in a musical.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Sunshine in the New Year

The sky was dark and the car was frozen as I left Lancaster at 7am this morning. By the time I reached the foot of Ingleborough an hour later it was light but the mountains were white with frost. I climbed as quickly as I could in the cold air, aiming to get as high as possible in the 30 minutes before the sunrise. The sky was crystal clear and the yellow trim to the eastern horizon gradually grew and brightened to dark gold as the second day of 2017 was ushered in, and what a beautiful morning it was. I hope this becomes a trend of the new year!