Archive for September, 2011


Well the Tories have done it, they’ve found some money to spend on public services, let “Call me Dave” be praised, and what worthy cause have they chosen to invest this unexpected windfall in.  Rubbish.  No that is not an indictment of their policy… let me rephrase that, no that is not merely an indictment of their policy, they have chosen to sink this money, the sum of around £250 million to give to councils in order to roll back the decision by many to go to rubbish collections every 2 weeks rather than every one.  This scheme implemented to try to maximise the goods recycled by consumers has attracted much criticism, usually from well-to-do house owners who claim that they have more than enough rubbish to warrant a weekly collection.

Eric Pickles, [the man who a year or so ago on BBC’s Question Time attempted to defend the MPs expenses and then got in a strop when the audience expressed its moral outrage by saying that he wasn’t prepared to debate it because in the eyes of the audience MPs couldn’t do anything right anyway] said that the reason the Conservatives had taken this step was because they had evidence that the move would be better for the environment and better for hygiene.  He didn’t however give the source of this evidence, which does not necessarily mean in every circumstance mean that the person speaking made the evidence up, but does on this occasion mean that the person speaking made the evidence up.  This was graphically illustrated by a very calm rational spokesman for Friends of the Earth who pointed out that their evidence showed that people were more likely to recycle if they did not have a rubbish collection every week and furthermore that there had been no evidence to suggest that the change in policy in rubbish collection had anything to do with rat proliferation and that in fact the population of said rodent was in steady decline.  Which, given the nature of modern large tall plastic bins seems of little surprise except in London where everything is just dirty anyway!

Pickles does not stop with the mere making up of facts, he is considerably more pompous than that, he goes further to assert that it is “a right” for people to have their rubbish taken away every week.  “Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all frontline services, and I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week.”  Of course the Conservatives have form in a rather subjective interpretation of what constitutes a ‘right’ since they resisted the imposition of the Social Charter from Europe on the grounds that such rights would be too costly, it appears they also have a rather interesting interpretation of what constitutes the visibility of a front-line service, I’d like to offer a school or a hospital as slightly more visible and thereby important examples than a bin.  However state schools and state hospitals are of far less use to your average upper-middle class voter since they would normally be availing of private services already.

According to Pickles to mitigate the recycling issue the government will continue to look at incentive schemes, the one he cites could not be more classic Tory, that of Maidenhead’s points based system that gives vouchers for M&S!  I’m sure this will delight the people on the breadline when they can turn up to avail of a bottle of Chablis to have with their egg and chips.  A situation where people are coerced into compliance is hardly ideal but it has proven at times to be the only way to get people to change their habits, the hope is that once this gathers some impetus people will recognise the value of doing it themselves.  This latest move, I suspect, is designed to give people a grain of sugar to help the nasty tasting medicine go down, and is another example deflection tactics that have been used to obscure attention from the House Of Lords’ reading of Andrew Lansley’s NHS ‘privatisation by stealth’ bill.

Where I live we have not only a good recycling system where glass, tins, cardboard, plastics, paper and garden waste are collected every other week but the county council also fund an extensive composting system where the cost of the hardware is reduced and the installation is free.  This removes the need for quite so much food waste in our bins, one of the things apparently responsible for the problems of not collecting rubbish every week.  I have not filled up my rubbish bin to the top since I moved in over a year ago, and whilst I may live alone most of the week I do have two children and a cat who make more than enough rubbish to compensate for that.

Naturally there are some people who may claim with good reason that they would prefer a weekly collection, those with very young children still in nappies will find their rubbish stacking up quicker than most of us.  However to adjust the whole system for that is like expanding the roads to try to keep in line with the number of cars on it, it is neither economically nor environmentally sensible and likely to create a cyclical necessity.  The move to weekly collections removes precisely the principal incentive for people to recycle assiduously namely that if they do not their bin will overflow.  Yes it would be nice to think that people would recycle out of a feeling of duty to the Earth and our children’s lives in it but I’m afraid if you look around Western Anglophone society these days it is hard to conclude that this is the case.

Pickles has little time for the detractors, it doesn’t help that in one of the interviews he continually referred to “refuge” – perhaps this was a Freudian slip and signified his discomfort having to put another hare-brained scheme before the public.  When asked where the money had come from Pickles with a clear lack of comprehension of irony said that it had been hard but that his department had cut down on waste!  One must applaud the Tories for recycling failed Thatcher policies at least for the lack of new paperwork it creates, the civil service must be delighted, or not since many of them will be made redundant and the rest stripped of their pensions.

Labour’s Caroline Flint criticised the plans and said the money was effectively a bribe to councils to “save Eric Pickles’ face”.  If you take a close look at Eric Pickles’ face Flint’s argument is persuasive, though you might be forgiven for thinking that it is in fact we, the taxpayer, who needed the saving from it and the nonsense that streams from it.

Song Of The Day ~ Juke Box Fury – Something’s Missing

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Across the world pictures showed the unrest in London recently and with it the commentary from the news organisations.  Much has been made of the actions of the groups of youngsters and most of what people will have seen will have been portrayed in an entirely negative light.  Many may think this is quite correct and that no matter what the causes such wanton vandalism and destruction of property should never be condoned.  Others including a great many on the left have stated, perhaps more understandably, that whilst they understand the concerns of the younger generation they do not feel that their actions will bring about any change.  The young could level the same accusation at those of us who took to the streets in our millions against the wars in the Middle East for it had less immediate impact than their actions last month.

I will not dwell on the riots themselves, much has been said by people who were closer to it and can give a better insight into what was really going on rather than the media whitewashing that took place.  I have been asked by many of my more moderate friends to actively condemn the riots but I have been unable to do so.  I would not condone actions that put other people in serious danger as with the isolated acts of arson but the damage to property that will already be insured is of little concern to me.  I would like to point out that to those of us with a solid middle-class education and surroundings it is very easy to presume that people should seek dialogue and collective and constructive action to make themselves heard.  Is it not us who are the naive thinking that if our voices are loud enough that we may be heard?  Government policy in recent years has not upheld that assumption.  The young in this instance have not concerned themselves seeking dialogue with those who would not even bother to understand the language were they even prepared to listen, they are not burdened by the self-importance of the educated presuming a right for their subjective rationality to be heard.

The government were quick to condemn those involved and equally quick to try to use it as a graphic illustration of the fall in moral standards amongst the youth.  The term “feral underclass” came into being, a crasser piece of media-posturing and complete lack of understanding of the world as it is one could not have found.  Should we be surprised that a group of public school boys who breezed through both school and university without ever a fear of failure, penury or unemployment should fail to understand the situation as it affects the vast majority of the population?  The truth is that since 1979 the pervading establishment line has been of individualism, commercialism, consumerism and capitalism such that the worth of a man or woman is solely judged by their material possessions or the money they have as the potential to have these material possessions were they to choose to do so.  Thatcherism did not stop when Thatcher left power, it became more insidious, more caught up with the very fabric of society.  What seemed deeply wrong in the excesses of the 1980s became normal, accepted, heralded.

Social responsibility has not decreased because of the younger generation, it has done so because of the very actions and policies of those who now complain about it the loudest.  If you create a society such as this and then marginalise vast swathes of it without hope, education, prospects or surroundings that they can take any pride in could one really expect the outcome to be anything other than what happened?  If you create a society based on a comparison of material possession it is inevitable that you will further entrench the divide between those that have and those that have not.  Where the fluidity between the two factions does not exist it is understandable that people will look at what the alternatives are, be they gang membership, drug dealing, theft, looting etc etc. as a criminologist at the University of Bedfordshire pointed out “if you don’t want these people to be in gangs then you have to ask where do you want them to be?”  The rioting is not something done with the express purpose of offending, it is something done by people to re-engage at least a little in what this society considers to be normal.  Why should any section of society owe an allegiance to a system that so clinically alienates them?  So often is the idiom ‘you have to earn respect’ trotted out that it is a wonder that none of the people who say it seem apply it to themselves.

David Cameron appears to have launched his crusade on fatherless families, who must, according to him, shoulder much of the blame for the decline in social cohesion which Cameron says the government intends to take action to deal with this.  However as yet the full details are unclear either as to what he means by this or what form exactly this action will take.  Indeed what Cameron and his cronies actually know about fatherless families other than what they read in the Daily Mail, that paragon of truth and justice, is decidedly open to question.  Perhaps the plan is to make it more difficult for families to split up?  Do they really think that locking people into loveless marriages will help either parents or their children?  Or is this a cynical exploitation of a situation to pedal arcane religious values that should have been rejected a great many years ago?  Already as the law stands unmarried fathers risk total lockout from their children if the mother wishes to exercise it, so why not seek to reform the rules in that area so as to protect the rights of children to maintain a relationship with fathers who have done nothing more than removing themselves from what is likely to have been a volatile relationship situation.

Maybe the great leaders resplendent with their Stepford wives and opulent lifestyles believe that not being married makes the fathers of the great unwashed more likely to just up and leave on a whim?  Have they bothered to research this?  I can state categorically that leaving my children behind with a woman I had grown to detest and fearing for their very well-being was not at all a decision I took lightly, or quickly.  I did so because I knew that to provide both me and my children a home and an environment with values that I believed in was the only thing I could do as a responsible parent to make the best of a situation that was already bad and getting ever worse with each passing day.  It has been a decision that has led to an iniquity of consequences that remain 9 years later.  Would being married have made me more likely to stay?  I would prefer to ask the question of given the circumstances would my staying have benefitted the children more than my leaving?  Is there any evidence that those who try to stay together for the children do any less harm to themselves or their offsprings?

The Conservatives have reacted to the riots the only way they know how, by appeasing those that have and those that own and removing anyone who gets in the way.  They have sought to exploit it for their own political purposes, as if this should be any surprise.  Imprisoning many participants with sentences that would make many violent criminals pale, or for that matter dishonest and/or corrupt MPs.  Statistics published by the Guardian appear to suggest that sentences for rioters are 25% longer than normal whilst most have been remanded in custody awaiting trials.  The imprisonment rate for these cases has been 70% as opposed to the usual 2% in Magistrates courts. This is clearly no coincidence, such action is not that of the odd hanging judge but the subject of political intervention. This in a climate where we have been told constantly that the prison numbers have stretched the system to the very limits of its capacity.  The implications of this are severe, firstly the cost to the taxpayer is immense, in a time where we are being told that public spending must be reigned in this seems like an unnecessary form of expenditure.  Secondly facilities whilst in prisons will not be available to many of the inmates and without the chances of rehabilitation it is well-documented that re-offending is far higher.  So who is this policy designed to protect?  Is the public in grave danger if those involved in the riots are left to go about their business on the streets?  Much of the justification for this has been that it should be a deterrent to others thinking of doing the same.  Here we are really getting to the heart of the matter.  Ministers have no problem making the taxpayer foot the bill for the cost of keeping property safe for doing so is their primary concern, they benefit directly from doing so.  However in perhaps the most despicable case of double standards the millionaires daughter who stole £5500 of goods and made off in her car was granted bail on the grounds she submit to a curfew in her parent’s large detached farmhouse with land near Orpington, Kent.

In order to ensure that the “feral underclass” get the message there are efforts to remove benefits from convicted rioters, as if the spell in prison and a criminal record deemed enough for murderers and rapists is somehow insufficient in this case.  It is difficult to see this action as anything other than petulance at best and more likely a sustained program of social engineering.  There is little point in having the argument about what prison is for with these people for it represents a brushing under the carpet, an abdication of moral responsibility and an act of retribution for the act of offence.  Rehabilitation is for the soft liberals, why bother paying money on people who have done wrong?  It is not worth having this argument because no matter how incorrect and short-sighted their position may be they are too blinkered, too stupid or just too damn bigoted to accept the truth that if you are going to pay money for convicted criminals then the investment yields greater return if targeted at rehabilitation, the trouble is that yield has no bottom line and no profit which is the only language that these people really understand, one condensed even more than the text speak of the people they despise.

So what is the alternative solution to the quandary?  Many might say that police manpower will have a bearing on the level of control that can be exacted, others have said that water cannon and rubber bullets should be used, as if the evidence of their use in Ulster has done anything at all to quell unrest, in fact quite the contrary respect for the police and army could not have sunk any lower during the draconian period of the British government in the 6 counties.  According to the police themselves in order to police better they need more officers and better resources than now and if they are to be compared in statistics and response to cities like New York then they should have the same level of subsidy.  The Tories are thus presented with a problem because their plans had not included such increases in spending and public spending reforms are in fact likely to expect the police to do more with less.  It would. however, surprise me little if the Tories were to divert funding from other areas in order to stem this supposed moral collapse (which sounds to me much more like right-wing rhetoric using an emotionally emotive event as the metaphorical sledgehammer to crack a hazelnut.)

Would increasing the police numbers really have made a difference?  It rather depends on a couple of factors, firstly what it is it that the increased numbers of officers are charged with doing.  If there as more of a response to events that have already broken out then I would dismiss this as posturing and neo-fascist enforcement of the move to a police state (see graphic novel V for Vendetta), if however it would be to increase community work and enfranchise the areas and the people therein where the trouble is so frequently breaking out then this idea may have some merit, but only if in conjunction with a host of other measures.  Where for example is the education reform?  Where the plans to get people to work in ways that they can do in conjunction with their benefits rather than instead of?  Where the apprenticeship schemes that enable trades to be learnt and both trainer and trainee to benefit?  Where the empowerment of the dispossessed, the housing of the homeless, the facilities for the teenagers to learn and enjoy themselves?  Where the preventative healthcare system saving people from long periods of pain and unproductivity?  These would be examples of worthwhile public spending, things that made not just a tangible difference to those in receipt of the money but to the wider society as a whole for is it really only the individual who benefits from a reintroduction to society?

Would that I had the ear of the policy makers and were able to make them see sense but I have no more prospect of this than those who took to the streets.  More likely is that the continuation of disaster capitalism is using this as a battering ram to push even more human rights abuses into the mainstream now that the war on terror has been quiet for a while.  The backlash will be severe as can already be seen and yet the morally-bankrupt rich who have for decades milked and manipulated the system will continue to be allowed to do so without censure.  Does that not make you want to take to the streets in your droves?

Song Of The Day ~ Labi Siffre – I Don’t Know What’s Happened To The Kids Today

It might seem strange when nearly October to cast an eye back to events of February  but the memory brings things into one’s head at strange moments and whilst watching one of the appeal adverts for aid needed in yet another disenfranchised part of the world I was reminded of Comic Relief.  When I watched it on the BBC earlier this year, as I always do, I found many of the films moving, disturbing and tragic, they highlight the utter injustice of a world that simply doesn’t give enough of a shit about itself and for that to show no signs of abating after thousands of years of human existence is a tragedy indeed.  For a disease like malaria, as but one example, to still be the killer it is must surely be regarded as one of the most damning indictments of our age and makes mockery of any pretence that we are any closer to being civilised society then we were 10,000 years ago.  I heard a statistic once that claimed malaria has killed more people throughout human history than all the other diseases put together.  I don’t know how true that is but when you consider how many millions die in the developing world from it and have done for centuries it doesn’t seem especially surprising.  What is surprising is that it is still allowed to proliferate with such ease when measures to prevent it are so easy and so cheap. Were they not to be so we would of course be suffering from it a great deal more in the Western world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not so churlish as to say that the efforts of those trying to make a difference are not worthy of some appreciation, any assistance is better than nothing but to see people like Bob Geldoff and Bono cosy up to the same politicians who preside over the arms trades, the exploitative capitalist investments, the punitive interest payments, strikes me as either gross naivety or the most profane hypocrisy.  I’m afraid I suspect it is the latter.  It smacks to me a little of the Princess Diana argument, the populist media that portray what a philanthropic saint the woman was when in truth one would like to think that given a situation where we do not need to worry about a day job to provide accommodation, food on the table, education for our children or scrimping and saving for the scraps of holidays that we might all make an effort to do some laudable work with our time.  Diana found contrast in that the taxpayer has been paying vast sums of money to keep these out of touch freeloaders for generations.  And don’t you dare try to talk to me about the tourism angle, France gets tourism because of it’s efforts to remove its blue-blooded parasites.  But I digress.

Comic Relief sought to raise £5 million for 1 million mosquito nets which would massively reduce the potential infections of malaria, they achieved the desired amount ten-fold.  This is clearly a drop in the ocean but it is valid to try to at least do something for if it is not done people continue to die.  What this should highlight now is the hollow promises and lies our politicians have made in recent years with regard to alleviating the African poverty problem.  Herein also lies another problem, it is not just Africa where malaria is such a threat, though it is the area of the worst concentration, Central and South America, the Indian sub-continent, South East Asia remain areas at risk and where densely-populated regions of extreme poverty will provide easy pickings for diseases that thrive in conditions of malnutrition, dirty water and a lack of medical expertise and drugs.

Diseases such as smallpox that directly affected the developed world have been eradicated and a great many others such as Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Tetanus and Tuberculosis have vaccines that have led to the diseases becoming effectively a thing of the past, except where conditions of poverty remain.  Hygienic sewerage systems and drinking water have lessened the spread of cholera, typhoid, diphtheria and dysentery which is why these diseases also remain in the areas that have not had suitable investment to provide such infrastructure.  It is clear therefore that diseases that can affect ‘us’ here in the West have a great deal of money spent on finding cures or at the very least on their containment and neutralisation, so I am at a loss as to see why even as part of that strategy more money is not spent on the containment elsewhere because it stands to reason that the efficacy of measures here are undermined by the lack of measures elsewhere.

The fact is that whilst people feel guilty-bound to give something when it is graphically shown on the television on nights such as Comic Relief they do not marry the effects they are seeing with the causes of the problem.  Therefore any action, however well-meaning can only ever be fire-fighting as if our healthcare system were looking solely to cure disease that have already happened rather than trying to prevent them in the first place, oh wait a minute…!  Africa is seen as a country that is either too poor, too barren or too corrupt to sort out its own problems.  The reason it is poor is very much to do with the wholesale removal of much of the mineral surplus by unscrupulous trans-national corporations and the selling off of assets under the instructions of the IMF and World Bank that are often bought up by the same TNCs. The too barren argument might well be true in the middle of the Sahara but there are a great many areas that with irrigation and access to supplies could at the very least make the population of that area self-sufficient, and this would be a monumental step-up from where these people are now. When it comes to the last allegation of corruption one has to take this with something of a pinch of salt. Corruption in this context is news-speak like, it means “not on our side” for there are a great many corrupt and despotic leaders across the planet who are not labelled so and not denied money accordingly. In fact a great many of the most corrupt play into the hands of the Western powers as they spend a great deal of any money they get their hands on on the military budget buying expensive weapons systems and planes in order to subjugate their own people. As long as the corruption is in this format there is little complaint from the world community, could it be because too many powerful people are making vast sums of money from such “corruption”.  Cynical?  Who me?

So we continue to make little inroads into the problem when ordinary people with little individual power stand in solidarity and give a little of their opulence to those for whom opulence is a mythological concept.  Is primarily to do good or is it to assuage our guilt, I don’t suppose the people whom it is helping would really care either way but perhaps if the former were more prevalent more people might pressure their representatives to do something about it.  The rise in attacks and hatred towards “economic migrants suggests that we prefer the poor to be out of sight and living off the handouts we deign to give them when we feel magnanimous enough to do so and not to get ideas above their station and come over here to get the crumbs from the table before they are stale and after governments and officials have picked the choicest scraps already.  To hear people talking about human rights as if this is somehow destroying society as we know it and allowing unacceptable erosion of our living conditions is more than merely nauseating it is an abject disgrace and blight on the period of history by which we will be judged in future generations.

Up to now I have been focusing on the plight of those far away as if somehow we have creed a fortress of sanctuary within which we have a harmony we do not wish to have disrupted but again this is simply not true.  The evidence of horrific brutality to children in our own country is perhaps more worrying than anything else.  That is not to say it is less important than trying to fight cancer or help people with long-term medical conditions or research into cures and vaccines, nor that we treat children specifically to the way we always treat adults, merely that our treatment of children should really highlight something deeply disquieting about ourselves and be contrary to our basest instincts as human beings.  The damage we are doing is not something that will only affect those far away from us, it is not even something that will only affect those in the future, it is something that should chill us to the very bone for we are shaping a generation, that which will have to look after us, in a way hardly conducive to them doing so with any great compassion.  Those who may be uncaring and also happen to be atheists might say ‘so what, as long as I’m alright why should I give a damn’ but for those who believe in a final judgement whether on the world in toto or individually at death there participation in this abhorrence seems mind-bogglingly short-sighted.  I suppose though if you cannot see the innate inefficiency of what you are doing in your lifetime how can you properly look beyond it to that which is supposed to come beyond.  I believe it may have been Alexander Poppe, an atheist, who said that if he were to find that God existed upon his death and had allowed the world to function as it does he would spit in his face for such a God is not worthy of any respect.

Amen to that.

Song Of The Day ~ Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Next

Well the dust has settled, the blisters have completed their expansion, the stench-ridden clothes have been washed and the aches have settled into their level that they promise to maintain for several days.  So comes the time for reflection on what we have accomplished on our journey across the most Northern reach of the Roman Empire.

Young Turks – You should remember us this way, not how we became!

Gaius Simonensis has now returned to Londinium with the Prefect and been given a promotion for his efforts to be part of the Prefect’s personal guard.  It is the equivalent of being removed from the frontline on medical grounds and given a nice safe desk job.  I hear he may even be in line for a future leading role with the IXth Legion when they leave for campaigns in Iudaea and against the Parthians.  I remain here with a detachment from the IInd Augusta near Ratae charged with maintaining the Pax Romana and protecting the amiable Corieltauvni from the hairy-arsed heathens of the Brigantes –  they of  the shirtless bodies and incomprehensible language.  Not that the vulgar Latin spoken in Ratae is much of an improvement but at least it shows willing and one can generally understand the words even if the pronunciation is an aberration.  It is to be borne in mind that before we arrived these people were savages and civilisation has come late to them, they’ve only just got a public bath, by Jupiter.  One must appeal to Minerva to bestow the virtues of tolerance and forbearance.  Simply saying “catapultam habeo.  Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immune mittam” tends not to go down too well for diplomatic solutions, after all this isn’t Alesia.

Before we left I had applied for a posting back to Aelia Castra, where I had been stationed as a Miles Gregarius in my formative years, it was always an altogether more comfortable spot, not to mention a place of burgeoning culture and learning but my efforts have been in vain and so for now I must stay here amongst the technical detachment and seek to further my ambition in Londinium as and when the opportunity arises.  The dullness of life here is made tolerable by the fact that I have a nice villa and a safe fort to work in, but without the prospect of a holiday in Southern Gaul this year and the inclemency of the weather beginning to show its hand it hardly makes for an exciting prospect during the months to come, it’s not exactly Massilia over here.  I have however replaced my worn-out chariot with a state of the art more modern sporty version which I fell befits my station better, it has a horse which seems faster than the old one even if it does require more hay to keep it going.  The price of hay these days being an utter disgrace it is a wonder that an ordinary legionary can afford a chariot at all.

In spite of all this I will look back upon our trip to the frontier fondly, the cut and thrust of the endless marching, the sense of achievement crossing the almost impassable hills even the regimented routine presided over by the Prefect, joining us so readily in her almost imperial chariot to mark our progress at dawn and dusk.  The trials and tribulations that we encountered made for a journey of discovery both physical and personal.  The natives to the region bedecked in animal hides such that they may seem almost exactly like the fauna were on the whole friendly, except for the odd fracas such as that when we were ambushed and hopelessly outnumbered on the 3rd days patrol.  We have to thank Mars and Diana for getting us out of that one alive.  The terrain is as beautiful as it is brutal and were we to return we would not underestimate it again.  It is a shame with the benefit of hindsight that we did not begin at Pons Aelius for although there is little of interest along the route it would have meant we had covered the whole section leaving no stone unturned as it were.  We could not have known these sorts of things in advance just as we could not have foreseen the damage to our ageing bodies that the trip was to perpetrate, but in spite of the ravages of each day we still awoke the following morning at reveille and continued onward.  We were lucky of course to be fortified by much thea, of which the Britons apparently drink almost as much as the Hibernians, as well as cooked breakfasts of meat and large slabs of cake made in the image of the wall itself.  Bacchus has not in his wisdom provided the ability to grow much wine in this godforsaken climate but the locals brew a beverage in the tradition of Celtic ancestors and this was indeed very palatable and suited the nature of the weather very well.  It was at times a pity we could not have sourced more of it but my suspicion is that the Prefect had made plans to ensure it was in short supply so as to prevent us from waning in our enthusiasm for the  task.  Perhaps that would be a case of sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare!

Guard Duty

One might have thought I would be thanking the Gods that it is all over but in fact I would return to the fray right now without hesitation, the camaraderie, the solidarity against all the common foes were exhilarating but perhaps my judgement is clouded by having returned to the mundanity and obscurity of everyday life and the lack of thrills that punctuate it.  A tour of duty on the wall is indeed a campaign I can recommend, take not the challenge lightly but as with much in life you will recoup what you have invested and see much along the way that will stay with you.  Furthermore in times whilst sat in darkened tavernae you will have yarns to recount and should you ever come across others that have completed the quest too there will be smiles and back slapping and shared memories of the 9 peaks of doom and the crags of despair and skirmishes with furry, horned, brown-skinned natives whose stance might make you think they had 2 extra legs instead of arms.   Amongst comrades we may describe the hill that got away, 8 miles high and snow on the top of it there was,  some say it stretched up to heaven and that those who ascended it never came back for they met with the Gods!  Others claim this was merely a hallucination, the result of pain, the local brew and a concoction of a herbal variety that the locals smoke in small clandestine groups!

Such campaigns often afford one the adventure and excitement generally lacking at home, everyone is paradoxically more relaxed in spite of the toughness of the endeavours at hand but one must be careful not to confuse a temporary detachment from the garrison as something that would be the same permanently.  It is a mistake easily made by the disaffected and can be a costly one for the natives are often less accommodating when they are aware that you are not intending to leave at a defined point.  It is a lesson I learned during my long stays in Germania where some of the locals are far more heathen and savage than almost any I have encountered over here.  Perhaps this is merely that I stand out less over here given that my Hibernian credentials are disputed by some, in Germania there was no question and our treatment was adjunct to xenophobia.

Musings on the past and hypotheses as to the nature of permanent relocations aside I will see, I hope,  for years to come the trip to Hadrian’s wall as a positive one, I think by now that should be abundantly clear.  I like to hope that it may form one of those things that my Grandchildren will see as another one of Granddad’s stories which all being well I will still possess enough faculties to tell with verve sufficient to capture their imagination, further embellished by the suspense and drama which time will have allowed to suffuse through the story like the strands of bindweed in a hedgerow.  Whether or not future campaigns may retrace the steps of Quintus Veranus and Suetonius Paulinus into the mad areas of the Druids, whether we shall be recorded for posterity as fondly as Agricola was by his son-in-law Tacitus remain to be seen and perhaps may form the basis of future correspondence.  For now we must content ourselves that we have taken part in an odyssey ventured by a select few (hundreds of thousands – Ed) and the chronicle of same may inspire the modern-day Homers and Virgils to great literary works in tribute, it would be no more than we deserved.

And so alea iacta est.  Valete pro tempera, mark thee well that quidquid latine dictum sit altum viditur!

The belying of the Bitter End

Actum est, comites!

Songs Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town; PiL – Rise (§-Soundtrack of the whole trip available on request!)

After the unfortunate demise of Optio Gaius Simonensis, being invalided out of service and taken by the Prefect to the Fortress at Luguvallum for trial I was forced to decide whether or not the march should be ended or if I should try to lead the fictitious IInd legion alone.  It wasn’t really a choice, the quest had to be completed or the campaign would be left with a very very small amount of sourness that we had been unable to conquer the great edifice in spite of us having had a lot of fun most of the time trying.

Our billet for the night had been a farm house with a faint smell of bovine faeces, perhaps the last laugh of Brown 833, it was closer to the actual end point of the wall at Bowness than it was to Carlisle, our original planned destination.  I knew that it would have grated with me had I not gone the whole hog* (whole bog as it turned out!) so I was dropped off at Bowness, the prefect perhaps thinking that this would most surely mark the death of me.  Fortunately at the same time the 3 gents who had stayed in the bunkhouse with us on the 2nd night were setting out on their last day, a strange coincidence that they too were walking in the opposite direction to the one in which they’d started.  It was good to have some company on the journey as I had been a little daunted by the idea of an entire day on my own reconnaissance!  We walked along what seemed almost like a causeway with a nice view across the Solway to Gretna.  It was a pleasant walk, except for the odd shower but we made pretty good time towards Burgh-on-Sands, although according to the mileposts the place seemed for some time to be ever receding into the distance, much to the chagrin of the caffeine-hungry crusties!

At the Greyhound Inn, Burgh-on-Sands it was like a reunion of all the figures over the past week with the couple from the first night and their two dogs, the three blokes that Simon and I had been constantly passing and being passed by since the first day.  This was everyone’s last day, for some merely the short 8 miles to Bowness, for others the similar amount to Carlisle, for me the ever more daunting task of the last leg to Newtown.  I decided to leave everyone else to their lunch, something told me that I would need to get a shift on but could make it if I set off straight away, it was a hard decision saying farewell to probably the last chance of company for the day, but since there was no need for the Steves and Neil to go at the same sort of pace that I would need it would have been either frustrating for me or unfair to them to have continued together after that point.

The going to Beaumont was pleasant and I stopped for a quick bite to eat believing that I was well on the way and deserved some sustenance and a cuppa.  Kirkandrew and Grinsdale passed in unmemorable fashion, though I am sure they are perfectly charming little Cumbrian villages if seen at a leisurely stroll.  The terrain had been passable up to then, the bogs had still some way of getting round and I had not had to navigate any hostile wildlife, even the sheep seemed amenable and content to just toddle out of my way.

Bog

I should have known based on previous mistakes thinking that the going at any given time would be easy that this was a ruse waiting to ensnare me.  The quagmire was the instrument that was to make this abundantly clear.  We’d had more severe gradients on our route over the last few days just as we’d had bogs to navigate and plenty of them.  What we had not had was a hill without any stones or grip on the path that then led to a wide bog at the bottom.  I would like to make it quite clear that given those circumstances the predicament was inevitable.  In such a situation as you slip down a hill out of control you can either allow yourself to continue slipping and risk injury based on the lack of control over your movement and possibly a catastrophe with the camera or you can attempt to take matters into your own hands and run it out.  I chose the latter option and it was indeed the right one for the navigation of the hill in isolation as I descended successfully and without injury or incident.  Sadly it was not the right strategy for the marsh beneath and as I landed at not insignificant pace my shoe remained behind and I continued unwillingly apace for a fair number of steps.  Looking back the braking distance for a large oaf travelling at terminal velocity was always going to be problematic but it is a credit to my shock adsorbs that I did so in about 5 steps, this may also have had something to do with the depth of the swamp making each step harder.  The bog was almost up to the knee so I now had wet legs and soaking wet socks not to mention cold, mucky, squelchy shoes.  When I shortly thereafter trod in a clump of grass that contained a luminous green cow pat which splattered all over me I confess the prospect of giving up was almost irresistible.  I vented my frustration by shouting a string of vernacular Anglo-Saxon and German and would have gone so far as to kick Brown 833 up the arse had the beast been present.

The road to Carlisle was barely discernible as having anything to do with the wall save for the occasional acorn plaque and wall path sign for direction.  The only time there was not one of these I was fortunate enough to meet a man walking his dogs who informed me that the sign had been knocked down by a tractor and then carried away by a flood!  This seemed to suggest that this mild piece of fortune meant my luck was changing and that all being well the remainder of the walk would not be as mammoth of a task as it was beginning to look.  This was as well as my feet were not exactly content having to drag mobile ponds around with them at every step.  The first sight of Carlisle was as I went over a temporary steel bridge over some roadworks, much of the other sights of the city visible from the path were equally inauspicious comprising of the industrial estates and the sort of dull soulless architecture that tends to congregate around the fringes of cities and towns.  The river was nice enough and the odd derelict redbrick railway building broke up the monotony.  Bitts Park was a pleasant interlude and a trip back to civilisation and the first time I had seen people in proximity since Burgh.  At the end of it the park was the only real commemoration of the wall I was to see all day.  Blocks of stone representing each of the forts along the route and a large wooden stake with Luguvallum (Carlisle) on it.  It was a shame Simon and I could not both have ended our walk there together, it would have been a fitting point to do so.

After Carlisle I can only say the going was really bloody hard, I took a mere 28 pictures by far the least I had taken in any one session on the whole trip.  It was all just about finishing it now and whilst I had faith that my mind would keep pressing me on there was no guarantee that my body would be able to live up to such endurance nor that I would have the time to finish.  My socks and shoes were soaked through, my trousers were muddy, shitty and damp and my t-shirt was drenched in cold sweat, as was my jacket, these were not ideal conditions to walk in or, I would assert, do anything in except strip off and have a bath, and inside to boot.  Some wall or even the odd turret would have stopped the fields all congealing to a great green mass of wet grass and stiles but instead the only variation was the frequency of the bogs and fields of bulls to navigate, the latter invariably stopped what they were doing and regarded me with suspicion like the cowboys in the saloon when a stranger comes into town.  When you have potentially another patsy compatriot to sacrifice to them for solidarity one can presume that one might make good an escape might stand side by side in unity!  On my own I did not have this luxury and after the Brown 833 incident I was more on edge than I otherwise would have been.  Invariably large groups of the vicious bastards would congregate in sinister mobs on the path itself, I mean a whole fucking field to choose from but no, they have to be on the bloody path don’t they?  Whilst I was not in the mood to trifle with any of the livestock on route I was even less inclined to be invalided out of the journey so close to the end by the actions of some steak-in-waiting.  As already mentioned I bear no specific animosity towards the beasts, I would have preferred a mutual arrangement of leaving one another well alone but they broke this pact and consequently I am justly aggrieved!

Flood

Shortly before Crosby I did not have the assistance of a man with his dogs when I came out of a field and onto a fork in the road with no sign in sight, I had a choice of two roads and I picked the one which looked the straightest, the wrong one!  There were no turnings off the road so not only was I forced to trudge all the way back to the last point at which I had thought I was still on the path to take the other route but I had to walk beside a golf course with a higher than usual ponce quota.  I was heartened to find the path again and welcomed the next occurrence of the acorn, though somewhat incandescent that today of all days I had added an unnecessary 2 miles to the trek.  Things had seemed to have started to go from bad to worse, my feet were being constantly chafed by the wet socks, I suspected I might be about to get my first blisters, and the tops of my toes had been rubbed raw.  My shoulder was seriously feeling the strain of the rucksack on my back every day and my hip was complaining so loudly that it couldn’t really be ignored.

As it got closer and closer to the end it was sheer stubbornness that kept me going, I had no energy left save for the adrenalin that was coming from the large amount of pain coming from more areas than I could list.  I knew the last 4 miles would be the toughest when I saw the first sign for Newtown as the next checkpoint, it was a question of so close you can practically smell the victory, and the beer, the end is almost in sight, as is the lovely Vicky!  But akin to the acute discomfort of the need for a piss being the worst when you actually get into the toilet and the anticipation almost makes you burst, (or is that just me?!) so the mind has less control over the body when there would be no other way but to walk the last 3 miles.  I think I went a little mad during that time, the internal dialogue became more of a constant angry tirade and I’m afraid some sheep had to listen to a diatribe that was not of their making.  I would like to apologise to them unreservedly, my conduct was unacceptable and the description of them as bastard cunting fluffy feckers that should be stuck on a pole like a giant candy flosses does not reflect my true views on the ovine population.

Darkness begins

When I made Newtown as dusk began its descent I could not help but raise my arms aloft as if finishing the London marathon, which wasn’t much more of a distance than what I had just covered, though doing the distance in 3 hours may yet be beyond me for some time.  A lady in a car parked closely to my finishing line decided that I was obviously quite mad and refused to look anywhere near me as I passed her.  I had thought that the walk down the hill to Irthington would be perhaps the toughest part because it wasn’t even the wall path but so relieved was I to have completed the epic that I barely felt anything on the way down.  The “Sally” was once again a warm haven of seats and beer and of course the lovely Vicky, who was spared the embarrassment of any further questioning from me since I had to first change my utterly objectionable smelling clothes, in an extremely posh bathroom mark you (the first in a pub I think I have come across in a long while that didn’t have at least 3 generations of piss to smell.) it took the last ounce of energy I had.

The salvation of the Salutation

I couldn’t even muster enough to eat of the sumptuous banquet that the Prefect and Optio had been heartily tucking into whilst I had been risking life and limb crossing the frontiers.  As if to further torment your hapless correspondent it was explained to me that this was the finest food they had ever tasted!  Ever the Celt at heart I satisfied myself by the partaking of ale whilst gazing longingly at the lovely Vicky, and dreaming of how different life might have been if she’d seen me as the hero I knew I was for that briefest of moments.  (With the faintest question in my mind as to whether if I had some woad I might impress her more than the grimy fecker that had presented himself at the bar these last two evenings.)

All that was left was the chariot ride back to barracks North of Ratae Corieltauvorum during which time I was in sufficient pain that I distracted myself with thoughts of profound lewdity, which and about whom I shall not go into in polite company.

For those who simply cannot take any more of the pain being inflicted (upon me that is, this is no time to cast aspirations as to my writing style) the more comfortable day of marital bliss, capitalist pig dog coffee and slabs of cake and gentle strolling around castles before being rounded off by sumptuous banquets in the company of the lovely Vicky (who as she falls into the myth of memory becomes steadily more like Aphrodite every day in my head) please adjourn to the soft furnishings here and here.

Songs Of The Day ~ Bobby Cook – Gone So Far; Electronic – Get The Message

Invaders

Packing is a bit of an arse really particularly when on holiday, but we had stayed our time in Northumberland and were to move to Carlisle and the bracing air of the Irish sea and Solway Firth.  Originally we hoped to be able to make more ground today and get close enough to Carlisle to be able to rattle off the rest on Saturday morning and spend the afternoon visiting the castle. We had been told that the going was flatter and less arduous and the 20 odd miles in the day covered by the group we had met near Twice Brewed suggested the same. But we were battle-hardened men now and would listen to no tales of the ease of passage, we had been fooled by these in the days of our naivety on the journey and like Hannibal having crossed the alps must plan our entry to the city with precision.

After discussion with the Prefect at the start of the day it was evident that she was not impressed with our plan of carrying the load over two days and it was made clear that we were expected to have reached Carlisle by the end of the following day or there would be no triumph afforded us in the city and we would find ourselves conducting a scouting mission into the Northern reaches of Caledonia.  (I had in fact my suspicions that the Optio would be spared such a suicidal enterprise given that there was rumour rife about him conducting assignations with the Prefect.)  Our bodies were not holding up especially well and we did want to ensure a finish, preferably a grandstand one given the herculean efforts we had expended so we accepted the challenge and resolved to try to make it to Carlisle inside the one day, it would involve much struggle against the elements and the terrain but we must be strong and think instead of the rewards that might await in the homeland, Hibernia.

We hadn’t done the Roman Army Museum the previous day so we did it first thing having been warned by the proprietor of the bunkhouse that we should not park the car on its own as someone who had done so found their tyres let down and stuff stolen from inside.  The museum was small but managed to cram quite a lot into it, a 3D film heavily dramatised but quite fun and some lovely aerial shots.  A lot of information about how the army was arranged, a film of an army recruiter, another film showing the everyday life of soldiers on the wall that had clearly taken advantage of the handwriting information unearthed at Vindolanda.  There were models of the infantry, cavalry and auxiliaries that reminded me of a poster I had had on my bedroom wall many many years ago.  It was a pleasant stop off before we continued.

One of our men

When we set off again the going was not as hard, at least in comparison to day two in the hills or day three in the crags.  It was no easier than the first day though and back then we had the naivety to think that the first day was the hard bit coupled with the lack of the sort of pains and aches that now bedevilled every step.  There was still some nice scenery and at times when we were up high the views over the Cumbrian countryside were as good as much of those over Northumbria.  We still had to cope with the odd wildlife incident, talking to bulls across fields and on one occasion navigating a herd of oncoming sheep.  The weather couldn’t seem to make up its mind and we had to contend with rain followed quickly by sunshine and then a bracing wind.  This resulted in us having to put on our waterproofs only to have to take them off again, patience was not a virtue in high abundance as it was, there was simply no time for it!  Sweat however was in plentiful supply and the continuing shuttling of garments meant that we were able to maintain an almost constant supply of cold sweat to our backs.  We marched past forts and mile castles taking the odd picture to show we’d been there and towards mid-afternoon we ran out of wall.  We could have hypothesised about this bringing perhaps a lack of protection from the Picts but we were past worrying about marauding natives and focused entirely on making it to Luguvallum before nightfall so as to assuage the fearsome temper of the Prefect and the likely consequences of its unleashing.

Nuff said!

And then there was the chemical toilet… There can be few places that have managed to absorb all the filth from an entire county but this must have been close.  Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the sentiment of providing a toilet in the middle of nowhere in places where no other method exist and I cannot see cleaning same exactly a job that people will readily sign up for.  The result of which is a convenience that seems like a beacon of relief but then leaves one feeling unpleasantly dirty for some considerable time to come.  Uniquely in my experience as a counter balance there are also unmanned little outposts in Cumbria selling a variety of wares based on an honesty box system.  I sincerely hope that people do not abuse this system as it seems a vital service where otherwise one might go almost a whole day without access to water, sustenance or t-shirts.

I would go so far as to say that this was the first time that the trip began to take on the mantle of being a little of a chore, not in an overall capacity but small shards thereof.  We were no longer able to stand and marvel at the scenery, we weren’t able to sit and drink tea and eat sandwiches and cake and muse on our achievement or to shake off the trappings of the mission, the fatigue and the pain, and relax like men on relief.  We had to forgoe looking round the fort at Birdoswald, though we did sit and enjoy a nice strong cup of tea there and a clandestine piece of cake that we had produced from our personal rations.  The strategy of forced march was necessary if we were to have any chance of finishing and that was important to us now where before we had time, good surroundings and often quite pleasant conditions within which to do it.  Much of the landscape blurred into one conglomerate mass, more by the mist of rain over the valley than the speed at which we were walking.  We encountered an old Pict woman on a bicycle somewhere around Birdoswald (this was not mere artistic licence describing A N Other old crone, the fact that she was a Pict was clearly delineated by her tartan trousers).  She passed a pleasant few minutes with us  until we indicated our intention to walk to Carlisle that same day, at which point she clearly decided that we were mad and cycled off.  Either that or she was the advance guard and was off to warn the chief at the next outpost.  We would not have put up much of a fight at that point, running away wasn’t an option and fighting would have required strength as well as energy so there was no alternative but to be the bitches of some hairy woad-faces.

When we got as far as Newtown and the sign for Oldwall, the next checkpoint, the rain was lashing into our faces in a manner normally associated with sailing the high seas and thus with trousers wet through the legs gave out and we agreed, reluctantly, to knowingly deviate from the path for the first time on the trip, it was not a failure given what we had accomplished but it felt uncomfortable and that there was something unfinished.  We didn’t quite know where we were or how far we had left to go, but we were pretty sure it would be folly to continue even if we were physically able to, Carlisle was at our best estimation still at least 7-8 miles away and the likelihood was that we would run out of light even if we hadn’t already run out of energy.  We sought solace in a hostelry in Newtown since alehouses had proven good points to stop on the trip so far and the Centurion would easily be able to put two pints of the local brew away before such time as the prefect could be any the wiser, the Optio however of late had curiously chosen to imbibe a foul-tasting concoction called diet coke whose only qualities appeared for those intent on stripping the enamel off their teeth and those that may feel they had been poisoned and required a vomit-inducing device.  This only served to fuel the rumours of impropriety with the prefect for there could have been no other reason to drink such bilge.  The hamlet of Newtown was far from finished with us, being already the failure point for the day’s military operations, and threw up the dilemma of not being furnished with any such establishment where we might rest our weary legs and exercise our oesophagi.  We were directed by some Roman-friendly locals down a road, which no doubt seemed far longer than it was to the village of Irthington, could this have been a ruse, the road declared that it was twisty and with poor visibility, it seemed stating the bleedin’ obvious to be warning the pedestrians we agreed it might have been more use warning the metal chariots which were likely to do more damage to us than we were to them.

The Salutation Inn was closed when we arrived, but it did exist and was not a mirage as had been feared, this felt very much like kicking the men when they are down and so disconsolately we trooped round to the side to find if there might be shelter somewhere and call for our relief.  No sooner had we sent message to the Prefect when the lovely Vicky, appeared as an angel of mercy and opened up especially promptly to allow the two drenched boys so far from home in and save them from themselves and more pressingly the elements.  She was a veritable vision of loveliness and would have been so even were I not in an almost hallucinogenic state of being glad to see anyone at all.  Coupled with a few pints of the very palatable Thwaites Wainwright beer there was no doubt that the lovely Vicky was worth the rigours and endurance of the day not to mention a strong contender for my throwing out all my clothes to be able to put her in the car on the way home!  I could just see her back at the villa picking grapes and breeding children and waiting to greet me when I returned from hard campaigns.

Artist’s Impression

Simon settled down to massage his ailing knee whilst I got down to business.  I’m a lone operator, it’s better that way, the feral bachelor needs some time and space and not a married man beside to give off the aura that both protagonists may be taken.  As I went in for the kill I brought out my full armoury (matron!) and I know readers will be heartened to know that I was handsomely rewarded by obtaining what I had sought.  And hence the lovely Vicky may be accurately referred to as such due to the item of intelligence garnered, at great personal effort, thus sparing us the ignominy of referring merely to ‘the lovely barmaid in the Salutation Inn in Irthington’.  My prowess and captivation of the female species has proved to have been at a constant level and has not diminished with age, Venus was evidently smiling on this poor bedraggled wretch this night.

As ever the views of my beleaguered comrade can be found here, and the views of the self-proclaimed bossy harridan caring support team asset here

Songs Of The Day ~ The Temper Trap – Soldier On;  Gram Rabbit – New Energy

After the day completed yesterday we felt a bit of a respite was quite definitely required and some time at Vindolanda was the perfect method of doing so whilst continuing the roman theme. We agreed half a day at vindolanda and the other half walking what seemed a comparatively short run to the Roman Army Museum where we’d look in for a while before closing the day.

The site at Vindolanda is extensive, not quite as large as the one at Corbridge, where we understood the Prefect had based herself in the early part of the proceedings, it being the centre for Roman campaigns Northwards, but Vindolanda is impressive nonetheless and has marked out much of the fort and village that has stood there for between 1,600 nearly 2,000 years.  The ruins were interesting not to mention quite detailed, the houses and shops and baths were very discernible by their features and they have reconstructed a stone and timber tower to represent what it would have looked like when it was standing originally.  The village at Vindolanda is the equivalent of a garrison town, the like of which were still common in Ireland to the East of the Shannon in the 19th century, it predates the wall and it was the failure to stabilise towns like this and give necessary support to the campaign headquarters at Corbridge that led to the need to construct the wall in AD122  roman friendly locals were able to live with relative protection and sell their wares to the large cohorts of Batavian and Gaul Auxiliaries stationed there.

You might say that ruins are ruins and that once you’ve seen one set you’ve sort of seen them all but the scale at Vindolanda and the ongoing archaeological excavation uncovering more and more all the time is something that you do not generally see at such sites.  There’s the expanse too, there is enough of the town and fort visible to really lend itself well to imagining oneself there as it would have been. The jewel in the crown that Vindolanda boasts though is something unique amongst such places, the tablets of handwriting that have been found there represent the earliest handwriting found in this country.  Moreover the handwriting of the women found unearthed represents the earliest known by women in western Europe as a whole.  What is fascinating ironically is the sheer mundaneity of the content: birthday party invitations, inventories of stores, requests for more supplies including beer for the soldiers, appeals against punishments, and a response from what was probably a mother confirming the sending of socks and pants!  This gives an invaluable insight into the actual daily lives of the people stationed there and their interpersonal relationships not to mention how remarkably similar so much of human existence is across geographical boundaries, centuries and millennia.  I have rarely if ever found a sight so comprehensive in the tangible feeling of the past that it gives off and the combination of modern reconstruction and original features and excavations is done sensitively and to inform rather than to glorify and exploit.

At Vindolanda there was also a reconstructed temple to the nymphs which I decided to go and make promises of offerings and vows of allegiance if they would bring the Dutch ladies back into my path again.  Well, if you don’t ask…!  In their defence there was immediate delivery of a nice redhead involved in the current excavation so that boded well for the nymphs’ immediate power.  We ate a very tasty but not terribly Roman lemon drizzle cake in the cafe and after watching the archaelogists and volunteers in the trenches as they steadily revealed more and more of the sites size and splendour, not to mention brief speculation about whether the lovely redhead with long hair in bunches and the spade might have been an immediate respnse from the nymphs* (distilled to the actual exchange comprising Tina stating facetiously that I was in love and me protesting, apparently unconvincingly that I was not!) at the shop gifts for children and friends were purchased and Simon and I now have maps detailing the route we will have taken.  Herewith will begin the myths of Centurion Marcus Dominicus and Optio Gaius Simonensis and their perilous journey of strength and endurance on the orders of evil prefect Tina Aurelia that shall enthral lucky pockets of the populations of South East London and a small corner of Leicestershire, their children and their children’s children. Bronzes will be cast in the 22nd century and such will be the reverence that parents will instruct their children that if they want to grow up like Marcus and Gaius they need to eat their cake and not just their greens!

As we led our intrepid, and fictions, legionaries back on the walk again from Steel Rigg we knew we had done the hard bit, *(we thought we had done the hard bit), the Picts had not been sighted and we were happy in the knowledge that this would now be a nice leisurely stroll.  We reckoned without Walltown crags which had other ideas.  The large rocky hills were just as large as the hills yesterday but the drops and ascents were often sharper and in places quite treacherous.  The steps up put pressure on the already complaining thighs and the steps down tweaked the calves which then started to complain as bitterly as the thighs were.  On the plus side the views were often made better by some large sections of undulating wall snaking over the landscape and this perhaps more than any other is the day that gives the sort of pictures that you think of in your mind when you picture a walk along Hadrian’s wall.

We had figured on 2 hours at most to do what the road sign said was 7 miles, we revised that estimate by about an hour halfway through the crags due to their severity but still thought we would make it in reasonable time. The crags chose not to let up though we manfully tackled them.  Where there were paths skirting round the the sharper climbs we took on the peaks, for anything else would have seemed pointless having come this far.  We were not going to be defeated by some rocks that the Romans had not only clambered up but built a fecking wall on.  It was only when a microlyte passed soaring high above the valley and yet still below where we were that we became aware of just how far we had walked upward.

As we got to a particularly boggy section of field (right up a bloody hill mark you) we found another herd of bulls.  We had laughed about the bulls yesterday and made up funny stories about them hunting us down but we had not swayed from our path and they had been happy to let us pass save for the occasional glance or chorus of deafening mooing reverberating across the gap.  They were clearly the lookouts, our progress had been monitored, and Brown 833 was to prove somewhat less accommodating about public access.  You may think that bovine menace is a contradiction in terms but you weren’t fucking there man you wouldn’t understand!  As we crossed the stile and into the field a group of bulls between us and the fence had started to move away as if they were behaving in the same way as those that had been before.  Brown 833, or the ringleader as is clear now, who was amongst them did not seem to feel that they should vacate their position and took umbrage at our presence.  He advanced on us suddenly, we backed off slightly thinking that he might be merely trying to get out of the way, he did but only in the sense of wishing to occupy the space we were in he advanced on us with a little more haste. We very briefly and futilely tried to reason with the animal and engage it in debate on the fact that this was a public right of way and that we meant no harm merely wished for safe passage through the field.  Brown 833’s response reminded me of Bill Hicks telling of Jack Palance in Shane, or even the same actor in City Slickers, the contempt for ‘city folk’ was certainly of the same mould.  At this point we did not feel that remaining in the field in an incendiary standoff, being ourselves the weaker of the two parties in matters of both firepower, bulk and menace, and thus proceeded, at some velocity, back over the stile whence we came.  It is amazing how adrenalin seems to keep a little energy in reserve for just such eventualities and it should be pointed out that whilst potentially tempting neither of us pushed the other one out of the way in our dash for safety.  As we stood there laughing nervously Brown 833 advanced to the point of completely blocking the path right in front of the stile and gave clear indication that he was not prepared to move.  In addition he eyed us in a sinister fashion.  He had an itch on his side but each time he went to scratch it with his tongue he would suddenly wheel round to look at us just to make sure we weren’t trying to make an escape into his territory, which after the first two occasions of him doing it we had stopped trying to do.  This situation might well have lasted into the hours of darkness were it not for two ladies coming over the rise of the hill.  We tried to draw them to the attention of Brown 833 in what was, I concede, not our most gallant hour!

The ladies must have wondered what the two imbeciles were doing cowering behind a stile laughing fit to burst whilst a brown bullock stood motionless on the path.  We tried to warn them of Brown 833’s malevolent temper but they walked on it what could have turned out to be an unnecessarily cavalier manner.  The reality was that Brown 833’s backup man, who was standing directly behind him in order to look brave without being so, decided that a two pronged attack from front and rear was odds he didn’t fancy and started to leg it at which point the incensed ringleader of the worm-turning rebellion pursued and butted him instead making it quite evident that we had adopted the correct strategy.  We made our speedy apologies to the advancing bemused ladies who were yet to even have shortened their stride on approach and we walked legged it through the field declining to look round in the hope that the childhood adage of if ‘I can’t see you you can’t see me’ worked on bulls. We half expected the rumbling of advancing hooves in charge mode and me with my weight and Simon with his injured knee began silently to weigh up options of how to disable the other enough to ensure escape at their expense.   When out of the field we agreed that the praying to the nymphs whilst not delivering the two Dutch girls that I had asked for did make good on the delivery of two Australian ladies who had saved us from the bull and we shouldn’t be churlish about this as a granting of a wish.  So I got what I needed even if not exactly what I wanted.  In order therefore to have any chance of evoking the Dutch girls we would have to return to the temple and this lamentably was not on the agenda.  I bear the animal no malice and since he was a worthy adversary I would feel strangely disappointed to hear of his demise.  I would like him to live out his days long and healthy, just never in the same county as I happen to be.

The crags continued to come for what seemed like a never-ending age and we had to admit defeat on our ETA and that we would not be able to visit the Roman Army Museum after all, now the only aim was to get to the museum before the Prefect Tina got so bored of waiting that she decided to leave us there to teach us a lesson.  The joking idea of spending the afternoon in the Twice Brewed Inn photographing their marvellous selection of real ales had never appealed quite so much.

Crags can be aesthetic when in isolation and looking up but when having to incessantly ascend and descend them the brand of scenery tends to seem rather homogenous after a while.   At the end of the crags we found a place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea and slab of the fine Hadrians Wall cake. Some men arrived in a jaguar and strolled up to the Walltown crag turret, we laughed at their amateurism as we sat and enjoyed our tea and cake!

The prefect back at base camp was substantially less pleased to see us than we were to see her, which may have had something to do with us being really quite ready to sit down for a long long time whilst she had been sat for what seemed like a long long time waiting more for the ability to avail of the facilities and not to see the brave intrepid conquerers of the horned sheep and vengeful bull-infested crags of doom. We will remember the frequent bogs, the fabulous undulating wall, the size and history of Vindolanda and Brown 833 who will haunt our darkest nightmares with Bovine malice, occasional inexplicable cold sweat and face of terror will ensue.  It was hell and only men of the greatest fortitude could have survived.  When the story is told to grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews Brown will be the size of a house and the field 3 miles wide, the two saviour ladies will have been mysteriously forgotten having a generation before been labelled as harpies and the evil prefect will have imprisoned the two heroes in a latrine upon their return!

As ever for the viewpoint of my erstwhile compatriot see here, for the views of the High Priestess hired help highly strung Tina see here

Songs Of The Day ~ Villagers – That Day; Tubelord – Night of the Pencils

Today in no small part was the one that I had dreaded, there was no telling how much things would hurt nor which of them I would still be forced to contend with upon waking.  The potential prospect of walking then in pain was unappealing.  As it happens, all things considered the aches were relatively minor and certainly substantially less than the night before when we had returned not quite broken but aware that in terms of fitness we were certainly not at our physical peak.

Today was Chollerford to Vindolanda and beyond which promised to be better than Vindobala, the latter being little more than a plaque in a clump of grass.  Having walked 14 miles previously it was important not to make unrealistic expectations about the day ahead and we had thought that Vindolanda was 12 miles from where we were to be dropped off, the point at which we had stopped yesterday, which seemed just about an acceptable proposition.  However we were then led to believe that it was only 5 miles away and this seemed slightly wimpy even for us.

The truth was somewhat different to either of those hypotheses and had we known it at the outset we might have had just cause to be sore afraid.  We had been told by the landlady of the bunkhouse that today would be a great deal hillier than it had before but we could not have surmised from this the nature of the task that lay ahead.  The going from Chollerton to Brocolatia and the Temple of Mithras was mostly even ground and relatively uneventful with some hills that with the benefit of hindsight appear to have been contemptibly mild but didn’t seem so at the time.  Firstly at Blackcarts we came across a proper section of wall, this was what we had signed up for genuine signs of roman involvement not merely the promise that there had been at one time.  After that a quarry like area where chisel marks appeared to have been cut (potentially by the Romans) in an attempt to sever small sections of rock from larger.  Stopping within some of the largest worked stones I have seen for some time we drank tea and ate fruit and agreed that in spite of some dull aching inherited from the day before it was no more than residual, we were confident of reaching our destination in good time.  The path wound back down towards the road where we came to Brocolatia, one of the small forts en route. The Temple of Mithras itself was in good condition with the statues at the altar largely intact, the ubiquitous few coins in the bowl on the altar, and a very clear structure.  After that we headed up towards the next checkpoint at Sewingshields which purported to be around 3 miles.  Atop the first hill there was a small cut off pyramid like structure that we surmised must signify the highest point on the wall, we had a sense of achievement at that and congratulated ourselves and soaked up the view as the wind threatened to blow us off the ridge.

We enjoyed walking along the ridges and seeing the spectacular views acrross the former pict dominated landscape.  The gradient did start to tell on our thighs and by the time we had passed the Sewingshields mile castle before the woods we started to crave a sit down, a cup of tea and a good sandwich.  As it was raining we made for the wood to make camp and chugged through the entire flask of tea and all of lunch before resuming in the belief that we had broken the back of the climbing and could look forward to some downhill where I could run helter skelter like a mad eejit as I had done yesterday when it had seemed to loosen my muscles nicely.  We took heart from the fact that that rather than stopping halfway up the hill for lunch we had in fact done so at the top and therefore proven our manhood were the matter ever to be brought into question.

The path at this point did not seem clear, the modern wall went one way but the arrow indicated quite another that appeared to be diverging.  Trudging through the bog that we found at the bottom it was an unnerving sight to see other walkers in the distance by the modern wall.  After stages of doubt followed by conviction and then more doubt we decided that we were following the path as instructed and all the others must be wrong!  The others though clearly knew something we did not (very likely since they might have had the foresight to have guide books and maps).  We laughed at such bourgeois fripperies and sank into the resulting quagmire up to our ankles.  We wondered whether or not we might have made a fatal error and been half way up towards Dumfries but the die was already cast and we had come this far to turn back would have necessitated navigating the bog again and neither of us could be sure that our shoes would remain on our feet on a second occasion.  Another wood took pity on our mud and cowshit laden shoes and gave respite for a while, the comfort only marginally weakened by the fact that no one passed us on that path in either direction.

Back out in the swamp we mused upon the fact that the footprints appeared fresh though we agreed that it was just possible that the odd set of idiots had come this way before making tracks that had merely given hope to each set of idiots that came thereafter.  And then it all started to look up, literally.  We saw then a clear settlement which we presumed must be Vindolanda as it did not seem to be along the wall path at all, would explain why the others had headed that way.  Since we had decided earlier that we would visit it tomorrow we were in high spirits, it had stated 12 miles by road from Chesters fort near where we had started and the way we had walked was longer than the road.  We had made excellent time and were confident that we would surely be at Twice Brewed in time for a good and well-earned pint.

Our optimism was decidedly misplaced.  Each hill seemed like the daddy only to give way to the realisation that there was an even steeper hill just to come and there was a moment when cheery countenances became a little strained, the hills were substantial enough that we could see nothing behind them that suggested anything else of similar stature and thus having already proven manhood earlier we felt there was nothing at this point of which we were not capable. However each time we made the arduous crossing of one it was difficult for our hearts not to sink a little further looking at the one to come which just seemed to have materialised out of nothing and heralded an even steeper climb than its predecessor and I think we both began to believe that they would never end until eventually we would be forced to abseil down the last one.

Given what Simon had led me into by that stage when during the hills two extremely attractive and friendly young Dutch ladies passed in the opposite direction I was ready to give Simon up to the elements and throw my lot in with them.  (I hasten to add whilst I think they were Dutch this could have been nothing more than the deluded hallucinations of the tired man.)  Had we been at the temple of Mithras offerings would have been made including human blood if required, Simon’s of course, I would need my strength for the ladies.  Many might have allowed their compadre a shot at one himself, others of a more moral bent might have allowed him the option of declining on account of his being happily married, my thoughts were far less generous, and informed more by the fact that Simon whilst good company was unlikely to put out and I was less likely to be in the sort of ‘intoxicated to the point of poisoning’ state where I might have been tempted to take him up on the offer had he done so.  By the time I had completed the internal dialogue and schemed a stratagem for the “accidental” removal of Simon from the proceedings and my subsequent wooing of the Dutch lovelies they had vanished off into the insanely hilly section and whilst my spirit, not to mention libido, was keen to pursue my legs had rather different ideas and had calculated that Twice Brewed pub was clearly the white building in the distance and they were going to head for it.  They were in league with the stomach which fancied a pint of finest ale and the brain which had long since realised that this whole quest was lunacy and should be stopped immediately.

We reached Steel Rigg milecastle which did deliver on it’s promise of stunning views it was also carved seemingly into the middle of a large cliff so we decided to take tiffin and enjoy some cake.  The cake was worth the wait and for a moment whilst eating it seemed as if everything had stopped hurting in order to unite in cake enjoyment to give it the respect it richly deserved.  The man at the top of the hill waiting for everyone to go past so that he could tai a picture of it unmanned was less pleased with our enjoyment of high tea and was the only person along the whole route not to greet us in a friendly manner, according to Simon muttering something about “that’s right, have another cup of tea don’t mind me here.”  Miserable old goat!

Sense of humour failure hit when after the Steel Riggs climb when we found yet another hill and some bulls blocking the path who by the level of the cacophony they were making were not pleased about something.  We had already passed through a field of bulls that had seemed sinister and looked to be luring us into a boggy trap before exacting revenge for generations of slaughtered beef.  This bunch were telling us in advance that this was what they were about to do and shouting it as awarning for everyone else.  The noises bounced from one side of the cliff to the other and was the loudest I have heard cows at any time in my life.  Fortunately they were all moo and no action but it was a rather disquieting experience.

Once at the top we stopped to chat with a straggler from a group that had marched 26 miles from Carlisle on their first day and had hoped to do 20 today but weren’t going to get much more than 16 and were to be calling it a day at Steel Rigg.  He told us that the next hill did indeed give way to a car park and that beyond that there was a village of some sort.  He ominously wished us luck for the next section but in truth it was nothing as severe as the many we had just accomplished.  As we walked down the road from the car park and saw the Twice Brewed Inn we were switched to auto pilot and the body started shutting itself down in anticipation.

The ale was as sweet as it has ever tasted.

For the alternative view see that of my compadre here.  For the views of the twisted sarky chronicler Trivial Pursuit adversary see here.

Songs Of The Day ~ INXS –  Just Keep Walking;  Turrrentine Jones – Della May

So the wanderers return from the day’s endeavours, not humbled by their experience but perhaps with a new found respect for those roman legionaries that might have had to walk miles with 80lbs of kit only to have to then build camp when they arrived.

We walked a total of around 14 miles today , the vast majority of which was spent not in the abject pain that we ended the day in. The weather was changeable, we didn’t see much of the actual wall but still managed to entertain ourselves and take copious quantities of pictures of the beautiful scenery, ramparts, vallum, settlements and signs that proved we were actually here and the odd natural phenomena like the rainbow we saw as we rounded the corner and glipsed our destination.  We had greeted the local fauna, many sheep, cows, bulls and a scooby doo in a hedge.  We had only marginally destroyed the landscape by taking with us a couple of stones that we believed may at one point have been part of the wall and were lying broken at the side of the path.  (Later inspection revealed some of them to be slate and of no further interest.)  However if the Berlin wall which only stood for nearly 30 years had quadrupled in size according to the amount of pieces now attributed to be from it then heaven knows how many alleged pieces of Hadrians Wall must have made it to the far-flung corners of the globe.

It had not started well when we strode off down the wrong path and realised we were heading in the direction of Scotland which was unlikely to be right.  We did not know at that stage of the little Acorn signs that were to be our saviour on many subsequent occasions.  Our first scheduled stop was due to be a pub called “something with a fox in” as the people we’d shared with last night had said.  They had taken 3 hours to get there from Heddon so we were hopeful of making it in time for lunch.  When we found the ‘Robin Hood’ (go figure!) we had made good time and tucked into their gourmet burgers with relish, I think I only had a single pint which would have shown remarkable restraint given our hung ho attitude to the progress we had made over the course of the morning! We now had an idea that we were ahead of the game somewhat and would make The George Hotel in Chollerford before dinnertime.

En route we saw the odd person, though not many, there were 3 blokes slightly younger than us who did seem to be following us much of the time though. We walked up hills, ran headlong down a few and saw a stunning Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at the Errington Arms, a pub we sadly did not stop at.  The car was taking part in a centenary celebration of the 1911 rally from Edinburgh to London and happened to have stopped here due to a puncture.  By this time it was well after lunch and we felt we’d done some serious miles and were not in any major discomfort which was a bonus not to be underestimated given the number of long-term muscle complaints between the two of us.  Things were to change.

The weather had largely been kind up to now, it was blowing a gale a large proportion of the time, particularly when up on high ground, and at times the headwind was more than a little bracing but there had also been some blue sky and even some sun.  For the last part of the afternoon run it turned on us as if to mirror the mood of our sinews which were beginning to strain.  The first signs of general walking fatigue had happened a little while ago, tensing up of the muscles behind the knees and a little aching in the feet on the heavier parts of the terrain, this was to be expected and very much the rigours of the trip, we were big men, we could cope with this.  At the point though that the usual suspects of a longer term type of pain kicked in the task ahead seemed a great deal more sizeable then it had appeared on the map.  Both of us had been pretty stoic about the discomfort, save for the occasional mention of new ailments as and when they occurred, it was a sort of top trumps of conditions and degrees of pain.  With the benefit of hindsight my assertion that as I walked 1 1/2 miles to the pub and back and occasionally 2 miles and back to catch the bus to work and that therefore I was ready for such a challenge was no more than lunacy.

Planetrees was a lot more what we had come for, a large section of about 30ft of wall still in extremely good condition.  This gave more of a sense of the whole structure though it was not the full 10ft high that it would have been in it’s pomp it was nevertheless a small piece of magnificence and a great deal of photos were taken from all sorts of angles to best appreciate it in the comfort of our own home.  These bits of wall were important, there had been precious few on this first day and we knew this was likely to be the case but they were a certain spur when we did find them, little beacons and times to stop and marvel and enjoy the steeping of history.

Shortly theafter the path deviates majorly from where the wall is and you descend a hill on a small road until you reach the aptly if not especially imaginatively named village of Wall.  The scenery was still enjoyable though it’s lustre had slightly dulled by the desire to be somewhere with feet up and a glass in ones hand.  As we walked along beside the road being buffeted by the wind and slapped in the face by the horizontal rain it seemed for the first time that whilst this might still have been a fun idea over a pint it might not perhaps have been the most prudent of one to put into practice.

As if sent by mother nature to reward our fortitude a full-arced rainbow appeared and we rounded the corner to see the bridge over the Tyne that we knew heralded the location of The George and discomfort was held in check by the psychological knowledge that fame and glory (at least between the two of us) lay in wait a tantalising distance away.  Throughout the day pain had presented itself all the stronger when we were not actually moving and the inventory of mutinous parts of the body when we slumped into the chairs was a litany of middle-aged evidence.

I had a singularly unpleasant cold shower upon return to the bunkhouse whilst simon had a hot one, time will tell which one of us may have made the wise decision, though maybe based on the joints hangover we are both likely to have tomorrow that question may have been answered the moment we set out on this foolhardy endeavour.

At home we were joined again in the evening by more impromptu squatters in the next door bedroom and spent a pleasant few hours chatting to the 3 even more idiotic men from Felixstowe who had been planning to camp in the middle of the current hurricane and whom the landlady had taken pity on.  They at 49, 60 and 60 were performing a similar sort of age milestone to us  Our amenable acquiescence to their companionship was strained a little when woken at stupid o’clock in the morning by heavy chatting in cheerful tones amongst themselves next door.  Still we would be on our own the next two nights and could catch on our sleep then.  At least we think that’s the plan.

For an alternative viewpoint of this whole affair, keep up with my compadre here.  For this of a more caustic bent the views of the sarcastic mare support team can be found here.

Songs Of The Day ~ Janes Addiction – Three Days; Stagecoach – Break

Tonight we start as such, having reached the wall officially and even briefly seen a section but as yet without the rigours of actually having walked anywhere save for the car to the bunkhouse which was of precious little historical interest.  The weather is as unwelcoming as it could be with the remnants of Hurricane Irene buffeting the farmhouse laying waste to the trees across the pastures. Had the Romans to deal with this sort of inclemency it is a wonder they didn’t abandon the island altogether and make for the more familiar and hospitable surroundings of Gaul erecting the wall across the coast of Normandy to repel would-be insurgent help from Britannia

The task facing us remains a little unknown, as drinking, smoking and party companions we are well-rehearsed but as walking compadres this is a new adventure.  There is solidarity that comes with our ever-advancing years.  For men of our age have as many niggles as needs, the localised war wounds of the urban oppressed, deprived of proper oxygen and exercise over many years that has led our muscles to revolt upon activation of any kind so ill-prepared are they for sustained travail.  There is little more pitiful than the awakened middle-aged, aware of having lead the body to ruin during the healthy days, now old enough to be cogniscient of the fact that to continue at this pace heralds certain peril.  It is too late for some damage not to have been done but there is a sandwich period during which the body has begun to give out but the mind is yet to accept the fact.  The body cannot recover as it once did, when youthful exuberance and excessive quantities of alcohol could be shrugged off by a good nights sleep on someone’s floor or municipal bus shelter.  The wanton abandon of youth should come with a greater health warning than cigarettes or alcohol for they are merely the conduits of the mind’s trip to self-destruction central.  Now we must fight the ravages of these far distant times of our past with its withering of the short-term memory that has made all of us either forget that which we meant to pack for the journey (in this case bespoke coat and shoes) or whether or not we did pack it after all and yet make no mistake about our metal mule being the lighter for it.  Now we require much to make a stay comfortable that we would have baulked at before  Now our cocktails are those of the pharmaceutical combatants to depression and general uniform pain, a dulling of the more excessive peaks and troughs that might once have seemed the excitement of life when devoid of responsibility.

That all being said we will be walking in the steps of so many hundreds of thousands or millions these last nigh 2000 years since the great edifice was built. The history and the well-trodden path will yield much of discovery both natural and personal. It is if you like the sedate form of road trip undertaken by the slowing-down who recognise that breakneck speed means you miss much of fascination.  As grateful as anything to be removed, if only for a short time, from the daily life as its heel pushes one’s face deep into the fetid mud of internal politics and corporate greed that suffocates creativity and growth.  For now we are free to dream and speculate on what is to come in this adventure rather than dread that which greets us on our return.  We have sanctuary and refuge provided by the structure built originally to preserve the relative comfort of the furthest reach of the empire from the woad-bedecked madmen of the north whose incomprehensible gibberish seems at times to have changed little over the millennia.

We will sally forth tomorrow buoyed by tales of hostelries, history and the worst of the howling gale being over for the next few days. Come what may it will be an experience and one that defines the transition to the stage of life that is to come.  I am the last one up, waiting for the urge to sleep to come upon me, it may be the last night in which I have the luxury of doing so.  Moritori te salutant.

For the views of our patient designated driver (later to be known as Evil Prefect) they can be found here.

Songs Of The Day ~ My Bloody Valentine – Soon; Squeeze – Up The Junction