Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Scourge of the Trail

Part 1: Proximity

I suppose I should've known better. After all, it was summertime in England - a wretched time that even the most hardy seaside go-getter can attest to. Perhaps I had been away from home too long, and a cosy fog which suggested warmth had clouded my judgement, and filled my head with the English summer of pub gardens, beach parties and cocktails on the lawn. Pym's. On top of that, I hadn't erected a tent and shivered my way into a sleeping bag in a good fifteen years, and I had long since ceased to remember the discomfort, the sheer depravity of camping in England. More than once did I consider uttering that immortal line, that of the sacrificial Captain Oates - "I'm just going outside and may be some time," in order to save my frozen friend, Dave, from certain doom. I'm sure he thought the same thing.

Our mutual friend, the generally-more-reluctant Chris, had declined to join us, citing an absence of hair straighteners and naturally sourced lime and aloe moisturiser on the trail. "There are a thousand better reasons to reject this trip, Chris," I said to him, number 1 being me and number 2 being Dave. Proximity, it could be said, is the greatest test of a person. It has to be delicately handled. If you're stealing oxygen from your neighbour, oftentimes this is too close.

One tent each, said Dave. That should be enough. Enough to save us from ourselves. Lord of the Flies was flickering across the back of my eyelids, crossed with some twisted version of a weekend getaway on the Goode Life. I pushed the idea of murder (which had now evolved to murder-suicide) from my mind – seriously, the chances of being killed while camping in the English countryside must be tiny, perhaps as high as being killed in a terrorist attack, which, I assure you, is lower than you’d think – and looked over at Dave. His pale brown flop of hair had been recently shawn and he peered through his glasses with an alert keen. His newly shaved head accentuated his neck, somehow increasing the enthusiasm in his eyes. “I’m really looking forward to this,” he said.

the idea had been raised a few months before, while I was in China. Coast to coast, said Dave, west to east. “it’s Wainright’s walk,” he iterated, “and a woman did it on TV. With a film crew.” A film crew, I pondered. There could be something to this. Just shy of 200 miles, the walk stretches from the sea to the sea, starting at St. Bee’s and ending at Robin Hood’s Bay. Before you ask, we saw no bees at St. Bees and no Robin Hood at Robin Hood’s bay. Alfred Wainright, grumpy countryside wanderer par excellence, did the walk over a number of occasions – not in one go ­– and wrote about it in 1973. Since then, the trail has been tweaked a little and attracts 10,000 people a year (according to Henry Steadman’s map-cum-guidebook Coast to Coast Path), mostly in summer when the weather is it its shittest, each of whom curse the skies, their friends, and the long-dead Wainright for coming up with the blasted idea in the first place.

But, as I mentioned just a paragraph ago, I was in China. And I had to stay in China because of work. This meant my trip east from St. Bees was going to take on something of a marathon quality far beyond the 192 miles of Wainright’s puny walk. It did, but that’s a story for a later time. Before that, we had planning to do, and as everybody knows – planning is cool and always, always fun.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

C2C, the rest.

The night in Keld was exhausting. The sunset betrayed a coming chill cold enough to make Captain Oates pack up and march off. And so it was for me. At 1am I realised the worst was still to come. My microlite tent was forming icicles and my ripped tent was letting in a cruel draft. I got out and burst into Dave's tent saying 'I'm coming in.'
  It's fucking cold in here too, he said, perhaps by way of deterrent. But who cared? A thousand Celtic warriors couldn't have removed me from this tent. 

The remainder of the trip was on lower ground. We stayed in a hunting lodge yha and got lost looking for a 'lone oak' in a friend with many lone oaks near Richmond. We lost Ali but found her again at the end. In the meantime out cohort grew to include four oldies from Burnley and a stubborn father and daughter, whom we called Strongarm Sue on account of her dismissing other people's packs as light. She cried her way to Robin Hoods Bay, and we think developed something of a romance with Mark, the ex-hippy brummie. 

We rolled in to the bay spent and ready for a bed and breakfast and a pint. We got both. Next day, we said bye to the north and hi to the
business of London, where cars took on the form of large indifferent farmyard animals, and people were, god forbid, not walkers. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Just got to the tiny hamlet of Keld. Finally left the Lake District. Camping the last few nights is cold! Done 98 miles. 
A few days back we met Ali, whom we swam in Ennerdale Water with. She's become a regular on this trip, someone to share cookies and green tea and even the occasional political tete-a-tete with. 
Others we see often are an Australian occupational therapist and her mum. The OT glumly told Dave to rest his battered leg, advice he didn't like, but did take. 
Nice sunset tonight. 


Sunday, 26 July 2015


Ennerdale to Grasmere. Done about 40 miles now. In quite a lot of pain. Dave has pulled muscle in his leg. It rained terribly today, and we are in a Youth Hostel tonight, in much needed warmth.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Day 2, C2C

Seems a lot further in than day two... We two travellers are now sturdy and worn hikers with 14 miles behind us. It's not a great feat, you might say, but oh with those bags and down that hill. That hill was Raven Crag , a spot so steep that people complain to the guide book for putting it on the trail. Actually it wasn't on Wainright's original walk, but has since become standard. Your knees shiver and begin to numb, and you continually wonder about sliding down on your bag. 

Most beautiful part of the walk was just after that descent, on the cusp of the Lake District, through a meandering valley. We met one man and his dog. Having coffee now in the Fox and Hounds, gotta run. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Today I depart. Somewhat stupidly I decided to go back to china on land, and sandwich that trip with two wholemeal slices of travel, namely a 192 mile hike across England's rugged north, and a visit to Japan's old capital, Kyoto, to live for a week in a capsule. 

I calculated the mileage to be about 8892, although no website appears to be able to calculate train distances, somewhat annoyingly. So 8892 is a very rough estimate. It is however longer than the equatorial diameter of the earth, so pleasingly I can report that if I did this trip downwards, from New Milton through the centre of the earth, I'd pop out a few hundred miles south east of New Zealand and keep on climbing into the sky for hundreds of miles more. 

Tonight I'll be in New Cross, London. Tomorrow, the north!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Austrian School Chris

Two days into our new job, we were summoned to a meeting. Via a translator, we heard the encouraging words of the principle. He spoke of the "opportunities" that we English teachers should expect, and the "bright future" that the school has. After the principle left, we were left with the faculty. With the Chinese management on one side of the long, rather presidential, table, and us foreigners on the other, it was a little tense. The Chinese staff are young and inexperienced. They told us, much to my alarm, that we were obliged to come up with a curriculum, using the American text books they provided. "Hang on," I said, "didn't you say in the interview that you had a curriculum?" "They don't," came the American voice to my right. 

The American voice continued. It was the voice of Tyler, who has been teaching here for a while and hence has some experience with the system and the material. He said that it was unfair to put this pressure on us new teachers. Uh, yah, thought I. 

With Tyler having broken the quiet, nodding acceptance on our side of the table, the protests began to arose. Holly's was the most damning. In Holly's class is a young girl from America who, obviously, has a somewhat different capability from the local kids when it comes to Chinese class. Holly wasn't happy that the Chinese teacher didn't seem to appreciate this difference, and instead simply levelled some discipline at the girl. "That class is a waste of time," said Holly, "And all it will do is upset her."

That girl is the daughter of one of the teachers, Arizona Man. Another teacher, Austrian School Chris, also has kids in this school. He was late to the meeting because he had come across his daughter crying in the hallway. Upon hearing the Chinese teacher's treatment of one American girl, Austrian School Chris started wondering about the treatment of his own kids, and after seeing one crying, was beginning to put two and two together...

"Do you think this is a sound pedagogical methodology?" he asked. "That's a serious question."

The Chinese staff across the table smiled awkwardly, saying little until the vice principle said, "You have to understand, you're in China now, and there is some difference to how school works."

Austrian School Chris' hand slammed down on the table. He followed the slam by expressing himself at a high volume, threatened to quit, and left the room. Arizona Man and a few other teachers explained that the "China is different" explanation gets a little worn, and the teachers with kids should expect a decent education for said kids, as promised. This is, in name at least, an "international" school.

I got chatting with Austrian School Chris in the cafeteria only the next day, where he explained to me his take on monetarism and inflation, and how this relates to wage stagnation. He referred to Hayek rather than Friedman, and seemed to have problems with Keynes. After the financial crash in '09 Chris opened some economics books to try and make sense of things, and it appears that the ones he opened have been ones with what Foucault called "state phobia" as a general guiding principle. I do see some friendly arguments on the horizon, for it appears (but hasn't been stated) that Chris is a GOP supporter in the States. 

"I once got into this argument with this guy back home," he said, "who, after I told him which party's economic policies make more sense, he started assuming all my, you know, social principles and beliefs, saying what an evil guy I must be, and I was like hang on, we're talking economics here. No, I say, give me your take on fiscal discipline and spending; all the rest don't matter."

Chris is certainly a nice guy. But,... Republicans...? Ouch.