Friday 8 August 2008

Perhaps a last glimpse of breathtaking beauty

14st 1lb; 3.6 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,276; Alston.

Usually one does not realize that one has lost something beautiful and precious until after it has gone. But this afternoon, as I was driving from my home to the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette’s by the scenic route, on one of the few days in “summer” 2008 when visibility has not been reduced close to zero by sheeting rain, I was acutely conscious that I might well be admiring the beautiful, rolling hills of Northumberland for one of the last times before they are covered in gigantic wind turbines. These are to be built on a scale which I suspect that most people still fail to grasp. Developers in my area seem to regard 450ft as the desirable norm. This is taller than a 40 storey skyscraper, or indeed any building yet constructed in the UK outside London. I felt almost tearful as I marvelled at the sheer loveliness of the views on the road across from Elsdon to Otterburn, then down the A68. When I reached the top of Hartside Pass beyond Alston, the suddenly opening vista of the Lake District and Solway Firth was truly stupendous. It might have been literally breathtaking if I had not been on my guard against passing out at the wheel on one of the following hairpin bends. I remembered once thinking that at least the National Parks would be safe from the latest generation of ruthless, money-grubbing iconoclasts, cashing in on the fashionable religion of “saving the planet”, and wrote something along those lines in a newspaper. It took no time at all for a reader to come up with a quote from John Prescott about how some lovely wind turbines were just what the Lake District needed, and would cheer the place up no end.

True, the wind turbines might only be a temporary “quick fix” until science comes up with a more ingenious and reliable way of meeting our energy “needs”. They could all be gone again within 30 years. But this provides curiously little consolation to those of us with a maximum life expectancy of, er, 30 years.

The journey was considerably shortened by two things. First, the time passed more quickly because I was listening to an ancient cassette set of Jeremy Irons reading the whole of Brideshead Revisited – or, at any rate, about half of it by the time I arrived. Secondly, I avoided several delays by following diversions around traffic jams helpfully suggested by my sat nav. One of these took me across the Cumbrian county boundary by a back road, on which the next local authority had erected a sign of truly staggering banality with the slogan, “Lancashire: a place where everyone matters”. I greatly admired the work of the local wit who had amended it to read “a place where everyone natters”. I resolved to lobby for the new unitary authority in Northumberland to grace its expensive new signage with the words “the county where everyone counts”. It’s hard to see how anyone could alter that in a way which might cause offence.

This evening the LTCB took me out to a supper party. We were horribly late because we lost track of time sitting on her sofa when we should have been setting off, then got comprehensively lost because she knew for a fact that you had to pass the local pub on your left when approaching her friends’ house, and we kept finding it on our right. This mystery was finally solved with the aid of a phone call which established that the pub we had just passed was not, in fact, her friends’ local. She claimed in her defence that she normally made this particular journey in the dark; which for her, unlike every other human being I have ever met, apparently makes navigation easier.

To look on the bright side, being horribly late was actually a pretty good result when one considers what could have happened quite early on in the journey, when I queried whether Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2 was really the most appropriate listening for a trendy young woman in a Mini, and wondered audibly what was playing in the Proms on Radio 3 instead. I looked up and all but screamed when I realized that she was entirely focused on re-tuning the radio and was paying no attention to the road, which explained why we were just about to veer off it onto a grass verge. We made it back onto the carriageway with a well-executed violent swerve, and I realized that Graeme Danby singing some popular classics on Radio 2 was just what I had wanted to listen to all along.

At least her friends expected us to be late, on the strength of long experience. They also realized that I would be in need of a stiff drink when I arrived, and had several bottles waiting opened in readiness. In addition, they had barbecued enough fine food for a smallish regiment, which I tucked into with the gusto of a man for whom this meal might very well prove to be his last.

No comments: