November 2010


The following was in response to a note left in the vistors book.

20.11.10

For the attention of The Dunny Monster.

Although I was  amused by the perilous account of your travails in this wild and desolate spot,   it was less hilarious to find the shippon full of the emotional residues.  The shock of it inhibited all bowel activity for 24 hours.  They clearly don’t call you ‘Dunny Monster’ for nothing!      

This morning, I did the dirty deed, pulling aside the heavy lid of the cesspool and pouring the contents of the bucket in, holding my breath all the while.  So far, so good!  But when I opened the Elsan cupboard, there was  only one  bottle left and it was empty.  I know you warned me not to go there,  Dunny Monster. 

Today is Sunday.  The nearest source of Elsan is Windscale; the liquid glows in the dark!  Frustrated,  I did at least manage to regain a semblance of decency with the last blue dribble from the bottle and four pints of water. 

This afternoon, the farmer told me that a strange dunny creature had been sited crouching in the snow on the slopes of Harter Fell.  Tomorrow I will be coming for you. 

Be afraid!  Be very afraid! 

 

21.11.10

It was a cold night and I slept poorly, preoccupied with thoughts of you out feral on the fells.  Something was spooking the sheep.  Once I looked out, and saw a flock  of about a hundred or so running in panic from one field through the gap in the wall to the far corner of the other.  I fancied I saw a faint blue glow behind the last few animals.  I went out, locked and secured the door to the shippon and returned to bed.  

 The farmer didn’t seem too surprised  about the way the sheep were rushing about.  The dogs were  restless too’, he said.  They were up well before it was light, barking like mad. This morning I found the barn door unlatched. I always close it last thing at night but I guess it might have blown open.  

There were splashes of blue on the trail leading up the Lingrove Valley to Bow Fell and some of the sheep bore marks of the same Elsan hue.  Once or twice I thought I  saw you up by Cringle Crags, but  the cloud rolled in and veered south down Mosedale, losing my way  among the bogs and swamps.  You could hide here for weeks, Dunny Monster,  but what would  you do for food and how would you get your magic potion.   

As if in answer, I encountered  a group of men in the yard of Black Hill Farm.  A few had shotguns under their arms.  ‘A ewe has been killed and butchered up by Peathill Crags’, they told me.  The carcass is still up there. 

From the top of Hardknott Pass, I wound down to the ancient Roman marching fort at Mediobogdum.  I sensed a presence and explored the ruins of the commandants house, the granary, the barracks, the sauna, but it was getting dark and I left.  

Later , looking out of the cottage, I fancied I saw the flickering light of a fire up at the fort, but perhaps it was a car coming down the pass in the mist. And was that a whiff of Elsan on the wind?  You are beginning to get to me.            

 

22.11.10

It was not quite light when I spotted somebody in the field across the valley.  He had cornered one of rams, turned it over and was daubing dye from a large blue bottle on its nether regions. Later I saw the same figure heading west  on the slopes of Harter Fell. I reached for my binoculars and saw an unusually tall man, about seven feet I would guess, and dressed in a shabby brown three-quarter length waterproof coat and a woollen  balaclava helmet with the ear flaps hanging loose.  A sack was slung across his shoulders.  But, strangest of all, it seemed to me that he was enveloped in a bluish aura, like a force field.  

I dressed and ate a hurried breakfast, then packing a flask of coffee and some crackers,  followed the figure, whom I guessed must have been you,  down river, stopping briefly to read the notices pinned to the door of St Catherine’s Church, that offered  counselling.  I then sped on through  Boot and turned north across the sweeping grassland of Eskdale Moor.  From the top of the rise, vistas of Wasdale and Great Gable were revealed and I spotted a tall figure  moving towards the foot of Sca Fell in  great rolling strides. Then I understood.   You were  going to double back to the cottage. How I wish I locked the door to the shippon.  I broke into a trot and followed as, with what might have been a wave of your hand, you disappeared into the cloud.   

I wasn’t going to pursue you in the mist and snow, so I decided to keep low and take the direct route back,  crossing Quagrigg Moss to the foot of Slight Side and then descending  Cow Cove to just below Bull How, skirting round Hare Crag and coming out on the road by Wha House.  All seemed well, but when I opened the door to the shippon, there, scrawled in capital blue letters on the whitewashed wall above the chemical toilet, was the word DUNNY and an arrow pointing down. 

 

23.11.10d

I needed to get away and before midday, I was up in the snow at the top of Yeastyrigg Beck.  I followed the prints  of size 12 Vibrams up to the ridge.  Ravens performed aerobatics above the snow and chuckled knowingly, but the cloud came in on a nor-easterly  east and I had to descend.  Once or twice I fancied I saw a hint of blue and a cry of ‘Aa-aw Jee-ee-eez ’ seemed to hang in the wind that rushed between the rocks.  But the mind plays tricks and I had spent too much time alone.

Descending across Pieck Beld Moss, I spotted a large dog fox run up the opposite hill.   

 

24.11.10

 Woken at 4am  by a rattling of the schippon door.  I went down with a thumping heart.  Was that a faint emanation of blue below Wha House Bridge.    

 I had no more sleep that night.   At first light, I ate a hurried breakfast and escaped the clinging aroma of Elsan to the freshness  of the fells.  My feet crunched on the frosty ground and cracked the puddles as I ascended the track to the vastness of Great Moss.  I was completely alone.  I went swiftly up the gully between Sca Fell and its Pike and down the precarious path on the other side.  By lunch time I had reached the Wasdale Inn.  ‘You come down from hills?’, the landlord asked.  I replied that I had.  ‘Somethings been killing the sheep up there.  Another ewe was found butchered this morning’. 

 

25.11.10     

Today I went to the stores in Windscale to buy some more Elsan.  The shop keeper, a plump lady in her forties, eyed me suspiciously.  ‘What d’you do with it?’  she enquired sharply. ‘You bought a whole box full of double strength last week. You cleaned me out’.

 I said nothing;  she would never have believed me, anyway! 

 

Every Saturday evening,  sixteen million British people turn on their televisions for two hours to watch Strictly Come Dancing, and turn on again the following night to see the results.  But why?  Why  should a dance competition captivate the nation so much?  It’s not Brucie’s jokes.  And I can’t really  believe that people turn on to see the redoubtable Ann Widdecombe express her desperate need for attention in one more ritual humiliation.    No, I think it’s the romance of it all.  

Dance is the physical expression of romantic love.  Every week, we witness transformation in dance.    Under the guidance of their professional partners,  C list celebrities; rugby players, singers, actors, even politicians, who have never before trod the fantastic light,  develop the confidence and attitude to dance.   And as they improve, the relationship between the couples gets closer until they almost seem to merge and move together as one.  It’s like watching people fall in love.   The women all lose weight and glow with passion; the men perform like Gods.   Urged on by the comperes and the judges, week by week they take more risk.    We fear the crash – but at the same time desire it.  This is compulsive viewing.      

Pamela Stephenson,  psychotherapist and one time comedienne, now one of the contestants,  described it like this.  ‘ Suddenly you’re in this hot bed of emotion,  locking loins, arguing, fighting, making up, hugging.   The professionals are very attractive, very intimate, very attentive, very emotional.  It’s very hard not to fall in love a bit and that for some,  can be very confusing.’ 

Contestants may enjoy the sensation of having their heads in the clouds but they have to keep their feet on the ground.  Nabokov once defined fame as a stranger caught in their own snapshot, but  they mustn’t let themselves believe in it.  Celebrities are commodities for projection.  We, the voyeurs, enjoy the frisson with desire and dread.      

Love is not for the faint hearted.   It’s a dangerous business; full of conflict and ambivalence.   Dance, like courtship displays in birds and mammals,  expresses the desire, the fear, the aggression, the affection.   

If you truly love somebody,  all meaning is invested in that person.  Even the most mundane aspects of life are enhanced by the most intense colours, textures and tones.  But if that love fails, that intensity suddenly evaporates and life loses its meaning.  It’s all or nothing, life or death.  So the dreadful danger of love is the disillusion and devastatation;  the death of the spirit that ensues from a catastrophic loss of meaning.   The professionals understand this;  they never really lose themselves in the dance, they have the technique to act ‘as if’. 

But how precarious for those learning to dance for the first time;  they stand on the edge,  make to go and then hold back, and their body can expresses the ambivalence and spoil the performance.  They lack the technique that experience provides, to make it up.  They have to dance with their heart or not at all.  That’s why the judges, especially the effusive Bruno Tonioli, are all the while exhorting contestants to let go.  Love can make any of us dance perfectly!      

But it can be  so difficult to trust.  If we give ourselves to another person, then we lose our autonomy.  We may crave the freedom of love, but we fear the dependence,  because therein lies self deception and delusion.   People don’t fall in love with another person; they fall in love with themselves or more accurately,  the enhanced image of themselves they see in their lover’s eyes?   

Fear of solitude and nothingness encourages us to take refuge in love, but fear of entrapment  may cause us to flee it.  Dance is the enactment of the ambivalent;  cynicism; the elevated eyebrow of fear? 

But let’s be positive. Love is such wonderful make believe.  Even by proxy,  it has the potential to create such poignant joy.   How dull life would be without that dangerous hope?      

So take care but not that much.  And keeeeeep  dancing!

‘It should be easy, you know.  The actual facts are so simple.  I love you.  You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto.  Otto loves you.  Otto loves me.’

Oh My God!   Or as Mrs ‘Odge might say,  ‘Well, ‘eres a pretty pickle.’     

So why isn’t it easy?    Why shouldn’t people be free to love whom they like when they like?  Why do people get hurt?   Why do they feel guilty?  Why does it always turn bad?

Gilda is one of those delightful women, beautiful, intelligent, impulsive; a loving and free spirit with a real zest for life.  Otto and Leo are two sensitive and sensuous young men, who are both enjoying the  exhilaration of success.   Otto is a painter;  Leo an up and coming playwright.   They are young, and in love.   Gilda first chooses Otto and they live in a romantic garret in Paris.  Then Leo returns after a successful run in New York and she abandons Otto to live with Leo in London.  Then a year or so later, Otto returns and after a steamy night, she leaves them both and the next we know she has married the older, safer and rather tedious Ernest and become established as a New York socialite and art dealer.  Meanwhile, Otto and Leo get drunk, realise how much they love each other and go off round the world on a sequence of slow boats.  Two years later, they turn up in Ernest and Gilda’s apartment in New York, whereupon Gilda decides to leave Ernest and live with Otto and Leo in a ménage a trois.  

It is all so wonderfully romantic and amusing – so Noel Coward!   But is this so much a design for living as a strategy for loving?   And will it ever work?   One feels that it’s alright for Gilda.  She has the attentions of two handsome, successful young men who both adore her, but how will she cope with their love for each other?   It may be so exciting for the moment, but what will she do when they both get a bit fed up with her attention seeking and want a bit of basic male bonding?   Go off to Ernest again?   And can you imagine all three of them in bed together; the competitiveness, the jealousies?    Which of the men will go first and where?  How will she hold them together?  How will she satisfy two enormous egos?   For this to work, it would mean them all being terribly responsible and level headed.  When has Gilda ever been level headed?    

It’s not so much that it’s morally wrong.   It is, of course, but morality is a social construct;  there to protect us, not just an edict to be ignored.   Any one of us can love more than one person deeply,  but it is impossible to maintain an intimate relationship with two people for very long without resorting to a whole complicated web of secrecy and deception.  

When people fall in love, they expose the most vulnerable aspects of themselves.  It’s a courageous act of absolute trust and it risks nothing less than devastation of the personality through destruction of meaning.   Gilda and Leo and Otto may think they may have acquired sufficient experience and wisdom to maintain a stable triangle, but it takes enough time for any of us to sort out a relationship with one other person; how much more effort would it take to sort out a three-way intimacy?  And how long would it last without resorting to the rot of deception.    And finally, would it be worth it?  Some of the recent literature to come out of the middle east, illustrates the complex  jealousies of polygamy.  I can’t see polyandry being any better.    

Still, it’s wonderful entertainment and any good art; it makes you think. 

Design for Living by Noel Coward is currently playing at The Old Vic.  Lisa Dillon is delicious and delightful as Gilda (and that dress!),  though it was clear who was in charge.  The actors who played Otto and Leo were less credible.  And one had to feel some sympathy for Ernest, though his marriage to Gilda seemed less a meeting of minds and souls than a business arrangement, a mutual exploitation.  It was originally banned from performance on the London Stage.