The Good Die Young


Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry died on this day in 1944 aged 44. His much loved, often quoted books are his legacy.

‘And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.’

From The Little Prince.



God Bless the NHS

    This day will never come again, hung over as it is with grey clouded, midge-filled sky in a garden full of bumble bees.  The Boxer is in bed. The effort of getting out of it valiant but futile.

    “Can’t I just be bedridden?”

    I point out that this is not an easy option and brings many disadvantages. “Besides, you’re not.” The ‘not quite’ is perhaps understood between us.

    Anyway. We decide on lunch in bed, why not? But in the making of it she has gone back to sleep and I haven’t the heart to wake her…not yet, soon.

    For five days I have been surrogate for my sister, now her prime carer (sole carer, to be more accurate.) Hard to be a fish out of your own water. All the times the positions were reversed and my sister moved in to my house in order to facilitate our holidays, I gave it the briefest of thought. 

    The district nurse called in ‘on the off chance.’ I should have solicited her help. Another pair of hands to effect the monumental effort of getting from the bed would have proved without doubt that a king’s fund bed would make life easier. Usually only for the bed-bound, I’m told. The buck is passed and she has recommended a visit from occupational therapy.

    God bless the NHS.

    Workable Truce

    We have reached a workable truce, I think, the baby and I.
    What’s that lovely expression from Nadine Gordimer, our ‘covenant of living together’, a phrase that at present I find impossible to let go.

    When I first mentioned it to Sunny Boy, he immediately thought it applied to him, us, and it does. But oh, it so applies globally, a two way stretch, a fluid working agreement for the mutual benefit of all.
    I can hear Sunny Boy’s voice of reason in my ear…sounds like compromise which means no one is happy. And yet a covenant implies agreement drawn up between people..signed sealed delivered and promises kept.

    I will not bomb your children if you do not bomb mine; I trust my government to do their homework on flammable substances and firms who clad buildings (on the cheap?) because they have mine and my family’s and friends’ best interests at heart. In return I will be a dutiful member of society.  I will not sell you down river and shaft our peace agreement to further my own ends. And so on.

    It’s when you reach impasse that troubles start and posturing begins. So many people take up a stance, an intransigent stance and then the outcome is doomed.

    Whatever led from grandmadom to politics? Working truce. That was it, and compromise. Backing down rather than standing on a high horse, trust, love. Yes, love would cover it.

    The Covenant of Living Together

    The covenant of living together is a concept discussed by Nadine Gordimer in her book The House Gun. It implies the give and take of any relationship.  Gordimer includes the government in her covenant and asks if the state should share responsibility for what happens to its citizens. The state in question is post-apartheid South Africa. Decades of violence and the casual keeping and use of guns have a role in the story. As does the decision to ban capital punishment. It is a complicated tale of love and betrayal, but she asks if the state too hasn’t betrayed its own citizens.

    Perhaps we should be asking questions of our government. Where does the responsibility lie after the fire in London? With the dismantling or destruction of the NHS? With the extrication from Europe with complete disregard for the impact on anyone? Child poverty?

    The list is endless.


    Ewan MacColl and The Manchester Rambler 

    I love the way blogs lead to places. Avenues open to new ventures, new ideas,  to follow or discuss.  Or is that life?

    The Peak and Northern Footpaths Society’s walk in May in commemoration of the opening of the Snake Path  and subsequent Mass Trespass, led not just to the Snake Pass and a well deserved half in the Snake Inn, but to music and poetry too.

    The Manchester  Rambler, Ewan MacColl’s folk standard sung by folk heros across the land stems from the 1932 Mass Trespass that Ewan MacColl took part in. The story is in the song.

    The  bastardised version we sang in pubs in our misspent student days, only ever joining in the chorus and getting it wrong to boot belied the serious undertow. We knew more of whiteslaves than wageslaves and we knew precious little of those either. Perhaps in this era of austerity and the misery of zero hours contracts it is time for a re release.

    The Manchester Rambler

    Ewan MacColl


    I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowdon

    I’ve camped by the Waynestones as well

    I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder

    And many more things I can tell

    My rucksack has oft been me pillow

    The heather has oft been me bed

    And sooner than part from the mountains

    I think I would rather be dead

    Ch: I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler from Manchester way

    I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way

    I may be a wageslave on Monday

    But I am a free man on Sunday

    The day was just ending and I was descending

    Down Grinesbrook just by Upper Tor

    When a voice cried “Hey you” in the way keepers do

    He’d the worst face that ever I saw

    The things that he said were unpleasant

    In the teeth of his fury I said

    “Sooner than part from the mountains

    I think I would rather be dead”

    He called me a louse and said “Think of the grouse”

    Well i thought, but I still couldn’t see

    Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout

    Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me

    He said “All this land is my master’s”

    At that I stood shaking my head

    No man has the right to own mountains

    Any more than the deep ocean bed

    I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade

    She was fair as the Rowan in bloom

    And the bloom of her eye watched the blue Moreland sky

    I wooed her from April to June

    On the day that we should have been married

    I went for a ramble instead

    For sooner than part from the mountains

    I think I would rather be dead

    So I’ll walk where I will over mountain and hill

    And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep

    I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains

    Where the grey rocks lie ragged and steep

    I’ve seen the white hare in the gullys

    And the curlew fly high overhead

    And sooner than part from the mountains

    I think I would rather be dead.

    Songwriters: Ewan Maccoll

    The Manchester Rambler lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

    Truth better than Fiction. A postscript.

    The poet Dave Toft has sent me a correct version of the events following the 1932 Mass Trespass. Good to have the facts straight. I take the liberty of posting it here (with permission).

    “There was no physical battle – just one scuffle. The gamekeepers were overwhelmingly outnumbered. One was injured in the single scuffle – he tried to hit someone with his stick and they took it off him and hit him with it.

    The five who were sent to prison served up to 6 months hard labour. There was a public outcry but they weren’t freed because of it, they served their time

    4 of the 5 were blacklisted and lost their jobs. The 5th was expelled from Manchester University and instead took up a place in Cambridge

    The oldest of the trespassers was 21. The leader was 20. Jimmy Miller, better known as Ewan MacColl the famous folk singer, was 19, but not arrested. They would have all been working in the mills since being 14.

    At least 2 were killed in the Spanish Civil War.

    They were almost all in the Communist Party, which was not unusual amongst progressive young left radicals in that period,who wanted a fairer society and who opposed the rise of fascism. The repressive nature of Stalin’s rule was not known at that point.”

    For the Many Not the Few


    This weekend marked the 120th anniversary of the granting of freedom to roam on the footpath in Derbyshire known as The Snake. A recognition of the rights of the working man to enjoy at least a few hours away from the grime of factory or pit.

    In 1932, barely thirty five years later the freedom had been rescinded.   The grandiose promise of ‘for ever’ was fragile.  Four or five hundred ramblers mostly from Manchester trespassed en masse,  having to fight a pitched battle with gamekeepers  especially enrolled by landowners to keep them at bay. The ramblers won. Trespass was not illegal, but men were accused of rough handling the gamekeepers and a handful were arrested.  Thanks to public outcry they were released and once again freedom of access to wilderness was restored.

    The good things in life should be accessible, if not free, to the many not just the few.



    Dave Toft, himself a child of blackened back-to-backs of salford, and introduced to the life changing joy of the wilderness at an early age, read his poem to the 75 of us who had gathered on a grey Sunday to retread those footsteps into the wilderness of Kinder.

    Climbing Kinder (for the 1932 Mass Trespass)

    To these slopes

    Here on the sides of this great and ancient plateau’s edge,

    Where the curlew sings on a summer’s day

    Its solitary, swooping note

    Like a crystal drop of Kinder water –

    A song far sweeter

    Than any music humans ever made –

    The walkers came

    To claim for all who’d follow

    The right to hear that song

    To breath that air with smog- bruised lungs

    To taste the sweetness of the open space

    To pause a moment from the draining race

    Of hard industrial existence


    And they called those walkers ‘trespassers’

    As if by claiming back these stolen treasures

    By repossessing all these hard won pleasures

    It was they who were the criminals.


    But when you climb up Kinder now

    And feel your legs strain hard against the earth

    And fill your lungs with fresh free air

    And watch the long white hare

    Kicking its legs in the very ecstasy of life

    Remember there are those who would have kept this from us

    And those who even now would, if they could

    Keep us from the silver stream and open moor

    And windswept wood.