Northward, Ho! (39A.2021)

Yes, I’m splitting this week’s post into two because I am heading north for my ascent of Ben Nevis, and I wanted to post early in case – worst case scenario which is spinning around in the back of my mind – I fall off the mountain and die.

Yes, I think you can tell by that exactly how I’m feeling about this trip. I would say 30% excited, 50% terrified and 20% just plain old anxious.

But that anxiousness should be fading soon. I’m writing from the train, and I have moved from ‘anticipation’ into ‘being’. Once the trip begins, all those things that you worry about fade away. I’m on the train and I’ll be here for a few hours and I’ve done as much preparation as I can. If anything goes wrong from here, then I’ll deal with it. It’s easier to deal with one actual crisis in the real world than a dozen imaginary ones in your mind.

Most of my colleagues taking this trip are flying up to Scotland. You’ll know I love to take a long-distance train over a plane any day. And I am sitting here looking out the window and luxuriating in the idea of four and a half hours to myself. I have some writing to do, two books to choose from to read, or I could just be lazy and look out the window at the passing scenery. Towns, cities, or bare autumnal fields soaked in rain. There was some discussion on the group chat about the most climate-friendly way to get to Scotland but most people have opted for speed over climate friendliness and almost everyone is flying up except a handful of us who are opting for the train.

There’s an avenue of lime trees close to my local train station that is currently host to a series of banners featuring tongue twisters reflecting the climate emergency. But the irony here is this avenue of lime trees were slated for being cut down by the same council that has hung the banners from them. It was part of a proposed new housing development – of course it was. The council and their developers even did a study that found the trees were diseased and needed to be cut down. An independent study found the trees were healthy and not diseased, but the council declined to accept the alternative report. The reason the trees were ‘diseased’ and needed to be removed was because they would have caused problems with access to the proposed construction site. In fact, what these trees do do is suck up toxins from the bus station right beside them, provide a green barrier between the bus station fumes and the nearby playground, provide shade, and for me, a little bit of soul lift when I walk along the avenue. Who doesn’t like to walk down an avenue of trees?

The council and developers promised to replace the trees with new ones, but I think we all know that new trees are not the same as mature 80 year old trees. Luckily the developers pulled out of the deal and the trees are saved. At least for now.

(Yes, reading The Overstory is affecting how I am seeing and thinking about trees.)

On my walk to the station lately I see a lot of hipster dads with their children. Why is it I notice the dads but not the dozens of mothers I walk past? Why is it still unusual to see a father do the most basic of things like dropping their child to school or nursery? Or teaching their daughters to skateboard?

Hipsters are the latest of tribes to wash up on the shores of Walthamstow. E17 was still mostly cockney when we moved in, but has changed over the years. Because it’s cheap, and it’s well connected with transport, it has been popular with every wave of immigration that had landed in London. It means we have a healthy mix of people – Caribbean, South Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Turkish, and more recently, Albania, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. Most suburbs of London don’t have this kind of diversity. And this is just what I can see from the shops and restaurants on our high street.

The hipsters are simply the latest in a long line of incomers, bringing their own speciality shops – the organic plastic free shops, the craft beer shops, the vape stores.

I never understood why groups like the EDL (English Defence League) would come and march in Walthamstow. We are so mixed, I can’t see anyone here would support them. And in fact the population that comes out to oppose the marches usually outnumber EDL types 10 to 1, if not more.

And what is England and English anyway? We speak a bastard language blended from those who have conquered this island in the past- the Vikings, the Saxons, the French. In fact if it wasn’t for the black death wiping out large numbers of the lettered aristocracy, we might all be speaking French. It was the death of so many French speaking aristocrats that allowed the rise of the native language. (Did you ever wonder why the living animals are sheep and cow and the food words are mutton and beef? Sheep and cow are Saxon words – the people who handled the living animals. Mutton and beef and French words – the people who ate the animals.)

And while I’m reflecting on this stupid concept of English being ‘pure’ anything (pure bullshit if anything) let’s not forget the irony of a public figure who has drummed up so much pro-English/anti-immigrant feeling, Nigel Farage – has a Huguenot surname. His ancestors fled persecution in France and ended up here. Only for him to encourage the persecution of others.

And on the subject of persecution, let’s have another quick reflection on the ascent of the mountain. It will be 11C (55F) by the lochside. The top of the mountain will be 0-2C (30-35F) with snow. I have packed so many bulky layers of clothes without really having a clue of what is appropriate. I need to be prepared for wind, rain, snow and general cold. And four hours of uphill walking. Yes, there is still some anxiety/terror but what can I do at this point? If I’m three hours into the walk and I am exhausted, what choice to have but to carry on? If I turn back at that point I still have three hours down the mountain.

Nah, it will all be fine. As Julian of Norwich wrote:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

See you on the other side, readers.

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