21 February 2014

Slimbridge Wetland Centre

Wildfowl and Wetlands

I am watching you

In these sodden days of argument and misery, of slime and stench, water and more water, what better place for a day out than a Wetland Centre?

A View from the Bridge (The Sloane Observation Tower)

When Peter Scott's father, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, wrote to his wife from his ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1911, he urged her to make their son, interested in Natural History, if you can; it is better than games......  Peter was only two at the time, but the encouragement worked, eventually.  After developing his talents as an artist, and also winning a bronze medal for dinghy sailing at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, he became an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, during which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry.  

Sir Peter Scott 1909 - 1989 (by Jacqueline Shackleton)

He was also a competitive ice-skater, and a gliding champion, but his real claim to fame came when, having seen a Lesser White-fronted Goose in Gloucestershire, he founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust (which became the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) at Slimbridge, where he bought a cottage and some land and lived for the rest of his life.  This also led to the BBC Natural History Unit making its home in Bristol, and, separately, also inspired Peter to be one of the founders, and the first chairman, of the World Wildlife Fund, in 1961.

A Bird's Eye View

Peter also achieved fame for his wildlife TV programme, Look, which ran from 1955 to 1981, and which was probably one of the reasons I became interested in birds.....  I remember visiting Slimbridge with my parents as a very young thing, and when I returned this week found that although there have been huge developments on the site, there was something very familiar about it, and loved it, despite the rain.

Good to see you back!

It was a good time to visit, as the mild winter (yes it has been mild) has meant that many birds have wintered here when they might have gone further south.  Also, the rain (we have had some it is true) has kept the wetlands wet and the wildfowl happy - after all, it's all just water off a duck's back!

A Desert of Lapwings

The whole site covers 120 acres.  There are (at least) twelve hides as well as three observatories.  From the Sloane Observation Tower you can see from the Cotswolds to the Forest of Dean across the Severn, and in the Peng Observatory, you can sit in comfort and watch the birds through glass walls.  Many of the birds come here of their own free will, as part of their migratory life style.  These two Pintail (Anas Acuta) are representatives of one of the commonest ducks in the world (despite recent declines especially in North America), with some 5.4 million individuals covering 11 million square miles across the entire northern hemisphere.  Many winter in the UK, though only about 30 pairs breed here.

A pair of Northern Pintail

In contrast, this Hawaiian Goose is the world's rarest goose, and was on the brink of extinction with only 30 birds left in 1952 when Peter Scott introduced it to Slimbridge. There are now some 2,500 individuals around the world, about half of whom live in the wild.  It is the State Bird of Hawaii.

The Nene, or Hawaiian, Goose

You do not have to be a twitcher to enjoy sighting different species of birds here.  I am no expert, but with the help of a book, and the very helpful posters displayed around the hides, it is not difficult to pick out birds, even though they seem to be happily muddled up together on the lakes.

Common Goldeneye (m)

Once you start getting the hang of it, then you can start to see how different they are.  Some dabble at the surface, some dive.  Some seem to be happy on their own, some paddle about in pairs, and some flock, or spring.

Common Pochard (m)

Their names are fascinating too, as some, like the Goldeneye, are pretty obvious, and some, like the Wigeon, apparently derive onomatopoeically from their call.  The Pochard is so called because it pokes or poaches when it delves for food.

Eurasian Wigeon (m)

But who knows how the Tufted Duck got his name?

Tufted Duck (m)

At the time of my visit, the board recording latest wildlife sightings (i.e. not counting the permanently resident birds and animals) listed 67 species of bird, of which 23 were wildfowl and 12 were waders. The total of these sightings was 24,288, though some of these, such as the solitary Puffin and a similarly lonely Razorbill, were only seen on one day. By far the most numerous was the Lapwing, with 7,655 individuals counted, but there were also thousands of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Golden Plover and Dunlin. These numbers vary daily, however, and on February 21st, 2,500 Shoveler were also noted (as opposed to the 332 when I was there).  There were 139 Bewick's Swan, each with his or her completely individual upper beak markings, and 135 Mute Swan, all quite sociably getting along well together.....

A gaggle of swans - Mute on the left and Bewick's on the right, with a cygnet in the middle

And in the air, on the water, and waddling amongst the visitors on the paths, were almost 1000 various geese, of whom 503 were Greylag......

A landing party - a Skein of Greylag Geese whiffling down

For many visitors an additional attraction to the wildlife that abounds at Slimbridge is the collection of exotic species. There are representatives of all six species of Flamingo here and the new Flamingo Lagoon is the best place to view the extraordinary beaked profile of the Greater Flamingo, little changed from fossils of these creatures that are 50 million years old.

Greater Flamingo

While on the other side of the reserve the richly coloured Caribbean variety creates a lively spectacle.

The Caribbean Flamingo dance

As the place is fox-proof and carefully managed, there are plenty of more mundane birds to see as well, from Blue Tits to Blackbirds, Robins to Thrushes.  At this time of year these are starting to sing, adding another dimension to the pleasures of a walk round here.  There are some American River Otters to see as well, and, if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a Water Vole, or a Kingfisher.

A Clattering of Jackdaws, happy to be living in the Wetlands

Slimbridge is a fine place for a day out, even if the weather is not clement.  There are eight other Wetland Centres in the UK, however, so have a look at their website for more information:


For me Slimbridge is a rather special place, though, as it was probably the first place I saw the magnificence of a swan's take-off, which is something that remains with you, etched on the mind like a tableau of porcelain ducks over a tiled fireplace......

Take off!

15 February 2014

Roman walks, 1

The Forum and The Vatican

Clearing my mother's house the other day, I came across a slim A4 folder booklet.  The last page was signed and dated, by me, on March 12th 1987.

The title of the piece is A Week of Walks - Roman Perambulations, and it was an attempt, at that time, to record some suggestions for friends and family visiting the city.

Unearthing it now is a little like coming across an old gravestone, brushing away the moss and lichen, to read an inscription.  I hesitate to clean it up, but, inspired by a friend's recent request to offer some advice on a trip to Rome, perhaps it still has some worth?  After all, the majority of places mentioned are hundreds or thousands of years old, and, remarkably, they are still there!  So here are the first two days' suggestions, with a touch of updating (there were no websites in 1987!) but no apologies for the errors that may have crept in over a quarter of a century!

I lived in Rome, in Trastevere (my  blog Roma Trastevere Revisited  (http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2011/12/dance-to-music-of-time.html has more on that) from 1976 but left Italy for family reasons in 1995.  One authority on Rome is David Willey, BBC Correspondent in Rome, and when he moved out to Trevignano Romano in 2009, after about twenty years living in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in central Rome he wrote this on the 'Dolce Vita' Rome:

Over the years I have witnessed the growing degradation of the inner city, the mindless graffiti which now deface even newly-restored buildings and the disappearance one by one of the small local shops and artisans - the butcher, the greengrocer, the barber, the antique seller - as their rents became too costly.
They have been replaced by trashy and tasteless trinket and souvenir stores, spreading like a fungus, particularly in the area of the Trevi fountain just across the Via Del Corso, Rome's noisy, busy and crowded high street.
I remember as a student half a century ago in "Dolce Vita" Rome, seeing with astonishment a flock of sheep being driven through the city centre by their shepherd along the then semi-deserted Corso early one Sunday morning.
Today the Corso with its narrow sidewalks can be dangerous for pedestrians venturing to cross the road and the other Saturday afternoon it was the scene of a knife fight between rival gangs of youths.

By coincidence, I too moved from central Rome to Trevignano Romano, similarly tired by the traffic fumes, the noise, the heat in summer and cold in winter, and, again by coincidence, one of my first acquaintances was an ageing shepherd who recounted driving a flock of sheep along the Lungotevere near Castel Sant'Angelo in his youth (and a bloody encounter with a truck at the time). 

Since then I have returned to the heart of the city many times, and, fortunate to have friends there, I feel as at home there as I do in London.  Yes, there have been many changes, and some wonderful places have been opened up (such as the Scuderie del Quirinale, https://english.scuderiequirinale.it/categorie/categoria-17) while others have been closed (per restauro....) but the underlying history, architecture and art remains.  I still think that Georgina Masson (aka Babs Johnson)'s Companion Guide to Rome is the best introduction, though there are plenty more up-to-date and comprehensive books these days, including my friend and ex-colleague Bryn Jenkins's Roaming through Rome (ISBN 978-88-96889-39-8), but as I said then, and still believe, the most important things to take to Rome are a curious mind, a good pair of shoes, and a map.

If you look at a map of Rome, it is immediately apparent that old Rome is really pretty small.  Another thing you'll notice is that almost every street has something of interest - a church, a renaissance palace, a fountain or a museum of some kind.  What won't be so obvious is the ancient history, or the underlying geography.  The famous seven hills of Rome are now buried under two thousand five hundred years of various architecture, and rubble (literally buried - look down into the Largo Argentina, for example, to see the difference in street level between then and now).  In the north-east rise Monte Quirinale and Monte Viminale; Monte Esquilino and Monte Celio are to the east; Monte Avellino occupies the south and south-west, the Palatino the south-centre and the Capitolino sits at the heart, near the river, the once vital Tiber.  At the height of her power the Republican walls and ditches surrounded this tightly defensible area, from the modern Terminus station to the Tiber island.  Later developments pushed the defences out to the Aurelian walls and in some cases beyond.  Now the ring road, the raccordo anulare, is barely the limit.

Apart from the classical seven hills, Monte Gianicolo, above Trastevere, is worth ascending; it offers a fine viewpoints from which to see the city in the evening light, with, if you are lucky, the towering walls of the Monti Prenestini and the Apennines surprisingly close.  Monte Pincio is also a popular spot for a passeggiata in the dusk, and from here you may see the sun set behind the dome of St Peter's.  There is also a glorious night view from the Zodiac Bar (http://www.zodiacoroma.it/public/IT/); 139 metres above sea level on Monte Mario, and serving cocktails with one of the best views in the world since 1956.

One has only to see Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thieves to see how transport in Rome has changed in a lifetime.  But with trams, metros, buses and taxis public transport is good, despite the almost continuous rush hour from seven am until late at night.  I really would not wish to ride a push-bike around this town, but walking, for the most part, is fine.

The foremost sights/sites in Rome are still the Vatican and the Roman Forum.  Both are open every day from 8.30am, but booking is advisable, especially for the Vatican (http://www.tickitaly.com/tickets/rome-ticket-booking.php).  The Forum is the best place in which to start, and to acclimatise.  Take a picnic and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of the Palatine ruins.  Wander amongst the broken walls and pillars, breathing the piny air.  Explore the crypto-portici of Nero under the Orti Farnesina, and then look down from the Domus Augustana to the vast race-track of the Circo Massimo.  This is a visit that should not be hurried, for here you need to adjust your imagination, to absorb some of the atmosphere of history.  This was once the centre of the world:  Wall Street, the Kremlin, Westminster and all the rest rolled into one.  Tiberius lived here; Claudius died here, painfully poisoned by a plate of mushrooms.  Romulus, so they say, is buried here.

When you are satisfied, however, there's one more thing to do on your first day.  Stroll down through the Arch of Titus and make your way to the top row of seats in the Colosseum, otherwise known as the Flavian Amphitheatre.  This must be one of the, if not the, most famous building in the world, and despite earthquakes, material despoliation, overgrowth and restoration, it is still a place to take your breath away.  Just the thought of one lion pulling at the limbs of one Christian, or the harsh fragment of time, suspended in the intake of thirty thousand breaths, as a consul turned his thumb down to the upturned appeal of a wounded gladiator, is enough to make my head spin.

After that, if you have the energy, wander back along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, at first on the left-hand side, where you will see a series of maps, portraying the spread of the Roman Empire, then cross over and walk along the Forum of Augustus.  Look up at the beautiful medieval additions to the Roman walls, and see the Casa dei Cavalieri di Rodi (House of the Knights of Rhodes) with its wonderful loggia, and then pass on to admire the architecture of Apollodorus of Damascus in the Mercati di Traiano (Trajan's Market, http://www.mercatiditraiano.it/).  This massive hemi-cycle, of brick with marble lintels and doorposts, does more than any other building, in my opinion, to bring the Roman past to life, for these boutiques and stores and shopping arcades are just temporarily disused, and given a few neon signs and some baskets of fruit and veg, you would not think it was two thousand years old.

St Peter's Square, the Basilica and the Vatican museums with, if time, Castel Sant'Angelo (the Mausoleum of Hadrian) make up another series of visits that cannot be missed.  If your first day in Rome was spent in the Forum, then I recommend your second is spent around the Vatican.

As Castel Sant'Angelo closes at two every day, it is worth starting here, and working upwards towards the heights of the Dome of S Pietro.  Castel S Angelo has two particular associations for me.  One is the gripping escape story of Benvenuto Cellini as he tells it in his autobiography.  He was imprisoned here in 1538 after upsetting Pope Clemente VII, and with craft and patience he took out the nails from his cell door, replacing them with dust and spittle, until he was ready to make an escape.  He then clambered down knotted strips of sheet in the darkness and jumped to freedom.  He miscalculated the drop, however, and broke his leg, but still managed to crawl to the shelter of a friend's house and survive.

The other association is that of Floria Tosca, who at the end of Puccini's opera flings herself to her death from the battlements after her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, has been shot  at dawn by firing a squad, who were supposed to use blank cartridges.  It is a moment of the highest drama; a shocking climax - or at least so should it be.  On one infamous occasion, however, a slightly overweight heroine hurled herself to her fate onto a rather springy trampoline, and consequently continued to reappear above the parapet to the amazement of the audience, until the final curtain covered her embarrassment.

In Piazza Pia, resist the temptation to enter San Pietro yet, but turn right into Borgo S Angelo and follow the covered corridor that enabled frightened popes to scuttle to safety.  Follow the fortress walls of the Vatican along Via di Porta Angelica and around the entrance to the Vatican Museums (http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html).  Once you are in there are miles to walk, and thousands of exhibits, but do not miss the so-called Torso del Belvedere in the Sala delle Muse (Museo Pio-Clementino), the writhing Laocoon just off the Cortile Ottagono, the Stanze di Raffaello and the Sistine Chapel, which is stunning, despite the hushed awe of crowds, listening spell-bound to their whispering guides through headphones.  You will suffer from a residual polyglot hum in the head, punctuated by occasional instructions from ushers, reminding people of the need for silence, but your eyes will feast.

Once you have been through this mill, if you have the strength, climb the 537 steps to the top of the cupola of St Peter's.  If you are less energetic, the lift to the terrace is easier, and from here you can admire the arms of Bernini's colonnade reaching out to embrace the faithful.  Fountains splash and the central obelisk takes you back to the beginning of history.  It was brought from Heliopolis by Caligula in 37AD and stood on Nero's circus until Sixtus V had it moved in 1586.  For the record it took nine hundred men, forty-four capstans, one hundred and forty horses and five months to shift it, and if some quick-witted worker had not thrown water on the ropes at the last moment (to shrink them tighter to stop it toppling - all had been ordered to keep silent) they would have dropped it.....  At the top, inside the bronze emblem (of the Chigi family) is a relic of the holy cross.

There was a time when it was, or seemed to be, cheaper to eat a meal out in a trattoria than to shop and cook at home, and so, when a newcomer, my habit was to go out to dine pretty much every evening with friends.  In this respect, Rome has changed considerably, however, and it can no longer be said that it is cheap to eat out.  OK, but it is still good, and though almost all the traditional places have changed beyond recognition, and there is no shortage of choice in finding places to eat.  One of my favourite places, in Piazza dé Ricci, across the street from the Venerable English College and only a few steps from Piazza Farnese,  was the Ristorante Pierluigi (http://www.pierluigi.it/).  Founded in 1938, and for a long time a relatively simple place, specialising in fish, but with paper table covers, rough bread and straw-coloured wine from Marino in flasks, it is now run in sophisticated manner by Roberto Lisi, and, though it is quite expensive, the quality is first rate and the risotto alla crema di scampi is still to die for.  If you are only in Rome for a few days, and have had a hard day walking round the Vatican (and providing it is not a Monday), treat yourself......

Francis Bacon - Study for Velásquez Pope II

da Pierluigi

8 February 2014


The Border Wars

A bird in each hand (may be worth one in the bush)

I am inspecting the defences in Carlisle.  Just checking.  Just to make sure we will be safe, if things go wrong in the Referendum.....  Would not want the shoals of salmondites to suddenly sweep south, thinking that what might once have been theirs should be theirs again.

I mean, look what they did to Hadrian's Wall!  

Our door is always open

The castle is certainly sturdy, though I do think that perhaps someone should have been on guard.  The portcullis looked to be in working order, though it was open.  And there was no one around.  It worried me a little that I could have wheeled out the 25 pounder and offered the Scots a twenty-one gun salute and no one would have been any the wiser.

Our defence system, under wraps

Or I could have hopped in the armoured car and gone for a tootle.  It's only ten miles to the (current) border.  Though I am not sure it had a valid MOT. 

Note the spare tyre (behind)

But I am not here to cause strife.  Instead I check out the local history.  There's reputedly been a pub on Fisher Street since the 10th century, and there's sort of been a King's Head here in Carlisle since William Rufus (later shot, just off the A31 in the New Forest) founded the Castle in 1092, though the Brigantes, (led by Venutius) and later the Romans (for example Quintus Petilius Cerialis) very likely stopped here (in the Flavian Fort) while waiting for trains to Glasgow or Oxenholme.  Mary Queen of Scots certainly stayed, though not by choice.  Bonnie Prince Charlie (not to be confused with the Prince of Wales) also passed by, in 1745.

Peace has never been the watchword here.  There were two Roman walls (the Antonine wall was built in 142 AD and abandoned in 160) to try and control the violence in the Scottish Marches (the later name for the area) and after the Romans left in the 5th century the skirmishing worsened.  On a particular Saturday night in 945 Carlisle was wrecked by the Scots, who apparently did not like the Danes, and the city was left in ruins for over a hundred years.  William Rufus claimed it back for the Normans (though it had not figured in the Domesday Book); in 1122 Henry I founded an Augustinian Priory (which in 1133 became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Carlisle) but Stephen (the Usurper) gave Cumberland and Carlisle back to the Scots as a peace offering.

The James Kendrick Memorial Seat, Carlisle

The locals must have been pretty confused at this time, because in 1157 the City was reclaimed by English forces, seemingly permanently.

Easy.  Chairs.

However, in 1525 the Border Reivers had become so annoying that the then Archbishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar, cast a curse on them.  Part of this has been engraved on a stone, now in the underpass by the Tullie Museum, Carlisle.  To read it you have to walk around anti-clockwise.....

383 words on 14 tons of Granite - carved by Gordon Young

I curse their heid and all the haris of thair heid; I curse thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair tongue, thair teeth, thair crag, thair shoulderis, thair breist, thair hert, thair stomok, thair bak, thair wame, thair armes, thais leggis, thair handis, thair feit, and everilk part of thair body, frae the top of their heid to the soill of thair feet, befoir and behind, within and without.

I curse thaim gangand, and I curse them rydland; I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse thaim etand, I curse thaim drinkand; I curse thaim walkand, I curse thaim sleepand; I curse thaim risand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse thair wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis participand with thaim in their deides. I way thair cornys, thair catales, thair woll, thair scheip, thjair horse, thair swyne, thair geise, thair hennes, and all thair quyk gude. I wary their hallis, thair chalmeris, thair kechingis, thair stanillis, thair barnys, thair biris, thair bernyardis, thair cailyardis thair plewis, thair harrowis, and the gudis and housis that is necessair for their sustentatioun and weilfair.

The Archbishop's Cursing, quoted in The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser.

It should not surprise us that this is not always an area of Peace and Love.

Sometimes four sundial are not enough

To be honest, I am not sure that Carlisle welcomes visitors to this day, even though there is a very fine Tourist Information Office in the centre of town.  I speak as an elderly and infirm visitor, a mere inspector on government business, with a bad back and two heavy bags.  The train station has no left luggage facility, though a person in the information office indicated a bar which might have secured by belongings for a small price.  This bar, across the square, was shut, possibly terminally.  So I was constrained to puff and pant up past the Citadel (which surely could have housed a left luggage depot?) hoping to find solace with the ladies of the Tourist Office. 

Negative. I might as well have been a Reiver.

When I'm a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky
(W H Auden: Roman Wall Blues)

It was only the kindness of the staff in the Bus Station that saved me, though I must admit I was about to turn away and shun the pleasures of this city, which of course include many simple necessities of life....

Anyway, I found refuge in the beauty and peace of England's second smallest Cathedral (only slightly larger than Oxford Cathedral, the Chapel of Christ Church College). This might have been bigger, had there not been a fire in 1292, had the Norman bell tower not collapsed in 1380, and had Henry VIII not ordered the dissolution of the priory in 1540. Add to this the demolition of the west end of the nave in 1650 and the use of the nave as a prison for Jacobite rebels in 1745, and you have some idea of the mixed fortunes of this outpost of Early English and Perpendicular architecture through the ages.

Peace and Love?

Distinguishing the rood from the trees....

But, that said, it is a grand place, elegant and well-proportioned, and full of glories from times past.  The East Window's tracery dates from the fourteenth century, though the lower glasses are Victorian.  Stone capitals represent the Labours of the Month, showing the seasonal life of medieval farmers, with a peasant sitting warming his toes in front of a fire on one column, and the grape harvest on another.....  

The graceful aisles hint at the austerities of a church that held the faith whilst disorder reigned:

And the ceiling cheats us into thinking we really are under the heavens, although this gold, and lapis lazuli (from Afghanistan), was not put up until 1856 (by the same Owen Jones who decorated the Great Exhibition of 1851), when the original roof (which would have been supported by the angels, still extant) was stripped out.

The Treasury displays works of art that have come into the Cathedral's possession, painfully depicting the suffering that puts us all to shame:

The Deposition: gilded wood, Flemish, sixteenth century

But some of the most interesting carvings lie hidden in the medieval choir stalls.

Misericords take their name from the Latin misericordia, or act of mercy, as these carved pieces were designed to support older, frailer, fatter and lazier, monks who found it hard to stand for hours in prayer.  So the seat was the seat, but tipped up so the incumbent could stand there was still a seat, as it were.  

Here in the Choir of Carlisle Cathedral there are forty six of them, and as I move amongst them, I get a strange feeling that they are watching me, watching them.  The wife who pulls the beard and bashes the head of the impassive husband; the feathery fish-woman who perhaps rattles a tambourine;  the hairy man performing some aggressive dentistry on a reluctant dragon;

These fifteenth century carvings represent legends or subjects taken from the medieval bestiaries, but they also show us faces from the time.  These slinky friends are not human, but they are not so far from the political cartoons of Gerald Scarfe, or  Steve Bell, or Chris Riddell:

And then there is the serious parody, where a coronation, perhaps crudely of the Virgin Mary, or of some hopeful king, takes on a new meaning:

However, this is holy ground, and even the fog horn parping of organ tuning struggles to dim my haloed thoughts. 

I study the walls, the paintings, the carvings, and the guide.  I note that the organ is by Henry (Father) Willis rebuilt etc etc. And I note that organist Henry Ford (1842 - 1902) came to Carlisle by stagecoach.  For a moment I think of John Ford driving through Monument Valley in a Model T, and then I realise a Gryphon is pecking at my trouser cuffs.

Tish!  The Reivers are stealing my brain......

So I stop for a moment and slow to my knees, grateful for the temporary peace within these walls:

Then, respectfully, I taxi away, to the south, to stay in historic Dalston Hall.  A Pele Tower, constructed to withstand insurgents and equipped to broadcast newsflashes from rooftop braziers.

My driver lives across the border, but is from Birmingham.  If a referendum returns this border country to the Middle Ages, he will be a displaced person, subject to the 90 day tax law, instantly incapacitated from making ends meet legally.  He frets as men in the past will have struck their chests in anguish on hearing the thunder of the Reivers' hooves, or smelled the smoke of desecration.  The insignificance of the ordinary man flickers like some childish sequin in the dusk.

I am ill equipped to judge.  My role as an inspector of borders pales into bureaucracy.  I feel like Cadogan de Vere Carlton-Browne of the Foreign Office, tugging at the forelock of tradition.  I can only think of organising a party of parachutists.  

Or rather, as a government employee, I think of duck breast and rioja.

Dalston Hall - the Pele Tower to the right

I dine. Alone. A ghostly piano plays itself. The chandeliers drip in my soup while Sir Charles Dalston, Sheriff for Cumberland, looks down on me. Wine spills. Cheese congeals.

I retire to my room.  The red sandstone walls withstand the wind, but as I try to sleep there is a scratching at my window. Is it Cathy, I wonder, out of joint with both the times and the geography but still trying to reach her Heathcliff?  Or is it the Gryphon, unsettled by the times?  A new bestiary on the loose in these days of salmondella?

My accommodation is luxurious.  I feel flushed with guilt as I bathe in a south-facing tub. And then, as I begin to flow, rain-splashed, into dreamland, my tiger there to protect me from the Reivers, a song starts to canter across the back of my head.

But someone has changed the words:

Sal-mond, are you listening to me?

I said, Salmond, what do you want to be?

I said, Salmond, you can make real your dreams.
But you got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, Salmond, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I'm sure they can help you today.

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A......

Strictly for the Village People - Carlisle Y.M.C.A.
A sign of the time.
Not fun.

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I've lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I'm a Wall soldier, I don't know why.