Monday, 1 August 2016

Colsterdale Pals

Today started very early at the Youth Hostel. We knocked back a quick breakfast and then it was very much home James and don't spare the horses. A five and a half-hour drive is always tackled sooner rather than later.

On our way back down the A1, I managed to fulfil the ambition of visiting the beautiful Colsterdale Moor, home to the Leeds Pals monument, which marks where that particular battalion trained for a year and a half before heading off to France. It's the monument which the Pals themselves wanted, and attended on November 11th every year until there were none of them left. One assumes they weren't interested in a monument at the spot where many of them had died. They wanted to gather at the place where they'd lived: the last place they'd all been together. And it's really very moving to think about it in those terms.

The monument itself is very lovely. Gleaming and white and, today, stretching up into a sky so blue it looked almost purple. Colsterdale wraps itself around the monument in a most pleasing manner. The fields looked like a patchwork quilt, and I stood for sometime, somewhat transfixed by the shadows of clouds in the sky chasing sunlight across the fields.

More moving than the monument, however, were the ruins in the field opposite of the buildings the men had built and lived in. This is where the Pals slept, endlessly practiced military manoeuvres and bayonet drill, and transformed themselves from citizens into soldiers. It was the remnants of the old wash houses which Sam and I found most moving. The area is nothing but a few foundations these days, some broken porcelain pipework and a few ancient plug-holes with butterflies darting about, but it was somehow enough. I think we both imagined the men lined up in rows, quickly washing their faces in the bitter cold of winter. The moor is plainly not a place anyone would want to live in during heavy wind, rain or snow.

Our companion throughout most of the journeys this week has been the voice from Google Maps' satnav system. She can be really rather insistent bordering on irritating. Sam thought it might be nice to humanise her by giving her a name, so, somewhere on the Northumbrian cost, "Chlorrhoea" was born, and for the next few days she took us on many adventures and always delivered us safely... Until today.

Today Chlorrhoea failed us spectacularly! Chlorrhoea obviously thought we might like to end our lovely holiday by utterly trashing the car. She took us down a dirt track. It was terrifying. It got worse and worse, and then the bottom of the car started banging, scraping and sounding like a layer of metal was being peeled off. We had no option other than to turn back. Sam got out of the car so there was less weight inside and I reversed, constantly repeating a mantra to myself: "please let this be okay... Please let this be okay..." At one point I passed through a massive cloud of flies, many of which flew into the car. It was absolutely hideous.

Back on sturdy Tarmac we checked the car, and it looked okay, and got us back to London well enough. Just to add something surreal to the mayhem of the day, as we finally made it onto a proper country lane, a number of very fluffy black kittens ran across the road in front of the car. They looked like weird teddy bears. They must have been wild cats. There wasn't a house in sight. 

As we passed through Bedfordshire, I noticed they were tearing down the caravan behind the "Adult Pit Stop" which I visited a number of times when I was making A1: The Road Musical. The caravan belonged to a 90 year old woman who had run the Happy Eater in the building where the roadside sex shop now stands. She was a brilliant old bird who told me that the cafe had once been a brothel for American soldiers in WW2, so she was not at all phased about the fact that it had become a sex shop. The knocking down of her home tells me that she must have finally shuffled off to the Happy Eater in the sky, and that there's another reason to assume that the A1 has become a shadow of its former eccentric self. Back in North Yorkshire we saw that they'd also knocked Quernhow Cafe down, which was a proper trucker stop with a great deal of character. It's where we filmed a lad called Wayne talking about the death of his brother Danny on the road. It's also where my cameraman went off to explore and found 100 dead rabbits strung up in a nearby barn!

I got home at about 5.30pm. It apparently took Sam a further 2 1/2 hours to get himself back to South London. He must have wanted to curl up and die.

My day wasn't over, however, as I had a date to meet Christopher from the Rebel Chorus, down on the beach by the Tower of London to film him singing a sequence from the Pepys Motet for our little film. We were really very speedy. He was well prepared, and, because it was just me, him, a candle and a torch, there was a limit to what we could achieve. After he'd finished, I took myself on a little walk around the city of London, filming a few cutaways to represent what Pepys' London looks like today. I had a lot of fun at the sign for Pudding Lane...


I got back to find someone (a human being) had laid a steaming turd in our alleyway. A wholly unacceptable end to a throughly pleasant day.

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