Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day (cleanskies) wrote,
Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day

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wastwater screes/the victoria dream (on holiday Thu 25 Oct)

Wastwater (wast rhymes with a northern past) appears under low clouds. Mum and Clive apologise for the view that isn't there. The clouds trail their scarfs over the peaks, muffling them in grey-white. The mountains are dressed up as volcanoes. Clive and Mum wait in irritation for the clouds to clear, but I can already see enough mountain to make me feel very small. Fortunately, this side of the lake is also very small; tiny beaches, pink and grey stones and pink and grey sheep, flat stones for stepping on, soft chaffinchy colours on the water. I jump onto rocks, stamp through the boggy bits I always seem to find, stare coldly at the sheep, and peer through the autumn trees (beeches, oaks, silver birch) at our goal, the screes. They look trackless and forbidding, a mass of tumbled rocks falling straight to the lake's edge from high dark cliffs, topped by cloud, gouged by water and haunted by the pallid fingers of the silver birch trees. It looks strange and unlikely, as if whoever generated the landscape had forgotten to put in anything to give it scale or sense.

The way lies past the Youth Hostel, a converted Victorian manor house. The grounds are full of rhodedendrons and chestnut trees. Clive discusses the age of the building, while I walk along the beach, about a foot or two wide at this time of year, covered with semi-smoothed pebbles and the twisted roots of trees. It begins to rain in earnest as the woods thicken, bright green with moss and rain, and almost on cue we come to a tiny boathouse and I try the door and it opens. Inside there are old-fashioned boats and young trout turning lazily in the light spilling through the lakeside gates. I peer through the gates at a sub-lake perfect with green weeds and the reflections of autumn-coloured trees. It even looks like the sun is shining, like the rain has stopped, even though I can hear it on the boathouse roof. We wait out the worst of the rain.

The way lies along the smaller lake, through the woods, and over a small stone bridge. By the bridge, a red sguirrel darts across the track. I blink at it, bemused, wondering if I've ever seen a red squirrel before. I don't think so.

Mum wants to go up the mountain and look from the top of the cliffs, but it's already late. We skirt the smaller lake and then it's into the screes.

Close up, the jumble of blue-grey rocks resolves into a sequence. A thin stony path through bracken, a small hawthorn tree twisted by wind and shallow soil, a trodden path of gray fist-sized stones which move, slightly and unnnervingly, under your feet; and then the sequence begins again. We look up at the high steep brown-black cliffs, cloud pouring down through water-cut gullies, toy trees jammed into green crevices, across to rain-softened bracken-brown slopes, and up towards mountains, their heights dimmed and softened in the cloud. "If only the cloud would clear," sthey sigh, but I like the greynesses of the view, after all, with every horizon softened, every crag smoothed, every colour complex with soft blue-greys. The sequence stutters to a stop with a Pine tree, green needles gilded with evening light, and a sudden dip to the lake bed. Beyond it is only boulders, a huge slope of rocks of every size stretching down to the lake and probably below the grey waters too. If there's a path there, I can't see it. Insisting on a path that patently isn't there, Clive sets out across the scree slope. Every now and again, I hear a rock shift under him. Somewhere, a raven croaks. I scramble onto the rocks, humming to myself. Michael Nyman. It helps me concentrate. We stop halfway across the scree, we've run out of day, and it's time to go look for dinner.

Looking back the way we came, I can see the path. A sort of path, partially obscured by new screefall and broken by big boulders. Clive hadn't walked along it, either.

All week, I slept badly, and woke up every morning with a head full of dreams.

I dreamt that I was Queen Victoria's mourning artist. I was way out of my depth. Likely the old lady would have been happy if I had simply painted everything black, but I found myself holding the works of previous artists, greater artists (I particularly remember a small sculpture, a pastoral scene worked in iron, sentimental, exguisite) and fearing that my touch would sully their greatness. So I hesitated, unable to work. The Queen, highly dissatisfied, sent for another artist. The answer came back; Ma'am, we regret that we are unable to spare another man. Would that it were not so, but as Your Majesty is entirely aware we are at war, and at present it is each man for himself and every man in his own place. Terrified by Her Majesty's displeasure and my reprieve (I had hoped to be replaced by a more able artist) I went back to work, redoubled my efforts and when thoughts of desecration came to mind, put them aside and applied my brush. I found a kind of satisfaction in my work.

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