Borough through a health crisis
It’s now six years since we returned to Littleborough.
It’s over two years since I last wrote about it. Two years that included a pandemic. Our previous life living on a boat had been good preparation for when the queen and I were forced to live together, full time, in a brick box. The difference this time was there was less chance of drowning.
We were fortunate to move into a bungalow just before the world went mad. It seems a lifetime ago when we exchanged contacts to sell our previous house. The world was terrified and it was the very day the first lockdown was announced. We signed the papers on the bonnet of our car, wearing disposable rubber gloves, in the solicitor’s car park. He stood one side of the car, we stood the other and business was completed with a virtual handshake. Driving home was probably the last time we drove the car for three months!
There’s a field outside our new house and we witnessed a dog explosion. That paints a rather nasty picture! Remember to begin with, we were only allowed out for specific reasons, one of them to walk a dog? Well, the same dog would walk past time after time attached to different people. Let’s call him Dougal, in honour of the star of The Magic Roundabout. Dougal spent many years going round in circles arguing with Ermintrude and Dylan. He started out tall and gangly like a greyhound but ended up like, well Dougal, with his stomach scraping the floor. The poor thing was dragged round and round ploughing an increasingly deep furrow.
Then, when those overworked dogs were pensioned off to the ‘home for shagged out woofers’, people bought a new one instead. So, it went the other way, rather than one dog between twenty, it became a dog each. We were privileged to witness a bewildering assortment of training regimes, from intensive to nil. There were shouts and whistles and clapping and some bad language. Some dogs set off after a ball, ignored the ‘fetch’ command, and disappeared over the horizon. A post would appear on the internet a few hours later, ‘Lost. Dog that doesn’t answer to the name of Chardonnay’.
Other dogs hurtled around trailing training leads. Ten metres of snappy, writhing canvas following manic, young dogs, like a herd (or rhumba) of angry rattlesnakes in a pit. One such lead got tangled round my legs as an out-of-control mutt charged around in ever decreasing circles. I had a firm word with the detached owner (who was blowing furiously on a dog-whistle) as she told me proudly, ‘this is how you’re supposed to train them’.
Perhaps her dog was deaf, or Mutt ‘n’ Jeff?!
We were all following government guidelines. No not guidelines, orders, or diktats. As a consequence, at the height of the insanity, we were instructed to take one walk per day maximum, even dogless people lumbered past. The thing is, some of them had barely moved from their armchairs for forty years, now they were marching around like someone looking for the last bog roll.
One thing we did have was about eighteen months of peace and quiet, apart from clapping on Thursdays, before the UK opened its doors again. And somehow, this time round, it seems even busier. In addition to the dog explosion, we seem to have more cars, more fraught people, more planes in the sky and more expensive houses.
Our garden got revamped. All the successful bits I could pat myself on the back for. All the bits that did not go so well, like parsley and my mange tout peas, I could blame on covid. Three-quaters of a box of very exensive bulbs and plantlets bought off the internet must have been planted upside down, because they went into the soil and simply disappeared. Covid again.
Then there was a 'special' plant given to us by my stepdaughter, a euphorbia. "You For Beer". I ask you! She knows damn well I don't drink the stuff. Wine is my tipple, when I'm not on an extended alcoholiday that is, undertaken periodically for the health of both budget and brain function. Anyhow, this euphorbia is a plant of mixed blessings. As well as being a potential cure for skin cancer, one poisoness seed can kill a child. If handled with gloveless hands it can cause a nasty rash but they are also described as easy to grow with few problems! Well, I planted a healthy specimen. There was a good 8 - 12 inches poking above ground in the form of rich green leaves. Within 2 days it had disappeared altogether, never to be seen again. I have mixed feelings about it's absence, I have the feeling, that had it thrived, either my wife or I (or the dog) may have been injured! I blame it's disappearance on brexit.
I’ve mentioned this before, Hollingworth Lake started off as a 3,000 foot volcano, but through the erosive action of millions of shuffling footsteps that propel 'we' sheep round and round in a trance-like state, the pathway is now only about 5 feet above water level. (** See below) Or was 5 feet, before it stopped raining that is, and the level dropped. It’s a shame we don’t have a few million acres of moorland nearby to ease the pressure on the lakeside path! Modern phones are a mixed blessing. Great for keeping in touch with those that have survived, or to book an eyebrow shave, but their cameras are responsible for billions of nearly-in-focus images of the area, particularly Hollingworth Lake. Snap! And within milliseconds blurred images are posted on our local chat site where enthusiasts write, 'super or gorgeous or wow' - just to be polite. People are complementary because should they post a photo of their own, there's less chance of anyone being rude about it (or honest).
Cycling is another thing that has boomed. I was inspired to buy one. It’s great and I haven’t looked back since (largely because if I did I’d likely end up in the canal). It’s an e-bike, imported from Korea by the company that supplies Paul, who is the chap who owns the bike shop in Littleborough. In other words, by the time I get it, a few people have had a cut and it's quite pricey. He's a good man though is Paul, the proprietor. I had to wait six weeks because the thousands of people who’d bought new dogs also bought new bikes. During my research I went to have a look in Halfords which was nearly empty of stock. If I’d wanted a non-electric, pink ladies bike or something with stabilizers for a three-year-old, I was in luck. But there was nothing to suit me, so I wandered round the empty warehouse trying to look like an athlete.
My e-bike, though not cheap, was worth waiting for. I’ve had some great experiences already, and most of them involved trying to clamber into my new cycle shorts without getting cramp. The relaunch of my cycling career was almost as well attended as the launch of the space shuttle, with a similar amount of steam coming out of the bottom. Mind you, my very first trial run, round the snooker club car park, resulted in an injury within one yard – literally. The handlebars are much wider than anything I’ve ridden before so I scraped my hand on the stone wall while initiating the launch procedure. A few weeks later the trail of blood down Sutcliffe Street is barely visible.
I was even inspired to write a book. It’s called A Bike at Large and is a light-hearted attempt to catalogue the ordeals of a man in his early 60s with a health issue or two. My tales are the antidote to the beautiful cycling glossies that feature svelte, bronzed gods on expensive machinery. In truth, I’m more a green-jacketed blob getting himself in a right old mess. If you can waddle on a bike, I do it.
There's been a lot of talk about local planning issues. Frankly it's a bit of a shambles...........
Just up the way from where we live they are building a new junior school before knocking down the old one. Both buildings are on the same site so pupils will move from existing to new without a break in study. The junior school they are currently rebuilding used to be a secondary school before that was closed. Since then, there has been no secondary school in Littleborough. The secondary school that was closed and turned into a primary school replaced another secondary school that had also been closed. That one was demolished to make way for houses whose children had nowhere to go to school. Now, surprise surprise, they are short of secondary school places. That’s before they build seven or eight hundred new houses on land that would make an ideal wildlife haven and county park. This would have made sense because the existing bit of country park we have is being turned into an RSPCA centre, built specifically to re-home the army of dogs bought with more enthusiasm than forethought during the pandemic.
The uncoordinated whirlpool of Littleborough’s development conundrum is getting nicely up to speed. The current solution is to build these new houses on a toxic, mineshaft-riddled field and the proposed new secondary school on one of the few areas of grass playing fields left in the borough (or region). All this has gone on without any proper consultation with the residents who pay the taxes that pay the people (who don’t live here) to make these crucial decisions about how to cock up life in a previously lovely village.
On a positive note, we’ve managed to offload our horrid SUV (squalid unkempt Vauxhall) in favour of a French thing that’s large enough to hold my bike, various cycling accessories, me and Jan with some luggage and a dog cage in which we transport our dog. We bought the car so we could take family day trip with dog bike, the lot. The first one didn't go well. We piled eveything in and set off for Clitheroe to look at a property. Just an excuse really, we were never gong to buy it. Anyhow, the car performed fine but the family outing hit a sour note when we discoverd the dog had vomitted on the picnic hamper. Yes, he’s not used to a smooth ride and folding seats. But in all fairness, he’s a very considerate vomiter, surreptitious and private as opposed to the racket a tiger makes while roaring out of the undergrowth. In fact, the first we know about 'a little accident' is when we come to expose our lunch in the hamper! An appetite suppressant if ever there was one.
Within the past year a branch of the family has moved up to a remote property about a mile from Ravenstonedale (which itself is remote) in the Howgill Fells. No, I’d never heard of the area either. It’s between the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales and is marvellous walking and cycling territory, though don’t even consider visiting with a dicky battery - its hilly!
Locally, places have been mothballed. The Coach House and Hare Hill House for example. Both previously meeting places / community spaces appreciated by many. One of the hardest things about the pandemic has been people’s isolation, right across the age range. Kids at school, parents at work, the retired who rely on community events for their social fix. It’s been emotionally very tough for people. Lots of folk walk past our house and to show you how desperate they are for company, they even stop and talk to us. We’ve had a pilot whose planes were grounded, herds of pensioners, dog walkers asking if we’d seen their dog and a couple who marched past every morning at full throttle, using the pandemic to wear out their hips. Sometimes Big Brother’s helicopter would hover overhead checking people weren’t in big groups or too close to each other. A mad, mad world it became for a spell.
Various supermarkets delivered for us – thank you to everyone who worked throughout to keep us all going (kept us alive in some cases!). Throughout a fraught couple of years, the red nerve agent took a bit of a hammering and my trousers shrunk alarmingly. Comfort eating became discomfort waddling. It's much easier to pile on than get rid of.
Looking back, the whole thing was extraordinary, fact still is.
To all those who've lost friends or relatives, my sincere sympathies.