Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Location Location Location (2)

Bishy Road bunting

Phil and Kirstie came to town last year, and the episode featuring househunters in York was finally broadcast on Thursday night, just a few days before York was declared The Times newspaper's' best city to live in the UK. Excellent timing.

One couple were out and about with Phil on our beloved local high street, Bishy Road, and the other were with Kirstie in more outlying suburbs. Kingsway North, for example. And Acomb-Foxwood borders. Those in the know will know what I mean. The second couple (who seemed to have the energy to renovate an old lady house despite expecting a baby so must therefore be much younger than me) were actually friends of friends. That's just how York is - everybody knows everybody else via somebody else. Always and without exception.

So here were the first couple, relocating back to York from Stoke Newington in London. A very similar move to my husband and me, over a decade ago now, leaving our beloved Crouch End in search of a spare bedroom or three, off-street parking and a garden. We quickly realised that the latter two weren't going to be possible amongst the Victorian terraces of York's Southbank either, but we could at least get a four-bedroom house for less money than we sold our one-bedroom London flat for. Bishy Road wasn't nearly as trendy when we moved here (how could it be, when we weren't yet in residence?) - the shops were practical (greengrocer, butcher, baker, hardware store (AKA candlestick maker), florist) and all we needed, but there weren't any cafes other than a greasy spoon and a couple of curry houses. The Sicilian gelateria was a Bargain Booze. The Pig and Pastry was an empty shell. The Angel on the Green was a bike shop. Fine dining was an option at Melton's on Scarcroft Road, but it was a stark contrast to the other culinary fare on offer. But gradually, things have changed. The Tour de France passing through helped put us on the map, then a couple of years ago the street won "Great British High Street of the Year". It's nice that we got in on the Bishy Road property ladder while we still could, because prices have shot up and I am not sure we could have stretched even our London budget that far now.

Rowntree Park Reading Cafe
Our London couple certainly found that they couldn't. After a stroll past Costcutter, a coffee outside Trinacria and a chat with Phil in the Reading Cafe in Rowntree Park, they had a token look at a student rental on Anne Street that would have needed substantial renovation costs, before having to go further afield. They ended up buying a perfectly lovely house in Holgate, but with none of our wonderful community atmosphere on the doorstep. Kirstie (before finding her next wall to knock down) was very scathing about the need for cafes in your neighbourhood once you start a family. And she seems more obsessed than ever about couples getting ready to have children. But actually, cafe culture is alive and well on Bishy Road for families with kids. It might be hard work to get a pram in and out of the Pig and Pastry, but every establishment without exception welcomes our offspring and has something on their menu they will enjoy, whether it's the Pig's waffles with fruit and maple syrup, Trinacria's blackberry ice cream or the spring rolls in Rice Style. And the Reading Cafe has a children's book section, regular craft sessions in school holidays, and Lego Fridays. These places are our saviours and help us regain our human-ness (if not our humanity) when dealing with toddlers.

The classic Location "get them drunk and show them a cheeky offer" estate agent phonecall took place in the sunny grounds of the Principal Hotel and - sigh - York really did look lovely last summer. I had forgotten. It's been so long. I am desperate for the greenery to return to end this never-ending winter. The daffodils along the city walls are long overdue. Normally they are ablaze with colour by now. The snow would have been welcome at Christmas, but not in March. That bitter wind blowing in from Siberia every time the Beast from the East strikes makes it impossible to go and play in the white stuff anyway. I am done with being cold.

What March should look like
What March looks like this year

Thursday, 8 February 2018


Pioneer Square, somewhere near Cafe Nervosa
"Go ahead, caller. I'm listening."

I love Frasier, and it was with great sadness that I learned of the death of John Mahoney this week, at the age of 77. Which - if nothing else - means that Martin Crane must have been pretty young when Frasier and Niles were born.

My husband and I have been known to watch Frasier box sets on a continuous loop, though it's been a while (post-child) since we found the time. Nonetheless we've seen each episode so many times that you'd think we'd know the scripts by heart, but actually the language is so nuanced that it's difficult to quote it precisely. I think you don't appreciate just how rich the vocabulary is until you see it written down.

Which I used to do for a living. It was always the greatest day of my working life when I was given an episode of Frasier to subtitle for broadcast on Channel 4. It made all those Countdowns and 15 to 1s and Jobfinders and Ready Steady Cooks and late-night motor racing and porn-in-all-but-name shows worthwhile. Frasier - along with Friends - was highly sought after, if not the most fought-over programme on our schedule. I probably did about three episodes in total, but one of my subtitling friends always argues that it was more.

It was always difficult to do Frasier justice. Unlike American closed captioning, British subtitles on terrestrial television in the late 90s/early 2000s had to stick to a strict reading speed, which meant losing about a third of the text while keeping the style, so that deaf viewers would have a similar experience to hearing viewers. This was actually a pretty skilled job if you had decent material to work with. Channel 4 subtitling style also did things differently to BBC subtitling style. Channel 4 positioned Teletext subtitles below wherever speakers were on screen (not helpful if they moved) and each subtitle appeared individually for each speaker whenever the speaker started talking (although you could hold - or cumulate - up to four lines of dialogue on screen at the same time). The BBC used big blocks of text where more than one speaker's words would appear at the same time. All of these style points, plus the fact that you had to bring a subtitle off 5 frames before a camera shot change, added extra complications into the mix, and made us think.  It breaks my heart to see what subtitling has become as costs have been slashed over the years - now it's mostly done by voice recognition software and freelance subtitlers are so badly paid that they have to work at tremendous speed in order to guarantee a certain income, meaning that editing and subtitling style have gone out the window and everything is now often just bashed out verbatim. But I don't know if it's only the people who devoted hours and years of their lives to doing the work that will have noticed the difference and the reduction in quality.

But anyway, our Frasier subtitles were good, and done with love. I am assuming that our subtitles are still used on the morning repeats on Channel 4, even if the company I worked for has long since ceased trading. If I weren't so busy trying to persuade my daughter to put her shoes on, I'd take a look and check.

Timing Frasier's subtitles was hard as the banter was quick and you had to make sure you didn't bring the punchline in early. You also couldn't leave out words like "frittata" , "festoon" or "jejune" without the Crane brothers losing their characteristic pomposity. You had to be careful not to misspell the name of a particularly fine French wine or highbrow Seattle restaurant. I once spent half an hour trying to work out how to bring in Daphne's line "Who has 12 people over for pudding?" at the bottom of a long monologue without breaking all the rules in the book. In the end, I used a single-person cumulative, which I had never done before, never did again, and definitely broke at least one rule. It was very effective, but I can hear those in the know sucking in their teeth at the very thought of it.

It was also really hard to fit your subtitling credit around the theme tune, which had to be subtitled in full and in synch with the lyrics. You sometimes got a fleeting break to insert the credit mid-song (between the "Ha ha ha ha!" and "tossed salad and scrambled eggs"), depending on which version they were using, otherwise you had to squeeze it in between the "Good night" and the Paramount logo, but not if Kelsey Grammer had included the alternative lines "Good night, Seattle, we love you" or "Frasier has left the building", which then didn't leave you the two seconds you needed. This was very important, you understand. For we wanted our names all over Frasier. As much as you'd want your name all over Frasier's apartment lease if you lived in Seattle.

Frasier and Niles were the two characters most people focus on, with their angst, rivalry, cultural snobbery, social climbing and romantic ineptitude. Then there was quirky physiotherapist and love of Niles' life Daphne, who had the world's worst Mancunian accent until her brother Simon turned up in Seattle. There was Frasier's monstrous agent Bebe, KACL's supercilious restaurant critic Gil, sassy Roz and oafish sports reporter Bulldog, whose lines are so much easier to remember ("This stinks! This is total BS!"). There were guest appearances from ice queen Lilith, former bar staff from Cheers, and celebrity callers. Maris remained forever off-screen. But Martin was at the centre of it all, a character so much more complex than the Crane brothers gave him justice for. He had all the moral decency and true life experience, and knew how to call a spade a spade. This was mostly used for laughs ("What am I speaking, Swahili?" "Hi, Marty Crane. I don't believe we've met.") but the wonderful acting of John Mahoney made him tender and caring and intelligent at all the right moments. His touching performances could bring a tear to your eye. You can see just why Niles and Frasier's academic mother fell for a straight-talking cop. Because the gruff man sitting drinking Ballantines on that terrible '70s chair was sympathetic and funny and just so perfectly sweet.

I was lucky enough to see John Mahoney on stage in London, performing in the David Mamet farce Romance at the Almeida theatre in Islington in 2005. I'd have loved to see him do Art on Broadway with Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, but this came a pretty close second. John Mahoney played a pill-popping judge who lost his mind (and most of his clothes) as a court case proceeded. Mamet's more subtle arguments on the portrayal of prejudice and lawyers and anti-Semitism were probably lost on me and anyway have faded with time, particularly as the world has now gone far madder than anything Mamet could have put in the script. My overriding memory is of Mahoney slumped in a vest up on the bench at the back of the stage. And of him coming back on stage after the curtain had come down to ask us to donate money to a cause which I now forget. He had that Marty Crane twinkle in his eye as he thanked us all for being a wonderful audience. A truly lovely man.

And many years ago, before Frasier was a thing, I went to Seattle. I really liked it there, mostly because of its very English weather of almost constant rain. Seattle's cooler maritime climate came as a relief at the end of a long (rail)road trip to California, where the temperature had been 104 degrees in the shade. My hosts lived on Bremerton Island, which meant we had to take a boat across Puget Sound to get into the city centre, which probably makes for one of the best commutes in the world.

The view of downtown from Puget Sound, and Elliott Bay from the ferry
We drove out past the jumbos in the Boeing factory along the freeway to Mount Rainier National Park, where we saw a family of black bears playing in the long grass and Indian paintbrush. We then continued on to Mount St Helens to see what Mount Rainier would look like if it blew itself to smithereens. It was nine years post eruption and the landscape was still decimated for miles around - the trees charred and uprooted and the lake shores covered in ash. We spent quite a lot of time on the campus of the University of Washington (U-dub), whose buildings were seemingly modelled on Oxbridge architecture. My boyfriend at the time was hoping to do postgraduate study in psychology there. The Cranes must have had a word with the admissions tutors, though, because as far as I am aware, he didn't get in.

Mount Rainier

Mount St Helens

Tree and ash filled lake

University of Washington campus

We ate lunch in Pike Place market. There was grunge music, tie dye clothing and the strong scent of coffee. We also took the monorail from Westlake out to the Space Needle, but for some reason I have no photos of it up close, only one taken from the ferry, miles away. You can see it, just. The one famous Seattle landmark, featured in the view from that magnificent apartment in Elliott Bay Towers, and I neglected to record it properly for posterity or any future blogging. But then back in 1992, when I was in Seattle, blogging didn't exist.

Not as good a view of the Space Needle as the one from Frasier's pad
Anyway, Quite. Stylish. Good night, Marty, we love you.

PS My husband rightfully pointed out that there was a glaring omission in my list of regular characters. I guess - unlike the rest of the scripts - there are only so many ways you can subtitle "Woof"...

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100

This was a rapid countdown of something you should actually take time over; definitely more of a sprint than a ramble. The whole point of walking is that you don't get there quickly. You savour the view. But this programme didn't do that. For most of the 100 walks you got a brief voiceover, a red outline on a map and a fleeting shot of drone footage. And then - whoosh! - you were off to the other end of the country and the next walk on the list. There wasn't even time to scribble down the start and end points. Surely the 100 walks could have been spread over two or three programmes? Maybe ITV didn't trust its viewers to be interested enough in hiking to warrant devoting more than a single evening to it. But anyway, at least the list is now there on the Ordnance Survey website for you to spend as much time and effort on as you wish.

The programme was presented by Britain's most annoying walker, Julia Bradbury, queen of the stupid question and not listening to the answer. She of the super robotic fitness, perfect hair, large watch and immaculate hiking gear. All right, I admit that I may be a tiny bit jealous. For I'm the one barely able to draw breath as I plod up the slightest incline, and I like to feel among friends in the rambling community. I bet Julia Bradbury's children don't moan as much on country walks as mine either. Our daughter's unbearable whining is the main contributing factor to my lack of hiking shape. Julia's fellow presenter and Strictly winner Ore Oduba came across as far more human and smiley-friendly, but he didn't feature nearly enough in the half of the show that I watched. His kid isn't old enough to have started moaning yet, by the way.

The programme did slow down a bit as you reached the top 10. And you met some pretty amazing hikers - the quadruple amputee, who lost his hands and feet after getting frostbite in an accident in the Alps, now climbing Snowdon in some slightly tactless snow. The guy with Alzheimer's who climbs Coniston Old Man over and over again to stave off the memory loss and disorientation that the disease brings. And the lady with vertigo who huffed and puffed her way along three miles of Hadrian's Wall, just because she reminded me of me.

I was pleased to see how many of the walks I had at least done a part of, though there were plenty on the list I've not yet attempted, from the biggies like Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike to the longies like the Coast to Coast, Ridgeway and the West Highland Way, or even the shorties in places like the Peak District, Malvern Hills and Northern Ireland, where I have barely managed to spend any time at all.

As for the winner, Helvellyn, it was clearly a surprise to the programme makers. Because it's a bloody hard mountain to climb, although it has its easier and trickier options. But Helvellyn is certainly what I would class as my own "most memorable" walk. As an eight-year-old, for some reason I became obsessed with Striding Edge, one of two serious ridges that lead to the summit. It must have been my dad who told me about Striding Edge, the fool or overenthusiastic Cumbrian mountaineer, depending on your point of view. Anyway, I wanted to see it so badly and climb and conquer it myself. So during one of our frequent visits to Grasmere, my dad and grandfather happily offered to take me up Helvellyn via Striding Edge. What on earth were they thinking? I didn't know as much about my grandfather then as I do now. Back then he was still a few peaks short of completing all the British hills over 2000 feet (I realise this scans like "few sandwiches short of a picnic") and was still busy working in his hiking shop and running his holiday cottages. I didn't know then that he had nearly killed my grandmother several times on hikes in their youth, most notably crawling along the ridge of Aonach Egach in a storm.

And Striding Edge was to be my Aonach Egach, only - as I was only eight - without the fear factor. We set off from Glenridding, and the first bit of the walk was a long but uneventful trudge. There was plenty of cloud above us, but the visibility was good enough. We sat and ate our sandwiches beside Red Tarn before the big ascent up to Striding Edge. And then within an instant, the bad weather hit. The gale force struck as high as my age, completely whipping our breath away, as well as ripping a five pound note out of my father's pocket, which in 1981 was quite a considerable loss to a frugal Dodgson. The mist became thick and impenetrable, swirling around us and entirely destroying the view. We could barely see more than a metre in front of us. On top of a knife-edge ridge, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you can't see how far you have to fall. My grandfather, however, quickly realised that he had a scrappy little kid with him who would not be safe on that knife-edge, so we went down a few metres and started to walk along the path that goes below but alongside the actual ridge. At first this wasn't so bad as we had dropped down out of the wind, which was buffeting against the other side of the rocks. But as the expert hiker on the programme warned, walking along the side paths of Striding Edge can actually lead you into more trouble than going along the top. Suddenly, in a gap between the rocks, the path crossed over into the full force of the wind. For all we could see in front of us, it seemed that our only option was to scramble up the sheer rock face of a crag to reach the next stage of the path up to the summit. This was just too dangerous, and we had to retreat. I was so disappointed to have not made it to the top, but even my gung-ho grandfather realised it would have been foolish and completely irresponsible to continue. The visibility was so bad, I have no idea how far along Striding Edge we got or how much further there was to go.

We re-climbed Helvellyn as a family, minus my grandfather but with the addition of my mum and brother, a couple of years later. This time we took the route from Thirlspot, which avoids all of the daredevil approaches altogether. It was a sunny, uneventful day. The path up from Thirlmere is quite steep and a hard slog, but eventually we reached the top, my little brother assisted by an entire packet of Fox's Glacier Mints. But at least my obsession with Striding Edge had been cured, until we picked a ceilidh band with the same name to play at our wedding. But it turned out that they were much safer. There is no way in hell (unless it froze over or indeed "vel-yn..." (fell in, geddit?)) I would go along Striding Edge now. At least our daughter would have to have a personality transplant before she develops a similar obsession.

As for the other walks in the top 100, here are a few of my other personal highlights:

1. Cat Bells (number 4 on the list)

I so desperately want to climb Cat Bells again. I was probably younger than our daughter when I first went up it, and I remember loving its bumpy up-and-downness, something I'd probably hate now. Why gain height only to lose it again? But I've heard rumours that there is a cake shop at the top. Some students opened it. Just because every child is told to keep going because there will be a cake shop at the top. And there never was. But now there really is. Talk about cornering the market. Alas for now this is as close as we've got to the top:

If only the weather in Keswick could always be that good.

Other Cumbrian walks in the top ten included the circular path round Buttermere (number 7) and the Coffin Route from Ambleside to Grasmere via Rydal (27), which was my grandmother's daily walk to school:


Looking across to the coffin route from Rydal Water

2. Snowdon (number 2)

I climbed Snowdon for one of my 40 challenges for turning 40. Only we went on a train with a screaming toddler in tow who chose that moment (despite 3,000 previous trips to the National Railway Museum) that she hated steam engines. The actual summit was shrouded in cloud, but the views up until that point had been incredible.

3. Solva to St David's (number 16)

We went to Pembrokeshire when our daughter was two and three quarters, and fell in love with its coastal path. For it is exhilaratingly beautiful. Our holiday cottage was just a few hundred yards from the route, where it passed through a smugglers' cove before re-ascending the cliffs. We took turns in the long June evenings, once our daughter was in bed, to go out and walk as far as we dared before nightfall. We resolved to one day to do the whole walk, but we're still a long way from achieving that goal. We've never been able to face the long drive back to south Wales for starters. I mean, just how many "Are we nearly there yet?"s can you fit into a single stretch of the A487?

St David's


Wildflowers on the coastal path

Another Welsh walk was the canal at Llangollen (60), where the boats are still pulled along by horses:

and the coastal path around Anglesey (32):

Menai Strait

4. Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle (number 9)

We love Northumberland. The first time I did this walk, I had left a very sunny Newcastle with a craving for the sea, only to find the sea vanished into fret when we reached the coast. We walked right past Dunstanburgh castle without seeing it, uttering the classic line "Well, it has to be around here somewhere...." Honestly, it was so near to us, standing beside the golf course at Embleton Sands, that we could have touched it.

Thankfully, the next two times I went, the view was clear. And what a view. Kippers in a restaurant at Craster are always the end to a perfect day.

Embleton Sands

Craster harbour

Other Northumberland walks on the list featured Kielder Water (59) and the St Cuthbert's Way to Lindisfarne and Holy Island (51):


Holy Island


5. Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay (number 17)

I first did this walk with the University of York Outdoor Society, who organised hiking trips every Saturday morning. Mostly I failed to negotiate my way out of bed in time to join them, but very occasionally, I succeeded, and this particular time I was very glad to have made the effort. It was a glorious hike. On this trip I made a good friend, a funny, kind but troubled soul who a decade after we graduated chose to end her life by stepping in front of a train on the line between Coventry and Birmingham. This was unbearable, but I always remember her now in happier times whenever we go as a family to the Yorkshire Coast. We visit Whitby several times a year, in winter bleakness and summer crowds. Prowled by goths and vampires, fed by fishermen, departed by explorers, it has the steepest steps and the best chippies and Christmas trees in the country.

Finally now re-open after the fire last year

Christmas tree festival, St Mary's Church

Robin Hood's Bay we don't go to nearly enough, usually because the car park is full by the time we arrive. We are certainly owed a fossil hunt or two on its beaches.

Other Yorkshire walks included Grosmont to Goathland (39), which we have also only done by steam train (since our daughter doesn't mind them so much now):

North York Moors Railway

Hogsmeade Station

and Brimham Rocks (49), which my brother and I loved as kids. And now our daughter does too. Some may climb them but she imagines the rocks as houses with uncomfortable furnishings. The tea parties are long and tedious.

There was also Bempton Cliffs (50), home of thousands of seabirds and where I swallowed a piece of plastic fork:

and Richmond to Reeth (54):

and Grassington (61), where I have mostly frequented tea shops:

and finally, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove (3), which is about as spectacular a walk as you can do in the Yorkshire Dales, if not anywhere in the world. Unfortunately I haven't done it since I got a phone with a half-decent camera:

Malham Cove

We have a photo of my brother aged two standing in this sheep run

Gordale Scar

Janet's Foss

6. Arthur's Seat (number 43)

It's the best free thing to do in Edinburgh, although the National Museum of Scotland comes a pretty close second. The extinct volcano looms over Holyrood and the Royal Mile. That said, the only time I have climbed right to the top was with a colossal hangover after a wedding and - really lazily - we even took a taxi to the start of the walk. We haven't yet attempted to drag our daughter up it but will rectify this on our next trip.

Other walks in Scotland of course included Glen Coe to Fort William (number 14):

7. Norfolk

There were some delightful walks in Norfolk, including Wells-next-to-the-Sea (42) and Blakeney Point (68), timeless places to go crabbing and spot seals:

Seals at Wells next to the Sea

8.  South East England and London Walks

My husband and I used to go walking nearly every single weekend when we lived in Earlsfield, South London. Our proximity to Clapham Junction meant that we could hop on a train and be in the depths of Surrey, Kent or Sussex in no time. We worked our way through the Time Out Book of Country Walks, which took in parts of the South Downs Way (13), and the Devil's Punchbowl (76). Occasionally we headed north to check out routes in Buckinghamshire like the Ridgeway (46) and the woods around Great Missenden (75), but the countryside was never as interesting as it was south of the city. For me, Buckinghamshire was too like the boring rolling farmers' fields of rape seed in Hertfordshire that surrounded my hometown. But perhaps I do it an injustice.

Our London walking bible
We also did parts of the Thames Path (63), though technically so does anyone who walks along the river in London, and the Regents' Canal Walk (number 90) through Little Venice and London Zoo.

Hampton Court
Tower Bridge

London Zoo aviary
Little Venice
Little Venice
For some reason, the Capital Ring, our very favourite London walk of all, and the only long-distance route I have ever walked in its entirety, did not get a mention, although a stretch of it did feature - through the deer haunt and London's lungs of ancient Richmond Park (98).

I think walking kept us sane in London: after long days of commuting and offices and fumes from pollution, we craved fresh air and a taste of country life. And it was the love of walking that fuelled our desire to move away and live somewhere surrounded by beautiful landscape. And Yorkshire certainly has that in spades. We are also both so lucky to have family in the Lake District, meaning we can visit those glorious fells whenever we like. It is no wonder that the top 10 featured so many walks in Cumbria. And we can't get our daughter to go on a single bloody one of them.

So where do you like to roam? What is your favourite walk, either on or off the list?