An apocalyptic orange dawn seeped through the rungs of the curtains that hadn’t been attached to the rail. I automatically thought ‘Bladerunner’. Too many movies, that’s my problem. Or so I’m told. My eyes followed the sound of a grunt, stopping at the root cause; Percy, Faye’s pug. He was sat on top of the duvet staring at…well I’m guessing me, but with those fucking eyes who knows for sure. I tried to shoo him away, but he wouldn’t budge. I can’t stand dogs on furniture. Their hairs all over your clothes, it drives me insane.
I could hear Faye tiptoeing up the stairs, the aroma of buttered toast a few steps ahead. ‘Morning you.’ She smiled. ‘Morning.’ I replied with a yawn and a stretch that made me look like a shitting baby. My head felt thick from that last glass of red I couldn’t resist. Luckily, I could tell it wouldn’t last. Small victories so early in the day are vital for morale. Percy licked his lips, averting his eyes (again I’m guessing) at the toast. The carpet was littered with used condoms, a giant love egg, its remote, AAA batteries and an empty bottle of cheap red; the remnants of which had dripped onto the cream carpet. It had been quite a night. ‘Down Percy.’ Called out Faye, clicking her fingers and pointing to the floor. Begrudgingly, Percy obeyed, jumping down and trotting to one of the condoms for a sniff. ‘No Percy. Get off.’ Cried Faye. She jumped off the bed, grabbed Percy by his collar and escorted him out the room. In doing so she knocked the toast off the plate, leaving the sheets covered in crumbs, that we couldn’t rid completely no matter how many times we swept with huge strokes of our arms. ‘As if we used all those condoms.’ Grinned Faye, leaning over and biting my earlobe. ‘Still life in the old dog yet.’ She laughed. I smiled, kissed her gently and sucked on her bottom lip. There wasn’t as much life in this old dog as she’d suggested. Sure, we had used all those condoms, but only a third had served a purpose and contained, well, you know. The others were empty. I’d had to fake it a bunch of times. Not because I wasn’t having a good time, I was. But because condoms have the ability to desensitize to the point of numbness. Leaving a guy with two choices. 1. Tell the girl that you’ve only just started seeing, you’ve lost your erection while she’s putting in some serious graft. Or 2. Fake it. Only someone looking for a way out would be honest in this situation.
‘Where we going today? Asked Faye, blowing into her mug of tea. ‘Last night we mentioned driving up to Honister Slate Mine and hiking up around there.’ ‘Sounds good. I love it up there.’ ‘Me three.’ Faye got out of bed and started picking up condoms and throwing them into her wastepaper basket. ‘This one looks empty?’ She quizzed. ‘Well we did it so much I probably had nothing left to show for it in the last round.’ I answered, impressed with the speed of my excuse. ‘Old dusty dick over there.’ She laughed.
Winter was beginning to take hold, and the Lake District began to close like a flower. A dense deafness fell upon the land, muffling even the most aggressive chainsaws. On the shores of meres, tarns, waters and Basenthwaite Lake, cranes heaved out boats of all kind ready for winterizing. Overnight, leaves fell as one into swollen rivers and were carried out to estuaries, leaving only the evergreens from preventing completely naked forests. Smoke rose from chimneystacks like charmed vipers. The faint sound of farmers whistles in the distance signalled feeding time for pheasant chicks; fattening them up in time for the Christmas hunts.
I took it easy driving through Ambleside and on the winding roads to Rydal and Grasmere, before opening up on the wide stretch to Thirlmere. The 555 held us up until we got to St. Johns in the Vale, then I hit sixth and didn’t drop down again until we reached Keswick.
I left Faye in charge of the music. I told her ‘I don’t pay for Spotify, so be careful when skipping songs ‘cos they only allow six skips per hour’. She either didn’t understand or wasn’t listening and skipped six times on the bounce, leaving us in the company of songs Spotify knows we don’t want to hear. After a track from the deplorable ‘A Star is Born’ soundtrack and ‘Must be Santa’ by Dylan, I called time. ‘Hey, I like that song.’ Confronted Faye. ‘It’s not even mid-November. Let Guy Fawkes finish smouldering first.’ I replied.
Driving alongside Derwent Water, two coxed fours raced. Their speed and elegance as they skimmed across the glass surface was an envious sight. ‘You ever rowed?’ Asked Faye, ‘It looks like the most fun.’ ‘I got into it in a big way for a summer. I actually learnt on this very lake.’ I reminisced. ‘Why only for a summer?’ ‘It’s a sport best left for the bigger boys.’ ‘Aww were you intimidated?’ Teased Faye, playfully jabbing my side. ‘It wasn’t that. But some of those guys were six five plus. Their reach made it an unfair advantage. It was impossible to keep up.’ ‘Were there no under tens you could’ve raced?’ Laughed Faye, jabbing a little harder. ‘Funny. By the way, what time’s your bus home?’
Two weeks earlier Borrowdale would’ve garnered a photographer forty thousand seals of approval on some travel account on Instagram. Now it resembled a set from a gothic Tim Burton picture. Feeble leaves at the end of their cycle grasping to their originators bore some potent metaphor intended for minds much greater than mine. In a passing field to my right a cow mounted another, making me laugh.
Once we began to climb from t’other end of Seatoller up Honister Pass, the land was drained of colour. This may visualise a drab, sombre setting but it created the opposite effect. A lack of distractions meant one fell into the subject one was focused on. Scattered light highlighted the textures of contours. A watchful presence weighed down on our shoulders like one had been invited to some mystery dinner high above in a secluded castle owned by an enigmatic count; trepidation wanting to turn back, curiosity knowing you wouldn’t.
We parked at the slate mine visitor centre and didn’t feel much like paying, so didn’t. We unleashed an excitable Percy from the boot and set off towards Haystacks, quickly noticing Hindscarf Edge on the opposite side of Honister Pass had a scull inadvertently carved into its face from the old copper mines.
The initial climb up Fleetwith Pike is deceivingly abrupt before eventually levelling off. We felt as if we’d cheated, driving so close to this mountain range; and because of this felt undeserving of our prize. It’s little wonder this neck of the woods was Wainwright’s favourite. It was all here in the palm of your hand. The mountains felt so close, but unreachable at the same time; touching distance one moment, wiped from the landscape the very next.
At the climbing hut (that has become renowned for being more of a photo opportunity than its original purpose) we were stopped by a rotund chap with a shaggy head of raven hair, wearing grey check skinny trousers, a black hoodie and fitted with an earpiece. He informed us in an accent that suggested he was a product of public schooling that some filming was taking place and they were currently in the middle of a take. He asked if we would kindly wait until they’d cut. We obliged and waited patiently. However, if Faye hadn’t had been there, I couldn’t have seen myself being quite so amiable. ‘Jasper to “A camera” over.’ He whispered into his comms after a few minutes. ‘Go ahead.’ Came the reply. ‘Yes hi. How long are you guys going to be? I have a couple waiting here on stand-by. And also, where are the WiFi dongles? I could…’ ‘Wrap it up fella.’ I said, my patience thawing. With this he raised his fat little index finger to my face and turned away until he got his reply. ‘Sorry guys, they’re going to be another five to ten minutes. Are you ok waiting around or finding another route?’ ‘Yeah course man, no problem. We’ll head down that cliff over there and climb back up putting our free climbing skills to good use. Lord knows the dog could use the practice.’ I said. Each word sharpened with sarcasm. He looked at me for an age. Stupidity smeared all over his wide face, void of common sense. He remembered reading all about sarcasm in one of his expensive textbooks but had never witnessed it first-hand. ‘Perfect. Thank you.’ He finally answered. I couldn’t tell if he was being genuine or firing a round of mockery back at me. It was my turn to stare; studying his face, desperately searching for answers. But got nothing. I was either staring into the eyes of a fucking moron or a poker-faced god. Finally, Faye spoke up ‘Sorry, but this is madness. We’re walking through.’ Aghast, the chap tried to stop us by machinegunning ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.’ We kept walking. ‘We’re gonna have to cut.’ Came a voice from the banking to the left. We continued down toward Blackbeck Tarn where a couple of production assistants rushed to the needs of three scantily dressed models; each one a tall, slight template of the other. The only difference being skin tones and hair styles. Throwing dressing gowns over them, one of the production assistants called out ‘I’m so sorry Thea, but there doesn’t seem to be a Starbucks around here. There is however a Costa a few miles away. I can go and get you one of those?’ Thea, understandably fuming at the grave news she’d just received, angrily responded, ‘Costa won’t sell the Venti seven pump vanilla soy twelve scoop match one hundred and eighty degree no foam green tea latte though, will they?’ ‘I can make you a green tea from our crafts table if you like?’ The production assistant replied nervously. To this, Thea didn’t respond with words, instead releasing some sort of gag reflex noise. Whilst this conversation was taking place, the second assistant told one of the other models that lunch would be about thirty minutes. The model smiled and replied through chattering teeth ‘Thank you, but I best just stick to my cigarettes.’ Faye looked over and smiled sympathetically as the model enviously looked her up and down before turning her attention to Percy. ‘Cute dog.’ She said.
Once across Blackbeck steppingstones, two young men came tumbling towards us. One of them was hopping, missing fifty percent of his Converse footwear and having to use his pal for balance, who in turn was also holding a super 8 camera. ‘Well I didn’t know it was gonna be like Game of Thrones round here, did I?’ Shouted the visibly upset hopping man. We didn’t give them a second glance.
Haystacks was imminent. A prominent sight despite being dwarfed by the towering heights around it. Although the circus was now behind us, it was still very much in the forefront of my mind. I wondered aloud, ‘Perhaps the Mountain Rescue would be better off ignoring the occasional call when they know they’re going to be risking their lives for some ill-equipped dickheads. Leaving their perished bodies as a warning to others. A bit like mole catchers and their victims.’ ‘I’m sorry, a bit like who and what?’ Asked Faye, bewildered. ‘You know, when mole catchers catch moles and hang them from fences.’ ‘That’s not a warning you wally.’ ‘What is it then?’ ‘It’s so the customer knows how many vermin has been caught. It’s not the Bloods and Crips.’ ‘Oh. That makes more sense.’ I replied, slightly embarrassed.
From Haystacks the views made us restless, so we continued north-west to High Crag. We contemplated climbing Eagle Crag next but the low black clouds moving in from Buttermere dampened our spirits. Instead we sat, unwrapped our leftover pizza and drank lukewarm coffee from the flask.
I don’t know why but nature has a habit of coercing earnest conversation whilst one absorbs its beauty; and this was no exception. ‘Do you ever feel like settling down?’ Faye began. ‘Sometimes. Mostly when I’m hungover, but it passes.’ I replied, a little hesitant to where this was leading. ‘Do you ever think you will?’ ‘Settle down?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Who knows. Quite honestly, I fucking hate couples nights.’ We both laughed. ‘What about kids?’ ‘Marrying kids just aint my bag baby.’ ‘Funny guy. No, seriously, you ever want to have kids?’ ‘Oh yeah, that’s just what the world needs, another carbon footprint.’ ‘I should say that to my vegan friends and watch them squirm when trying to tuck into their avocado and toast whilst their six kids run around their feet screaming.’ ‘What about you?’ ‘Kids?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Never had a strong enough urge. Plus, sometimes I think, what kind of mother would I be bringing a child into this world. Kinda cynical I know.’ I watched Faye pick the callouses on her palms. ‘And marriage?’ I continued. ‘I honestly can’t see it happening. My mum and dad split when I was young. What a mess that was. What a mess me and my brothers are because of it. Plus, people seem to get married as a short term plan these days. It’s funny you know, that ring shouldn’t change anything, but for some reason it does.’ ‘My precious.’ I replied attempting a Gollum impression and coughing straight after from straining my voice. ‘The worst part of it all’ Faye continued with a little fire in her soul, ‘is the pressure society puts on women to settle down. Like staying single is some sort of taboo. All this pressure I get off people for not settling down and living a “normal life”. It’s insanity. People have actually asked me “What’s wrong with you?” can you believe that?’ I was going to say, ‘I really can’t’, but Faye’s momentum was building, so I let her continue. ‘One woman who attends my yoga classes told me “Not to worry, it’ll happen on day”. We weren’t even having a conversation on the subject. We weren’t having a conversation at all. My auntie is still single and she’s in her fifties now. There’s no room for marriage in her life that’s for sure. She goes to sex clubs and all sorts.’ ‘Really?’ Oh yeah. She’s tried to get me to go with her a couple of times. Crazy bitch.’ ‘Woah. Did you go?’ ‘I did not.’ ‘Shame.’ I answered, both of us laughing. ‘So, we’re in the same boat you and me. No kids, no marriage. No giving a fuck what anyone thinks.’ I concluded. ‘Haha, what boats that? The Mary Celeste?’ ‘I laughed, whilst racking my brains, trying to remember what the fuck happened on the Mary Celeste. Faye gently rubbed her pinkie on top of mine. A warm glow rose out of her as she smiled, blushing ever so slightly. ‘I like you.’ She said softly. ‘I like you too chuckle bum.’ I replied. She chuckled. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about you.’ She continued. ‘Right back at ya.’ ‘Just don’t fuck me around ok? Don’t hurt me intentionally and don’t waste my time.’ ‘I have no intention of doing any of those things.’ I promised in all sincerity. ‘Good. ‘Cos if you did, I’d hang you from my front garden as a warning to other boys not to fuck with me. Mole catcher style.’ She laughed.
We took off down the same route, walking past a father teaching his young daughter about cloud patterns. The father who encapsulated an aura of being no stranger to extreme sports, had a hard, weathered face that melted whenever he looked at his daughter. His daughter, who could have only been around nine years old, had a soft, pale face but for her coloured rosy cheeks brought on by the dipping temperature. The two dressed similar. The little girl appeared determined to replicate her father’s attire, right down to the bright red laces tied to the brown leather boots. ‘And what lake is that Hayley?’ ‘Buttermere.’ ‘Buttermere, that’s right.’ ‘And what clouds are forming over Buttermere?’ ‘Urm…Nimbostratus?’ ‘That’s my girl, well done. And what does that usually mean?’ ‘Rain!’ Exclaimed Hayley. ‘Correct.’ Replied the proud father, pulling his little girls bobble hat over her eyes. ‘That’s sweet.’ Said Faye acknowledging the scene, ‘Did your dad ever teach you anything like that?’ She asked. ‘My old man was a market trader. The only thing he ever taught me was how to fall through a bar.’
Quarter of a mile from the car we caught up to the film crew once more who had now wrapped. ‘We ready to go?’ Shouted out a woman bouncing on her toes, her hands inside the sleeves of her jumper. ‘You guys go ahead. I’m going to grab a few more GV’s.’ Shouted an athletic looking guy with a ponytail. ‘You sure that’s a good idea Scott? It looks like the day’s worsening.’ ‘Don’t worry darling, I’ve got my bronze Duke of Edinburgh. Those clouds won’t come to anything.’
Back at the car sat on the edge of the boot changing our footwear, Percy decided to take a shit near the entrance of the slate mine café. ‘Oh Percy! Why did you have to do that there?’ Exclaimed Faye. ‘You don’t have any poo bags, do you?’ She asked ‘No, I used my last one earlier curling one out.’ I quipped. ‘Ewww gross!’ ‘That was a joke.’ ‘I know, but still. Oh crap, I don’t have any left.’ ‘Just leave it, it’ll wash away. That little girl said it was about to piss it down anyway.’ We drove off leaving Percy’s mess before anyone noticed.
‘What do you fancy doing now?’ Asked Faye as we weaved our way back down Honister Pass, drips of rain beginning to sporadically land on the windscreen. ‘We could call in at your aunties and introduce me?’ ‘Oi!’ Shouted Faye, pretending to slap me across the face. ‘I hear there’s a Costa near here if you fancy a coffee?’ I asked. ‘Nah.’ ‘What do you fancy doing then?’ Faye pondered for a moment or two before finally saying she thought we should go home for some mind-blowing sex. And you know what? I concurred.