I miss The Outside™

Quarantine despair: Quarantine euphoria:

I miss The Outside. With its freedom and freshness. I am resigned to my daily hamster-wheel jaunts round the block – I don’t want to be the person who single-handedly prolongs lockdown. And besides, I’ve always been rather parital to a bit of Dunkirk spirit. It’s a fine thing, a fine thing to have as a fundament to our society. Everyone pulling together for a greater good. But I do miss The Real, Proper Outside. The expanse of it, where I can roll back my shoulders and unfurl my wings. I know I will greet it again and, like an old childhood friend, we will pick up where we left off. But I do miss it.

‘On top of the world’: View from Roseberry Topping over to the Cleveland Hills

For now, I am forming a new Indoor Life. My Computer Science undergraduate daughter scoured the ethernet seas for hours for me, trying to find technology that will cause me as little pain as possible, as I use it to work from home. The enforced use of huge amounts of technlogy always causes me pain. It took her hours, as the entire population of the world, it seems, is realising that it needs a webcam. We all thought we could sit at our desks in our over-worn pyjamas, remnants of salt and vinegar Pringles round our mouths, Ken Bruce on in the background, rejoicing that we’re finally getting a proper chance to play PopMaster. But no, we still have to look vaguely presentable, at least from the waist up.

The necessary gizmos and attachments are arriving in dribs and drabs, undergraduate daughter’s face lights up, my shoulders slump. Though I do actually like the XP-Pen, I’m admitting that. It has rather more nibs than I was anticipating.

I’m not completely averse to technology. It turns out that it’s saving me from having to home school. Yesterday, Youngest Off-spring9 couldn’t be bothered to get up from her bed to get her calculator. She simply barked out queries to her Google Mini, who kindly complied. Independent learning, Mother unrequired. And I’ve spoken to my family and friends on the phone, the actual bit where you speak outloud, like in the olden days, phone, more this week than I have in the last 6 months! It’s as if Private Frazer is rrrolling out ‘we’re doomed!’ There’s an urgent need among us to talk to people. To hear their voices. We are not Islands.

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Low lying mist on a crisp morning near Stokesley.

But don’t try calling me Saturday night as I’ll be Zoom-ing with my uni friends of decades. Perhaps along with the rest of the modern world: in mid March more than 10 million people joined a zoom meeting every day, and I suspect that’s increased since. But our ‘party’, as we’re of an age, will be a quiz with alcohol. I’m putting together the picture round.

My longing for The Outside has got to a point where I’ve been researching it. Yes. I know. Still. Here’s a few nuggets: The National Trust commissioned a study which showed that children play outside half the amount of time that their parents did when they were children. No surprise there, we all agree. We could have told them that. But…but… 10% of these children hadn’t been in a natural environment, such as a park, forest or beach for at least a year. A year. And that’s like, a very long time. Also, on average children aged between 10 to 16 now only spend 12.6 minutes a day on ‘vigorous’ outdoor activity, compared with 10.4 waking hours of being relatively motionless. Not quite sure what they are doing motionless, but I can only repeat. That’s like, a very long time. Mind, they might do well on the final round of SAS: Who Dares Wins…those stress positions.

Apparently, 120 minutes is the threshold, the shortest length of time we should be outside each week. Less than this and all the protective effects against everything from blood pressure to osteoporosis, from cancer to depression, don’t actually work. A quick bit of maths makes me think the Govenment have read this research too, perhaps why a walk of 20 minutes is suggested during lockdown.

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The Seated Man, Castleton Rigg, North Yorkshire Moors – now unseated. Maybe on lockdown somewhere. Never panic-buying.

An interesting fact is that even scenes of nature can have a positive effect on us. Just looking at pictures of The Outside will make the part of your brain – the anterior cingulate and the insula – more active. These are areas connected with empathy and altruism. Whereas, if you look at pictures of urban scenes, more blood flows to the amygadala, which processes fear and anxiety. There we go. Just look at The Outside, it makes you a nice person. And I would say there isn’t a maximum quota that the world can have of nice people. Did you see all the anterior cingulate-inducing, North Yorkshire images I’ve quietly inserted?

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Never-ending summers on Saltburn beach

Are you suddenly feeling all nice and feel like you’d want to give something away? Hopefully. If they’re custard creams, well, you know where to send them.

Soon the world will hit an equilibrium. We’ll move forwards. We’ll gradually upright our creaking bodies, like the evolution of man. We’ll look around and ask, What now? Many things, will be the answer. But The Outside will invite us in. And this time we’ll know what matters.

“Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?”

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

A favourite quote of mine and my daughters. To us, venturing to places new and curious is like going to the Spare Oom.

Dracula is a blog

The novel Dracula is a blog. No, it is. Really. It’s written as a collection of diary entries, letters, ship’s logs and such like: personal reflections and recounts of events that day. A blog. So it seems apt, that as Youngest Offspring and I sojourn once more to God’s Own Country, in my efforts to imbibe a bit more Northernness in her, that we take in a performance of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Whitby Abbey.

We arrived direct from the South West on a day that makes us feel like we’re on holiday. I even required a dab of sun lotion. 20180527_145416(0)1678150744.jpg

Friends were shocked that we were venturing to Whitby on a bank holiday Sunday. But I am a good ‘parker’; we parked easily, as I created our own space in the Marina Front car park. I always consider white lines to be merely advisory. Though this may account for why I am often unable to find my own car in a car park….

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Maybe an easier way to park

Bram Stoker (if you’re wondering, it’s short for Abraham) came to Whitby in 1890, looking for a holiday home (not much changed there then). He stayed at the Royal Hotel, but it was whilst lodging at 6 Royal Crescent, a curve of beautiful houses reminiscent of those in Bath, that he wrote the play The Undead, which barely got off the ground, so he rewrote it as a novel: Dracula. He was filling time whilst waiting for his wife to join him – a wife who apparently turned down Oscar Wilde to marry Stoker. With Wilde’s later notoriety she must have heaved a sigh of relief, though Stoker died of syphilis, so maybe not….

The play we saw was performed brilliantly by a skilled troupe of three from Time Will Tell, who whipped in and out of the scenes as various characters (Dracula at one time looking decidedly like Elton John. Though in a good way.)

It was hilarious and true to the book; you could hear direct quotes from the text at various points. The humour was clever and playful, rather than too childish, which can often be the case with these kind of compressed plays that try to appeal to all ages. And the audience participation was at, what I would consider to be, an optimum level. I won’t pre-empt it by revealing all, as I genuinely think anyone would love it, but I will offer a hot tip: do not bring with you chairs and comfy cushions that you’ve made yourself, nor a desire to sit leisurely in the sun. The play moves you around the abbey, using the various backdrops to add to the atmosphere of the scenes. I moaned about this at first, having lugged furniture up the 199 Steps, but then appreciated the immersive aspect and found myself gazing at the intricate arches, which seem to interlock like an Escher drawing.

As part of the entrance price, you get to mooch around the abbey afterwards (or before, if your time-keeping is of a better standard). And includes audio tours. And you know I love an audio tour.

Growing up I thought the Abbey was just, well, kind of nice to look at.

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This was a sunny day, a bank holiday weekend and a hosting a brilliant play, and still you could move freely. Most tourist attractions would be no-go areas on days like this

Oh no. It’s important too. Pretty much like the whole of the North East, it has been invaded by diligent invaders – Romans, Danes, Vikings, and even the Germans shelled it in WWI. Founded as a monastery in 657, it was one of the most important religious centres of the Anglo-Saxon world. Mildly interesting , you might think. But, you see, it was ruled by a woman. An abbess. Hild or Hilda (I suppose it was Hild to her friends). She advised kings around the world, was supposed to be dead energetic and a really rather nice person. A shame that it’s noteworthy that she was female and so influential, but we need to know about more women who have carved our history. Read about her. She’s interesting. There’s even a novel about her. And she died at aged 66, which is quite an achievement then. Whatever the year was.

The Abbey, owned by English Heritage, and Grade I listed – so don’t even think about trying to add a conservatory on the back – went into ruin mostly because of bloomin’ Henry VIII (the more I read about him, the more I think he was nowt bu’ trouble) and his bloomin’ Dissolution of the Monasteries. He nabbed all the money, stripped the buildings of the juiciest bits and sold them off at a car boot somewhere. Didn’t think it through did he? Could have kept it and charged entrance. And had a bit of Tudor merch.

The infamous 199 Steps take you back down to the heart of Whitby. Though some claim that it’s actually only 198, as technically the top is not a step, but just…the top. (Sigh. ‘Technically’.) And others claim that it’s 200, as there’s the step from the bottom onto Church Street. But these people need fuller lives. What is important and indeed compulsory, is to count the steps as you go up. If you lose count there are markers every 10 steps, but really, if you can’t count to 199 then you really shouldn’t be allowed out the house.

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One of the step markers, in Latinese. It means ‘you are nearly at the top’.

The Steps, whose proper name are ‘Church Steps’ are quite rightly a Grade 1 listed heritage monument and were originally made of painted wood. Another person who needs a fuller life is the person on Trip Advisor who wrote a review about his favourite step (No. 39. Maybe he was confusing it with the name of a book…) due to its texture and colour. Though maybe it’s me who needs to lead a fuller life, since I’m reading a Trip Advisor review about a step.

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Step 39. What do you think? I know… fuller life required.

But oh! The views. That’s a real reason to climb the steps. 20180527_144738994649051.jpg

So, Bram Stoker’s Dracula ‘blog’ became an international bestseller and helped bring wealth back to an abbey that was once one of the richest monasteries in Yorkshire. See, that Henry Tudor, missed a trick there.

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They say if you find a grave with a skull and crossbones on, you have found Dracula’s grave. But you haven’t. Cos Dracula is a fictional character. But worth sending the children/parents/unwanted guests to look for it, while you have a lemon top in peace…