In this article Sheffield resident David Roberts recounts a hitchhiking journey through the Yorkshire Dales with an interesting character; Roger. Is it fact, fiction, or a bit of both? We're not sure, but look out for a raft of aircraft carriers at the next Olympics!
I had been standing beside the A65 for forty-five minutes when the car pulled in. You can never script who will stop, but still I hadn’t expected to travel to the Lakes in such open-top style.
The driver was a portly fellow with an avuncular laugh and we got on well, famously. In those days I was stupid enough to smoke and he seemed fine with that, so long as the ash went overboard. For an hour or so we travelled together, him talking and laughing while I smoked and listened, enjoying his stories but uncertain whether or not to believe even a word. That weekend we forgot to take the rack to Scafell and it was only later, with the internet verifying perhaps half of what he told me, that I thought he wasn’t merely taking me for a ride.
Even possessed of a Wikipedia entry, disparate sources confirmed him to be a Wigan millionaire, a man self-made of offal and determination. Don’t ask me why, he said, but I saw the potential in offal, I just saw what remained to be done with the material. From leaving school on an apprenticeship at fourteen to a string of butcher’s at twenty-one, archived images of him lighting cigars with bundled tenners are only a mouse-click away.
Oh yes, he told me, I was obnoxious. Work hard play hard, all that crap. Even a drink-driving charge didn’t slow me down. Yes, I had it coming, no doubting that.
As for many it was health that led to a change of lifestyle, and for him slowing down meant to engage in a paradox. He grew more active, began spending time in the hills. Endorphins, he said, who knew. Oh, all the champers a man can drink doesn’t mean so much as the tops. Give me the Lakes, give me Scotland. A yearning for understanding saw him join the great Lancashire tradition of amateur naturalists, and a philanthropic longing saw hides bearing his name built at Bryn Marsh and Horrock’s Flash. The internet confirms this much, and while I haven’t spent hours at the microfiche in Wigan Central Library, I think to doubt would be unreasonable. Who would go to so much effort, when everyone tells me that hitchhikers are a rarity nowadays?
Potential, he said, spotting a gap. That’s how I made my money and even though I take a backseat nowadays my eyes are open, if you know what I mean. I’m still on the look out. Now, if we believe the technologists then messages from future battles will be sent by unmanned drone, a possibility that should not be allowed to take anything from old Pheidippides there.
Someone had changed the road-sign from Hutton Roof to Button Moon and as always it made me laugh.
Really, he said, bear with me now. That his achievement has penetrated time and myth, inspiring how many others to don running shoes and luminous teddy-bear outfits, what man could wish for more? Me, he said, I could. My wife had it on once, he said, when she was doing the ironing. Don’t ask me why, but she says she likes it, finds ironing soothing. I was watching it with her and I just thought, why? Why bother with that? They were going round circles of asphalt and concrete and I just thought, what’s the point in that? There must be something else, more for them to aspire after.
Funny, he said, when things sometimes fall neatly into place. What’s the word? Serendipity.
Some spend their money on silk hats, he said, some throw it into the local football team. Not me, no. I always dared to dream myself a different dream.
It was reading the Telegraph that had really set him thinking. There was an article about fastidious rock climbers, the intimacies of crux holds mapped out in tinfoil, sequences of movement transmuted onto plywood sheets in Sheffield cellars. I just wondered, if anyone had attempted such a thing, but scaled up, to another dimension, he said. I just wondered what much could be achieved. It’s where I’m heading now, to have a meeting with an engineer about terms, limits of scale.
A herd of cows was blocking the road, but he seemed unconcerned about being late.
I mean, bugger the marathon, he said. The Cuillin Ridge, that’s what it’s about. You been there?
Really, you must.
Promise me, you’ve got to.
Because there it is, he said, hiding off the coast of Scotland, and for so long that’s been its problem. Because we know, don’t we, what it means. He was growing animated and a globule of sputum flew from his mouth to connect with my right hand. I wiped it on my trousers and rolled another cigarette. We know what it means, he said, don’t we just. We know that to run from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean touching eleven summits, climbing to Very Difficult accreditation, the Basteir Tooth and the Inaccessible Pinnacle, three thousand metres up and down along the way, we know that that is quite the thing. We know that to even do it in a day is good going, and there’s a man now who’s done it in less than three hours. All that, in under three hours. We know that, don’t we just, he said, what it means, the athlete he must be. But out there, the man on the street, he doesn’t know. And this is what I’m going to do, he said. You’ll barely believe it, kid, but listen. If I can’t take the people to the Cuillin Ridge then I’m just going to have to take the Cuillin Ridge to the people.
So that was it, why I was even getting a lift at all. He planned to have his engineer produce a mould of the Ridge, create an exact physical replica to float upon a raft or system of decommissioned aircraft carriers. As such it might finally be allowed to travel the world, now moored off French Polynesia, now enjoyed by the big-wave surfers of Hawaii. The exposed spine of a Scottish island no longer spurning the limelight. Of course there would be logistical issues along the way, how best to replicate the stubborn texture of gabbro was an issue to trouble sleep, but if any man had the belief to get this one afloat then it was surely him. With any luck, if things go to plan then it’ll be a contender for twenty twenty-four, he said, a clear look of pride upon his face. And still it gets better. Because you could double it up, have the Ridge in the Winter Olympics as well. Imagine that, go on, imagine that for free. Don’t get that with the marathon, do you now? But if there’s one thing that worries me, he said, then it’s squash.
Squash is the real doubt in my mind, he said.
He said that he couldn’t get over squash, how squash had failed to make the Olympics. Why have tennis when you haven’t got squash? It’s because of the audience, he said, because the nature of the court means squash was never a sport to facilitate the crowd. And how will we get the crowds watching the world’s greatest, attempting this new Cuillin Ridge? How other than through hot air balloons might that be achieved? When you think about it as I have done, he said, you can’t help but thinking the Olympics is more about the audience than the activity, is nothing but a show. His words held an allusive power, hypnotic appeal. For a minute or two I lost something of his drift, felt almost drugged and oddly bilious, as if I had fallen under the early influence of what was to become of my weekend in the Lakes.
Still I wasn’t quite with it when he dropped me off, forgot to give a proper wave of thanks.