Walks and Thoughts

of Michael Simes

An old Man's Tale:

Shelf

Brighouse

West Vale

Clay House

Ripponden

Cragg Vale

Todmorden

Heptonstall

Pecket Well

Luddenden Dean

Jerusalem Farm

Catherine Slack

Stone Chair

It's Just Like Home:

Hong Kong

Auckland

Rotarua

Napier

Picton

Marlborough Sounds

Kaikoura

Milford Sound

Sydney

Manly

Blue Mountains

Northern Beaches

Thailand

A City Of Revolution:

Paris

Versailles

Sacré-Cœur

Notre Dame

CHAPTER ONE

Hope I Die Before I Get Old


All the days of my life stepping out along the Dales highway. A trail over 96 miles along the route from Bradford Cathedral to the closure of the rainbow at Bowness. The cathedral church of St Peter where Bradfordians have worshipped since the 8th century.

A lifespan unravelling as we trudge the Dales Way. A timeline travelled absorbed in the mere flicker on the world stage, a tiny speck in the landscape.

The beginning of my endpoint, enriched with metaphors. Walking with power and authority through terminal decline. We may be shrinking each day but the confessional voice will not be silenced as we have a deadline to meet. We will travel afoot through fields and woods and fells, by the side of rivers and trust ourselves to nature.

The ramble round my life begins with Cathedral steps and bearing left on to cobbled Captain Street. Continue on to Bolton Road with the Corn Dolly on the left. An alehouse proper with a wide selection of real ales.

Proceed on to traffic lights and over the pelican crossing to continue up Bolton Road. After 25 metres turn into Lawton Street on the left and around the side of Express Tyre Services. Carry on forward in Boars Well Nature Reserve. An urban wildlife park sandwiched between busy trunk roads. Here you can monitor kestrels and keep your own account.


I have years on my back over 65 years. I will shake all cares and business from our age. Like Lear the great afflictions remain. Most of us fear getting old. We never thought we would become the elderly. Tolstoy told us that “old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man”. Only the very young want to be older.

We shudder from losing our minds and dread illness and infirmity. Who wants to end up with “carers wiping our bums”. In 1965 with our youth we sang "hope I die before I get old”. One half of men and two thirds of women will need care. Approaching 400,000 in residential care. Lonely old people queuing stoically for the escalator. Life from another age frozen and preserved. Life hanging by a thread in a chemical haze. Many locked in solitary confinement inert on cocktails where the invisible hand guarantees permanent subsidy for the amoral and nihilist druggist.

The old ones are the best. Moving from the periphery to the core, the rise of the wrinklies evident as life expectancy inches towards ninety. For the first time we live to be great grand - parents.

Everyone we know is old, or intends to be. You realise your happiest times when you touch 74. Actuarists have crunched the luckiest birth of all in the annual mirabilis of 1948. We grew protected by flourishing welfare, education grants, unprecedented wealth, property inflation, end of conscription and no world wars. We may survive longer but the mortality gap between classes is wider than in the 1920’s. We know older people are not on homogeneous group. In Harlem only 40% of men reach 65. A landmark reached by 55% of men in Bangladesh. Closer to home the Chelsea male lives 14 years longer than his Glaswegian compatriot. Glasgow on a par with Albania and Palestine. Life expectancy in the resort of Blackpool makes it the most deadly place in England.

Follow the path with head fixed on the ground to side step freshly laid dog shit. Keep going and proceed under electricity pylon advertising its 132,000 volts. As the view opens on your left there are lots of unsold cars. Above the valley stands the monument of Manningham Mills and its famous tower.

At its height it employed 11,000 workers and children. The largest silk factory in the world. Stoned in Italianate splendour. The evil Baron Masham famously smashed the strike in 1890 and imposed a 25% wage cut. The strikers inspired to form the Independent Labour Party. The Baron bequeathed Lister Park to families and children once they had won their leisure.

Join the road by the bus stop and turn right. At the traffic lights proceed left and cross Queens Road to carry on up Kings Road. After 150 metres go left down Bolton Lane. In 200 metres turn right along Hollins Lose Lane. Looking up Bradford seems full of trees and foliage sucking up the carbons. We are seeing parts not explored in lifetime of wanderings.

After 300 metres continue on a narrow path to the right by side of a house between stone walls. Carry on beyond the wire fence on your left with open fields where horses and cows live in tandem. A touch of countryside alongside the main arterial roads. Continue with the new estate on your right. Up along the tarmac path to the end of the houses and through a large wooden gate.

Mistakenly we turned left but soon re-directed by a soft, lyrical man from the west coast of Ireland. He feeds the horses with his Alsatian companions. He has been feeding them since they were bairns and now they think he is their dad.

At the gate we should have gone right and up to a wooden gate 150 metres ahead. Follow the bridleway sign and past green metal gates. In 10 metres go through a gate, keeping to the path round the contour of the hill. From here you can appreciate the whole basin of Bradford.


As living corpses, decomposing before our eyes, what shall we call ourselves?, geezers, codgers, goats, fogies’, geese, hags, crocks, fossils, coots, gerries, gophers, old dragons, old buffers or old timers. Each carries its own scorn and contempt. Here there is no poverty of vocabulary. So many handles expose our failure to detect the intricately woven nature of old age. It must add more than pathology. We will forge a new identity as fledgling ancestors.

The elderly tell us they prize the title of older persons. A vocabulary of liberation yet to be invented to fill the narrative of the old. We could borrow from London drug culture where esteemed “olders”, only in their 20’s, run the show.

Carry on further upward., You could divert to the quarry above. Here we are striking high ground on one of the rims surrounding the city centre. There is not a clear path but continue along keeping to the wire fence on your right. As Shipley becomes visible pass through the kissing gate. Follow path downhill to a road above the maisonettes, Alwinton House. Go left down the steep hill, Livingstone Road. The Christian school on your right where they offer an education of Godly wisdom.

We stopped here in Bolton Woods in the playground and garden for tuna baps. You can still see Manningham Mills as we have swept around. In the park we rest on a bench facing the Golden Chippy. On the wrought iron gate is sculptured the missive “its buzzing in Bolton Woods”.

On embarking we draw on ancient cultures. Elderly Eskimos are celebrated and revered as they know when they will jeopardise the community They have an igloo fashioned as an ice tomb where they are left behind. We know that blood is chilled and dulled in old age, the body’s rehearsal for shutting down.

I will be faithful to the Jain custom of gently starving yourself- it is Sallekhana. A beautiful thing fasting with decreasing liquid and food. There is no suffering as the body cools so you can focus internally on the soul and erasing bad karma. With Rousseau we can give ourselves entirely to the pleasure of conversing with our soul enriched and adorned.

Hindu women are expected to immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre. We shall not follow this sacrifice. In Sudan the Dinka and Hottentots volunteer to be buried alive as weakness overwhelms them. Fiji islanders kill themselves as age and infirmity erodes their ability. Aborigines buried the old in a hole until only their head showing, and deserted them to die.

The old Japanese custom was for elderly people to go and die alone in the forest, or depart to the Sacred Mountains. Now they plan to export old people to reserves in the dumping grounds of Africa. The oldest people in Canada set off alone to die in the ice fields. Geronticide common in Roman times as the elderly despatched by drowning.

We are inspired by the old woman in the ballad of Narayama when she walks resolutely towards death knowing it is time to leave and make room for others. At the age of 82 Leo Tolstoy took himself into the snowy woods where he died of pneumonia.

Cross over Gaisby Lane and right up Powell Road with playing fields to your left. After a few hundred metres at the end of the green metal fence go left down a narrow path towards the recreation grounds. Proceed on to the end of the road, Poplar Crescent. The beck is below on your left hidden behind the fence. Continue over the road and follow the track along the grass noting the open beck to the left. Admire the blackened crags jutting out above on your right. Carry on along the path as Shipley clock tower, stone bridge and Baildon Moor come into view. The clock tower is an iconic specimen of 1960’s architecture.

I remember the 60’s as the beginning of the long post-war boom. The great leap forward after years of war and austerity. A golden age for the British working class as we rallied peace, prosperity, culture and welfare to our purposes. We fostered and marched as to stop imperialist war. A generation finding its ideals in unbridled optimism amidst a cauldron of pulsating substance.

We lived through the cracking of links between generations, snapping past and present. We were the cold war children where extinction was just below the surface, fuelled by the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam.

Disinhibited in speed, confident and constructing our own customs we played the proletarian dandy. We had to be models for each other. Sometimes you skipped a generation. My maternal grandfather showed the way as an itinerant recalcitrant Irishman travelling the world in revolt, but he knew a few tricks. Deserted and embraced his family in equal measure.

In the spirit of youthful radicalism school squeezed the joy out of you, if you let them. Thrashed and moulded into rituals already decayed. The old orthodoxy and values frayed and ripped. We were the big spenders stirred upright in the saddle.

Here was the cultural sea change in the thrusting revival of feminism, Marxism and liberation of divorce, abortion, drugs and homosexuality. Dylan gave us the soundtrack of our autonomy and vocals for the counter culture. He was the 60’s troubadour yet he was not cut from the same cloth. Icon and model but he told tales of box car freights. No-one wanted him as the Pied Piper. Simply songs to sustain and incite. He peered into the looking glass recording his hard –lipped folk songs. He strayed from the script unlike Woody and his friend Harry Belafonte.

Alan Ginsberg more the revolutionary firebrand intent on exploding anxieties of the atomic age. The original hipster and star fucker devoted to waking up the world to itself. An angry passionate young man who survived until 1997. At our youthful peak we engaged in the convulsions of the age of Aquarius as it revealed itself on stage and off.

The Prague Spring and Paris 68 stimulated youth rebellions in east and west. Combatants in France just about brought down the regime with De Gaulle crumbling before them. Often we know not how close we are yet the proximity can repel. Reaction was chipping away as the most dangerous people in the world were contracted out.

The 60’s starts with the Pill and closed with H.R.T, a life bracketed by artificial hormones. Few kept our virtue and integrity, other shunted to the sidelines. Some batted for the other side, their silence secured by stuffing their mouths with marked greenbacks. A few atrophied in marginalised sects. The rest sleeping till the triggers return.

The 60’s witnessed youth claiming their recognition. Fifty years on we strive to reclaim the world for the olders. Each nook and cranny at our communities exposed to probe.

Japan’s oldest porn star, Shigeo Tokvola, aged 77, is a member of the bludgeoning adult film market. The silver porn industry already claimed one fifth at the market. We baby boomers painted as the privileged generation redefined every decade we have lived. Now we will rebrand old age. Like Jenny Dyson we can finally rediscover the dormant child we were before we strived so hard to be grown up. Germain Greer has found “ageing frees the inner girl, and how bad that girl can be”! Embracing age eventually escaping the corrosive narcissism at our adolescent selves. No need now to restrain, just release and observe with affection. We can liberate from W.B.Yeats horrors of “decrepit old age that has been tied to me, as to a dog’s tail”.

We have no need of Shakespeare’s Jacques melancholy catalogue of a second infancy in “mere oblivion”, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”. No gain in following the Hindu stages of man deserting home to live in a solitary forest praying for immortality. The denouement renouncing all physical, material and sexual pleasure.

Jane Miller consoles herself with the thought that it is a “relief not to feel desire any more”. Libido substituted for an abnormal self-admiration drawn from the social expectation of ageing impotency. Your thrusting power gone up in smoke as elderly condemned to celibacy. Why taper off into serene chaste old age?

Simone de Beauvoir witnessed old men take pleasure only in erotic literature, licentious works of art, voyeurism and furtive contacts with young women. In contrast the older woman can be a virulent sex crazed witch as a gigolo hunting crone. Young women now indulged in raunch culture. A suspect emancipation, unhindered hedonism in a stark animal instinct. Stripped of its morality a refreshing innocence. It can take your breath away. Imitation of celluloid porn in the sexualisation of public life where copulation exercised as spectator sport.

The path leads you to a bridge over the beck and onto Valley Road. Turn right and cross the first junction about 80 metres ahead. Ignore the first gap in the wall and take the next opening just before the bridge. As you proceed the railway tracks are on your left with the beck down below to the right. You are amongst trees and fauna in a rural retreat set in the urban sprawl. Progressing into a meadow head towards the factory chimney and alongside Shipley train station on the left. The path runs down under two adjacent rail bridges and on to a road facing Aldi and McDonalds. With wobbly legs and wheezing chest we have earned the indulgence of a banana milk-shake at Super Macs.

Cross the road by the traffic lights, turn left and after 20metres go right and proceed through the passage by Killips Carpets. The footpath sign directs you over Gallows Bridge. Walk down the towpath towards Shipley. Under the bridge and follow signs foe Airedale Greenway on to Saltaire via Shipley Wharfe with Ibis Hotel on the right.