Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Archive for September, 2010

High Force Will Be With You… Always

Death!!! Explosions!!! Sexual depravity!!! None of these things feature whatsoever in the next few paragraphs, it’s just the customary nostalgia-obsessed rambling, but I thought at least that might grab your attention after a few months away from regular blog duties. My absence has been down to a tumultuous six months of domestic upheaval, emotional trauma and some pretty hardcore wallpapering, with the occasional SMALL explosion thrown in for good measure. Anyway, we’ve got some catching up to do.

Regular followers of this nonsense (and hello to both of you) might remember me  mentioning, during several sessions of intense regressive therapy, a 1981 school excursion to this place…

Yes, High Force. A bloody big waterfall (as I believe it’s described in this quarter’s edition of the National Trust newsletter) located at the murky source of the River Tees before the Asda shopping trolleys, empty Carlsberg cans and floppy rubber johnnies kick into play about three miles west of Portrack.

In October 1981 – when I was eight – I joined the official Levendale Primary School expedition to this scenic, awe-inspiring death trap, my parents having signed the customary ‘Loco Parentis’ form (which Stephen Mason ALWAYS insisted meant your parents had given their permission for you to travel on a steam train) and packed me off with a blinding white egg sandwich stuffed into an airtight Empire Strikes Back lunchbox, expertly timed to reach dangerous ‘eggy whiffer’ critical mass just as our Compass Royston coach passed through Barnard Castle. The resulting build-up of farty, salad cream-fuelled fumes were enough to remove the eyebrows of any unsuspecting child careless enough to open it in a confined area. I think Christopher Herbet’s crab paste doorstep, shouldered by Geoff Capes into a tiny rectangle of pickle-stained tupperware nearly three decades ago, is still surrounded by sandbags and kept under armed guard by the Green Howards in a cordoned-off area somewhere on the outskirts of Cotherstone.


Two amazing things happened on this fateful day nearly 29 years ago…

1. I managed to eat almost half my Orange Club biscuit before Stephen Mason grabbed the remainder, shouted ‘ACHTUNG, SCHWEINHUNT!!!!!!’ and lobbed it, hand-grenade style, into the cascading waters below.  

2. Each member of our school party was – and there’s no easy way of putting this – taken to the brink of the waterfall by two of our teachers, and ‘encouraged’ to lean over the edge of this sheer, slippery precipice to ‘admire the glory of nature (whether you like it or not)’ with our arms loosely restrained by said teachers to prevent us from plunging, screaming, 120 feet down the jagged cliff face into the roaring, foaming rapids beneath.

We established on this blog last year that one of these teachers was all-round good egg, top bloke and upstanding pillar of the community Mr Hirst, entirely unpeturbed by the prospect of his sensational David Bowie quiff being ruffled by the foam-dotted backdraft (and the odd floppy rubber johnny) from the violent River Tees. I’d long since suspected that the other teacher was his long-term partner-in-crime Mr Millward, but when I met the genial Mr M last year, he denied everything (although, in all honesty, it took a pair of thumbscrews and the threat of Christopher Herbert’s crab paste doorstep to get to admit that he’d ever been a teacher at all)

So I’m now wondering if my long-suffering form teacher Mrs Moore was the other guilty party? Whatever, enough waffling… inbetween the emotional trauma and wallpapering this summer, I went back to High Force and made an uncannily accurate reconstruction of this traumatic formative experience…

Alright, I admit it. Put the crab paste doorstep away. Even as a worldly-wise 37-year-old who can eat a brace of Orange Club biscuits in his own freshly-wallpapered house at his own leisure, I was still decidedly nervy at being allowed to wander idly around the top of such a dangerous-looking precipice. So imagine how I felt, at the age of eight, when I was frogmarched to the the slippery rocks tentatively filmed in the below video, and given a closer look at the glory of nature than I’d ever previously deemed necessary…

In retrospect, I’m only amazed that I didn’t make the 35-mile journey back to Yarm rocking gently back and forth like a shattered Vietnam veteran (‘You don’t know, maaan… you weren’t there….’) and squelching uncomfortably in heavily-soiled Marks and Spencers school trousers. Although I suppose the latter might have come as light relief from the still-overpowering whiff of egg sandwiches and crab paste doorsteps on the bus. Still, it was nice to go back and discover that High Force is still as terrifying and downright dangerous as it as ever was, relatively unscathed by the wagging finger of Health and Safety. Although I’m sure this little nugget of public information wasn’t available for our perusal back in 1981…


TRANSLATION: ‘YOU MIGHT WELL DIE UP HERE AND IF YOU DO, IT’S YOUR OWN STUPID FAULT’. Nothing about throwing half-eaten Orange Club biscuits off the top of the waterfall, though… so, reluctantly, I’ve had to shelve the impending Fischer vs Mason legal action.

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