My little brother David has turned 40. Oh Father Time, do sod off. Forty! It was only yesterday I delivered him to infants school. Him, five – me, six. "This," I explained, pointing at the delicate lump of saucer-eyes, grazed-knees and spun-gold hair, "is my little brother."
Now he's a hulking Ross Kemp of a man, meeting me for his birthday hoopla off the Penrith train from Euston. Strong Lake District light reveals we both now have brows like Shar Pei dogs. "Come on, Moonhead," he says. "Get in the car." At least some things, it seems, are forever frozen in time.
David's observation that my face is enormous has made him laugh since 1983. The only change in 2015 is that now I do a 576-mile round trip to be reminded. David stayed north. I took my massive face south in search of fortune. And nowadays in Keswick, the quaint tourist town where he lives, I'm just another British mini-breaker.
Morphing into a tourist in your old stamping ground takes at least two decades. You cling to belonging for years. This is me, these are my roots, you persist. But it dwindles bit by bit until you end up doing what Brits on a mini-break always do, and much of this revolves around the buying and eating of scones. Plain scones, fruit scones or cheese. Sometimes I order a cheese scone warm with a side snifter of onion marmalade, a London flamboyance that my 78-year-old father finds irritatingly anarchic.
So, yes, scones. Or mooching around shops selling personalised gift tat – indigenously made lemon curd, and doorstops in the shape of owls. Or a nice sit-down and a look at a lake. Or for the particularly annoying, marching about with stupid Nordic walking poles.
Walking-polers are all 40-plus, female, and never move anywhere in packs of less than seven. Possibly these are all the friends they have left since deciding that walking without telescopic carbon aids was frankly gauche. These clowns are even spotted in Hyde Park nowadays, battling heroically along solid asphalt surfaces to the Serpentine Bar for a bowl of pappardelle and pecorino. At least in Keswick there are mountains to attempt to scale. "Attempt" being the operative word.
Are you an 80-year-old old man with untreated cataracts? Are you a teenage girl clad in a Hennes playsuit and ballet shoes? Are you a vertigo sufferer with two Pekingese terriers who thinks Helvellyn sounds like the name of Guns N' Roses' difficult sixth studio album? Do you and your dogs want to be removed from the side of Skiddaw by a helicopter following an extensive manhunt? A mini-break in the Lake District is exactly the downtime – sorry, uptime – you need. Too old? Nonsense. Even as I type there are octogenarians pushing their negative pressure ventilators towards the foot of Scafell Pike. I watch them agog from my café table. "It seems risky," I muse often, as I spread pip-less conserve on a warm sultana crumpet, watching the half-blind literally leading the half-blind, with Nordic poles, towards Nethermost Pike.
Sadly, I am yet to receive the attentions of the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team during any trips up north, but by the law of averages it's my turn soon. Some people are rescued twice in one weekend. They're carried down on stretchers, then wake up the next day and think, "Sure, the weather was against us yesterday, but let's DO THIS!"
My favourite mountain rescues – I read a lot of local news when I'm eating my scones – are men who tell their wives they're going to the Lakes to climb mountains, then fail to return to their hostel. So, their wife calls the hostel and the emergency services spring into action, only for the "climber" to be found in a hotel 20 miles away with a lithesome walking buddy who looks absolutely nothing like Chris Bonington.
That said, 3G phone coverage pretty much stops after Warrington Bank Quay station, so if you're the sort of skullduggerous soul who fancies an affair, the Lake District is the perfect spot to go conveniently AWOL. Plenty of people over the age of 40 are having affairs in the Lake District. You can tell them easily because they are holding hands and looking happy.
We spent my little brother's birthday at a mountain climbing festival on the bank of Derwentwater. Lots of kids. Lots of labradors. Badly Drawn Boy strummed through several songs apt to induce suicide, as sideways rain dampened his bobble-hat. A Goan cuisine stall gave up and went home as their stoves wouldn't stay alight in the gale.
It was exactly how me and my brother would have partied in the 1990s, except instead of all-night debauchery we had crepes with Nutella, craft beer, and Nurofens. There is an art to getting older and it involves giving up vices and ploughing one's capacity for fun into other pursuits. So, scones and stupid walking poles then. Weirdly, in the prime of life, Moonhead has never been happier.Reuse content