Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Scottish Parliament Tour

I am in Edinburgh this week giving some performances as a part of the Forest Fringe programme. Whilst here I have had time to look around and I noticed the Scottish Parliament offers free hour-long tours of the building. It is possible to just show up, pass through the security and take a place on a tour. That is precisely what I did and I only had to wait 10 minutes for it to begin. An ideal start, but what of the rest of the tour?

We were asked to assemble by this picture of the queen. Our guide then asked us not to take pictures whilst on the tour; the images which feature here are either ones I took afterwards or else 'stock imagery' (i.e. google image searches) grabbed from the internet. In general, I find that places that want to control their appearance in this way are generally A) projecting a neurotic public face B) fighting a losing battle and C) have something to hide. Was that true of the Scottish Parliament?

Our guide turned out to be a Portuguese lady who spoke English reasonably well and with a noticeable Scottish accent. I thought about the choice to have her as the public face of the parliament and it struck me as very progressive pro-European casting. She explained the architecture to us, pointing out features like the boats in the roof design, and then outlined how the parliament functions. We learnt who the MSPs are, how they are elected, how legislation is drafted and then we got to see their debating chamber.

We were led through security doors into one modern space after another and given the hard sell over how good a building this was. It struck me, however, that it was not quite as stunning as she was making out and that she massively downplayed the public outcry over it coming in three years late and ten times over the original budget. She also said that it had a projected lifespan of 100 years, yet I would be surprised if it lasts half that. In short, the tour included a healthy dose of spin.

Be that as it may, she had a nice self-deprecating humour and held our attention. That said, I had something else going on during the tour which diverted my, and finally, the group's attention. I had made myself fried cabbage, lettuce and dried tofu for lunch. It was very tasty but by mid-afternoon when walking these corridors of power it came back in the form of a stream of very powerful silent farts. This was not just one or two leaking out but a veritable gas cylinder on slow release pumping foul smelling farts into the parliament. I could not leave the tour as we were inside the security doors and so I simply had to try and step aside from time to time and let them out stealthily. They were however bigger and more powerful than me and this odorous cloud hung over the tour, unacknowledged, but far from not unnoticed. This made for a delightfully British situation.

This was the first parliament tour I have gone on and it should be interesting to take another, so as to have something to compare this one with. Something tells me that they will mostly follow similar lines, politics being so much about the management of appearances, though I could be completely mistaken. Next time round I'll probably have something safer for lunch, though I should admit this quite alternative agenda did elevate the experience into something more playful which revealed a strong capacity for avoiding the elephant in the room. Finally, then, this was indeed a political tour. 

An additional thing worth mentioning is that the tour I have been giving here this week in Edinburgh for the festival has used the following tours as templates: Loop Beijing, the Amsterdam Free Walking Tour, the City Sightseeing Bus of Bath, the Avebury Earth Mysteries Tour, the Anti-Japanese Museum of Beijing Audio Tour, the Queen Mary University East End Tour, the Chinese Bus Tour of Stonehenge, the Bath Ghost Walk and, last but not least, the Scottish Parliament Tour.  

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Killhope Lead Mine Tour

Killhope is not, as the name might suggest, a Finnish death metal band, it is a place in county Durham where there is a museum that has been set up on the site of a former lead mine. As well as the museum, there are a number of other restored buildings, some impressively large clunky pieces of Victorian machinery and then there is the mine itself.

Before entering the mine we all had to put on helmets, rubber boots and take our lamps. While I have been on a couple of cave tours before, one very wild one in China and a very measured touristic one in Belgium, this was quite different as it was a tour of an underground workplace, whereas the others had been tours of caves as interesting natural environments.  

Our guide started by explaining the geology. Once again the Great Limestone came up and once again I failed to fully grasp it. There were a lot of details but not much of a story to hold onto so I watched her wave her hands like she was directing traffic in slow motion.

There were twelve of us in the group and four of our party were children. This set the tour up as one with the children at the centre of it with their parents watching on and one or two strays like me to make up the numbers. The guide was good at involving the children and giving them things to do, so good in fact that the tour was pitched mainly for them. Here they are dropping grass into the stream to see which way the water is flowing. They were given the role of being the guide's 'little helpers' and so they were playing with mining tools, shining their lights on things, answering questions and so on.

We entered the mine trudging through ankle deep water. As the passage continued, we left the daylight behind us and the ceiling dropped a good deal lower. It was then that it struck me that at 1 meter 89, I  am completely unsuitable for mines. While I was crouched low at the knees and waist, sloshing my way through the water, I thought about my grandfather and great grandfather who both worked down mines. I am trying to track the family history right now, as I was told that my great grandfather was actually in Allenheads at one point, but I've not managed to pin this down just yet. In any case, they and other parts of the family worked in lead and coal mines in Northumberland and Lanarkshire and would have been only too familiar with this desperately unhealthy environment. 

After a good while of walking through water and standing around in shallow pools, we entered a drier part of the mine. Here the guide show us how the lead ore can be seen in the seams running through the rock. She then said that what we were looking at was not rock at all but a fibre glass replica. For health and safety purposes, Killhope had constructed a visitor section to the mine where they took tour groups. They did at least made a reasonable job of it, but it did feel somewhat absurd to go into a mine to look at a replica mine. 

Towards the end of the tour, the guide asked us all to turn off our lamps and count to thirty to experience the darkness. One of the kids put their torch on in the middle and we had to start again, but once the darkness settled it was powerful. I would have liked it to have lasted longer, a lot longer, since seeing it is one thing but really feeling it is another. It was, all the same, good to have done as I never normally encounter this degree of all consuming blackness onto which I began to project all manner of things that are in the eyes and in the head. I was talking to Alan from ACA who said he also takes people down the mines around here and his trips are more overtly experiential, giving time and a frame to really feel this unique and otherworldly environment. I want to go!

There was a moment of light relief when we inspected a miners' portable toilet. I had never really thought about it before but of course human waste needs to be removed from the mine. It would not be an option to just let it accumulate for months or years on end. 

Coming back out and looking around the site I reflected that there is much made of the golden age of the British Empire, particularly today it seems. I had to then think about the living and working conditions of the miners back in the 19th Century, who I am a direct descendent of. That these men and boys should have to work in such a place as this for such miserable pay, that they would inevitably die early deaths, old men by the time they were 40, and that there was a constant supply of men so desperate that they would accept these conditions, makes me see only too clearly how this golden age is nothing but a lie. The wealth of a few was made on the backs of a great many. Today's Victorian nostalgia carefully downplays this side of the story and I see this aestheticising of that epoch as not co-incidental with the last 35 years of tory dominance when social mobility has been plummeting. The chances today of a young man from a mining family embarking upon and completing a Doctorate in the arts, are slim to say the least. Whilst this mine tour was in no way a political tour, it was a children's educative tour that threw in a little social history, I experienced it somewhat at the time and more so upon reflection, as a political one. This makes me think that I would rather like to take a overtly political mine tour with an ex-miner, perhaps even a former trade union representative, like my father was. I think, for example, it is no surprise Thatcher closed the mines and this sort of tour would, I suppose connect history with contemporary political activism. Buried in the mines are not only minerals, but also stories. Lets hear more of them.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Allenheads Geo Trail: British Stoats, Canadian Geese and American Squirrels

I am now in Allenheads, Northumberland, the highest village in England, perched up towards the Scottish border. It is in the North Pennines which is, among other things, a European Geopark, that's to say an area with a particularly interesting geological landscape. There is a geotrail that introduces visitors to the area, and it is available as a free brochure and also viewable online. The village is home to Allenheads Contemporary Arts, where I am currently staying, and I've just started to develop a new project with them which will take place next year.

The centre of the village is quite definitely the pub and it from here that the trail departs. From my brochure I learnt that a stone's throw away from the pub is the washing floor where lead ore was once processed, when the village was the centre of a thriving network of lead mines. This is now a forlorn space with the village's centre of gravity pulled 100 meters over to the Allenheads Inn, as the village's economy has shifted away from industry and nominally towards tourism. 

I had already taken some walks around the area but I would not have noticed that there was a path that lay ahead of me if I were not on this trail. The brochure was useful then, as it revealed more ways in and out of the village than I was previously aware of. This is all good information to have as I'll be making a performance here next year and these entrances and exits are likely to figure highly. The village can be imagined as a stage equipped not only with windows and doors, but also with trap doors, curtains that may be parted and wires that pull the actors high into the skies, otherwise known as the helicopter that deposits VIPs here for the the grouse shoot. 

There were a great many abandoned buildings that I came across, which together, said much about the fate of the countryside here. Depopulation has occurred on a large scale and the area has not yet become desirable enough for these more remote buildings to become in any way desirable. With some of them it feels like a matter of time before someone puts them right again and turns them to good purpose but with others, lost far out in the fields where no roads pass close by, they look set to tumble into the ground.

I came across this little fellow popping up from behind a rock. Is it a stoat or a weasel?

The path became broken and indistinct, the ground damp and muddy underfoot. I thought I had lost my way but it was simply a matter of the directions being sparse and the path rarely used. It is always a dilemma when describing routes to know how much information to give. A little bit of difficulty can be a pleasure, as uncertainty is rewarded with the joy of finding the correct path. Too much information denies this and can turn the experience into being all about the directions and not the landscape. The problem is, we are all a little different in how much we prefer difficulty over ease, and how well we can follow directions. Apart from this one stretch, the rest of the route was pretty simple and the level of information was about right for me.

Then the animals got bigger. Not getting out into the countryside so often these days, I was unsure how friendly the cows and bullocks were likely to be. I inched my way forwards and he turned out to be largely indifferent to my presence, much to my relief. I quickly made my way over the style only to enter another field of bullocks who were similarly absorbed in their grass. 

This stone building turned out not to be as empty as it appeared to be on the outside. As I passed, a family of sheep came out to see who the visitor was. It seems these structures have tenants after all. 

Flying above me were birds that I can only guess were Canada geese, though if you have a better shot, do leave a comment. Actually, when it comes to shots, when I returned to the Allenheads Inn at the end of the walk, I met some of the men working on the grouse shoot who had just finished work. They told me about a Canadian marksman who had recently visited, whose shot was so bad, it was embarrassing. As the shoot is now extremely expensive, it has become a rich man's game, and not all rich men (and it mostly is men) have the time to balance making their money with practicing their shooting.

I stopped at number 10 on my map looking for the great limestone and found instead a sheep exploring the water's edge. The walk was, in fact, full of moments like this that didn't fit in with the brochure, but were nonetheless enjoyable as moments in themselves and which gave the tour is true flavour. This geotrail is one that gives you time to think in a quiet place where you will probably not see a single person.

The geotrail also highlights a number of chapels that the miners, many of them devout Methodists, used to use for worship. What puzzled me about this one, which is now a private home, is that it was built in 1900, after the mines had all closed. Poor timing. 

Wherever I walked water flowed or was gathered in bogs, streams, rivers and reservoirs.  Allenheads is water rich. I read in my geotrail leaflet that the area was close to the equator, some 300 million years ago, when "limy ooze, sand and mud in tropical seas and deltas hardened into the limestone, sandstone and shale." Allenheads today felt far from tropical, the nighttime temperature dropped to 6°C, and that is mid-August. It was however exciting to imagine the land constantly moving and changing, that the identity of the landscape itself is very much in flux.

As I made my way around this route I had, running in my mind, the memory of an amusing video I had seen earlier in the day. This video, The Life and Peculiar Times of Allen Heads, tells a cock and bull story about a mole catcher who lives in the area and is a fugitive from the police. It features still shots of a great many sites around the village, pulling them into its loopy narrative, which hovered or should I say burrowed, its way around this geotrail. When the credits rolled at the end I was not in the least surprised to see Allenheads Contemporary Arts played an instrumental role in its creation. This is not an average village lost in the countryside.

There was not much information contained in the brochure so, while it was themed around geology, I cannot say I learnt a great deal. The limited space for words is one side to this but it is also true that when walking one has a limited appetite for stopping and reading. A guide would be the most informative way to learn about the land but I did also start considering how more information could presented through other means without, for example, the walker getting sucked into their phone. Audio would probably be the best way to deliver information, but a continuous audio tour would be too long and inflexible, and the map and audio entry system is not perfect either, as it can be a distraction from the walk. I suspect that at some point in the not too distant future GPS cued audio will become widespread, but until then we'll just soldier on with these other formats. 

Returning into the village I spotted this poster warning of the dangers of grey squirrels. The  immigrant squirrel issue is very current here and considerable efforts are made by the likes of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust to preserve them by controlling the numbers of greys, i.e. killing them. The American squirrels arrived in 1876 and their subsequent vilification by no less than Prince Charles is interesting to observe in what it says about attitudes to nature. Specifically, it makes me ask if there is an idea of a golden age when the flora and fauna of the British Isles can be defined as native with everything arriving afterwards deemed foreign. If so, when would that point in time be? After tomatoes and potatoes arrived from America but before the grey squirrels came? If the point hinges more upon some species being desirable, or cute, while others are deemed 'invasive', like the infamous Japanese knotweed, what we are usually talking about is fighting an un-winnable battle against plants and animals that rather enjoy the conditions on this island. While I am not saying we should make no efforts to manage the land, I think we often overestimate our power to control nature. 

And that makes me wonder, how do things look if we view ourselves as an invasive species? If this video, showing the migration of man out of Africa, were accompanied not by a new-age corporate jingle, but instead by war cries and martial music it might suggest this  negative narrative quite convincingly. From an ecological point of view, it is probably fair to say we are a good deal more destructive that any squirrels or weeds. If we were able to be a bit more effective at controlling the harm we do to the rest of the globe that would be a fine thing, but then again, we are nature, neither the managers of it nor even, it seems, of ourselves.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Flaneur audio tour of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

Legacy was a word that was banded around endlessly about the Olympic Park and the 2012 games as a whole. The Olympics were, we were told, going to regenerate East London  through sport and through the creative businesses that would flock to the Lea Valley. Flaneur is an audio tour that was commissioned for the new Queen Elizabeth Park and I took it some three years after the games had finished, at a time when this legacy should already be manifest. How did the rhetoric match the reality?

To enter the park I had to first past through the belly of the beast; Westfield. I'm no fan of malls and this one is a true behemoth. I simply cast my eyes down and kept marching till I reached the other side where this billboard caught my eye. It's text is quite typical of the positive sounding claims made about the games and it's legacy which, when you stop to examine them, start to become vague and problematic. If 'over a third of all London artists [sic] studios are in east London' that would put the other two thirds in North, South and West London. That is not so startling a statistic really. This ad also seems to either claim that East London is a capital city, when it is just one part of a capital city, or else their point is that the arts community in East London is larger than any other capital city's. How this claim was arrived at I can only guess, and what's more, I rather suspect it is out of date. From what I see, artists are deserting London in their droves right now, forced out by unaffordable rents. Neighbouring Hackney Wick, which used to have a thriving gallery and studio scene, has been decimated by the arrival of the games. These sorts of vacuous billboards proliferate around the Olympic Park and were a good preparation for the audio tour that followed.

The starting point of this audio tour, which can be downloaded for free, is just beside the RUN sculpture. There seems to be a thing with the Olympics of using imperatives, ASPIRE and INSPIRE being the most overused and under-realised of them with sport participation in the UK plummeting post-Olympics. Inspire a generation my ass. But what of the art?

The walk is very short; it runs to a little only 20 minutes in length. Even though it was so brief, it did not however fly by quickly as it never really got into any real substance or develop into anything with a sense of purpose. Rather, it felt like it was more or less an extended advert for a property developer with an ambient soundtrack added. The music  sounded like it had been lifted from a 'Deep Forest' relaxation CD with a chello stuck on top to give it a more artsy sound and the narrator, while aspiring for a breathy sensual sound, never quite managed to completely shake off the harsh nasal tones of a station announcer informing you of a rail replacement bus service. Sound effects were added, such as birdsong, but there were in fact no birds in this part of the park, so this only masked the sterility of the area rather than contributing substantially to the audio tour.

The tour talked about homes for both humans and for animals. Here I should make it known that, as a result of the London games, I lost my home in 2012. I was made homeless by a housing association and social housing provider, Poplar Harca and Phoenix Housing, in order that they could settle homeless people in my flat and qualify for some Olympic grants. That is the level of insanity that was prevalent back then and which is whitewashed over in this work. The original Olympic bid said affordable homes would be an integral part of it but these homes failed to materialise. Indeed, Newham Council have been moving people out of the borough and even out of London entirely, redeveloping council estates and reducing the availability of affordable housing. To ignore all of this and simply celebrate the flogging off, on the cheap, of the athletes' village to the likes of the Qatari royal family, is either inexcusable ignorance or downright misrepresentation.    

The tour took us to the River Lea which was described as being massively improved as a result of the games. I know the area from before 2012 and I beg to differ. Yes it was a mess before; it was a toxic industrial dump that had been swallowed up by nature. You might stumble across an old fridge or an unusual, even rare plant, there was no telling what you'd find, it was a genuinely mysterious place. What's more, the river flowed just fine along the navigation channel along which boats still pass. The stretch of the river flowing through the Olympic Park was, and still is, decorative, not functional. What the narrator failed to say is that the changes brought about by 2012 have poisoned other parts of the river in order to create this showpiece. What's more, there was much talk on the audio tour of dramatically cleaning up the area, of 'repaying a debt', yet the cleaning process was only ever superficial as there was found to be too much noxious waste on the marsh. This waste included nuclear contamination from the old nuclear reactor on Marshgate Lane, and thorium dumped before controls were put on nuclear dumping at the start of the 60s. The contamination is still preset and the best the Olympic Delivery Agency could do was to put a thick plastic sheet down while the deeper problems were buried in the rush to make the site ready for the Summer of 2012. I recently heard about a debacle surrounding cycle bridges over the river, quite possibly those pictured above, which were built, moved, demolishing and rebuilt for completely contradictory reasons, according to a friend of mine who lives in the area. He told me he thought it was a case of the contractors ensuring they squeezed every last penny out of the budget. All this is, of course, great material for an audio tour and was, also, completely absent in Flaneur.

The commissioners were probably happy enough with this audio tour, after all it played to their vanity, but as a piece of art it is, quite frankly, dreadful. This is not unlike the other privatisation deal glossed over into a public improvement tour that I reviewed in Bath, but Flaneur does not even have the kitsch appeal or variety of voices that feature on the Bath Spa tour. The level of research here would appear to be no greater than the recycling of the Olympic Park's press releases. As such, this is bland PR dressed up as art which finishes, appropriately enough, with a single word imperative: ascend. Taking this tour is like reliving the doublespeak of 2012: aspire = work for free, inspire = give us more money and ascend = now go home.

Expanded Tourism in Tenerife

The five-day holiday/performance in Tenerife is now done and dusted and what an interesting time it was! Here it is in 12 images. 

We saw layer upon layer of people, history and culture piled up high in well-organised chaos. We saw beautiful contradictions and embarrassing scars.

We saw a tough core behind the beautiful appearance of this island. We saw plants growing wild that could blow your head in two.

We became attuned to the pervasive imagery of indigenous Canarians. We heard about the time before the Spanish arrived and conquered, we heard about the dream of regaining independence.

We teamed up with the young travel company Anaga Experience. We were their guinea pigs, their friends and their photographers. We got to see up close how a travel company in Tenerife operates in practice.

We walked up and down Santa Cruz de Tenerife; we tried getting lost, retracing our steps and rediscovering indistinguishable corners that seemed to take us to other cities: to Beirut to Xiamen, to somewhere always just around the corner.

We spent a day in Los Christianos, the surreal British resort where beers are just one euro  and the only news is Mr Murdoch's.

We explored what a beach and bar holiday really is: we bathed in the warm water, grilled ourselves on the beach, sat amongst lads from Sheffield taking their alcoholic breakfasts and we set the country, our country, to rights.

We drove up and down the island letting the men from the hills be our guides.

We made friends with local cats, were invited to take them home and look after them. They shared some of their secrets.

We created our own shared history, language and shorthand. McDonalds could take us to the church, to America, to Dostoyevsky or simply down to the black sand beaches.

We ascended a volcano by moonlight, saw the dawn break over the clouds, made performances  on lava flows, became dizzy through lack of oxygen and breathed sulphurous air on a deserted crater high in the sky.

And yes, we most definitely got some sun. Expanded Tourism 101 was a great way to understand more about the island and the forces that shape it. The question I now have is, where to go for Expanded Tourism 102? Suggestions very welcome! 

Friday, 7 August 2015

The El Teide Tour: an offering to the mighty volcano

El Teide is an active volcano in the South of Tenerife, a Spanish island off the West coast of Morocco. It has been over a hundred years since the last serious eruption, and in the meantime the island has become a major tourist destination. This tour, taking a small group of us to the summit, was organised by Anaga Experience and the trip took place in the height of Summer when the peak is clear of snow and the mountain generally considered less dangerous.

Our tour started at around 2AM with a lonely drive through the deserted streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to assemble our group. Blurry from lack of sleep we, that is Cao our guide, Andrew a participant in the 'expanded tourism' week, and I, tapped away to the music and watched the palm trees thin out to be replaced with dry bushes and cacti as we hit the highway and sped out of the city. We had spent the previous afternoon preparing for the trip, buying boots, food and torches, checking routes, regulations and sunrise times. We were pretty well prepared, or so we thought. 

The car cut along the highway to the South of the island and pulled up in an anonymous carpark. We picked up the forth member of our party, headed out into the night once more and drove up the winding approach roads to El Teide, continually climbing as we drew closer. We came to a halt in another anonymous car park where the cool mountain air signalled a change in altitude and climate. We were already over 2000 meters above sea level. We piled out and walked eagerly along the broad gently inclined path under the light of an almost full moon. This was easy.

As we continued, the path became more broken and on either side of it large shadowy forms loomed out of the darkness. One such was a huge boulder taller than me which we figured must have been fired out of El Teide during an eruption. It was moments like this that made me stop and realise we were not going up just another mountain but were ascending a colossal volcano. Another such moment was when the path took us over vast piles of black volcanic ash. Passing us in the opposite direction, from time to time, were groups descending. It was too dark to take a photo of them but I remember the troubled looks on their faces. There were at least two family groups on aborted missions with children cold and tired stumbling wearily behind dad. We passed into the shadow side of the mountain and had to use torches to guide our way. Sometimes the path was indistinct and other times I had to use my hands to help myself over rocks and to scramble up scree slopes. The way was becoming increasingly difficult. We finally reached the remote Refugio Altavista as the first light of dawn crept over the blanket of clouds. The refuge was locked but we saw a man inside who was able to use the coffee machine for us and hand much welcomed warm drinks through the window. 

The breaking light was spectacular but I was strangely indifferent to it. Of course it was great to look down over the island but as I was looking at it I was also thinking about how hard this ascent had been so far and what was waiting for us still higher up. We should really have stopped here a while, had breakfast and gotten a little acclimatised to the thin air but we were on a tight schedule. We had given ourselves less than five hours, much of which was in darkness, to complete a route which should, in normal conditions, take five and a half hours. After no more than ten minutes, we hit the trail once more.

A few days earlier we had paid an 'Expanded Tourism' visit to the resort Los Christianos, which was nothing short of surreal. It is a beach resort favoured by the British where English breakfasts abandon and lads from Sheffield covered in tattoos down cider and blacks at 10AM to get the day started in the way it's destined to continue. The place funnels you from bar to beach and back to bar with an uncanny efficiency and, after squandering a day there, I finally started to understand what a conventional Tenerife package holiday looks like. I found it hard to reconcile the fact that if I looked up from my one euro beer I could see an incredible landscape looming above the holiday apartments and yet the tourists around me seemed perfectly content to remain in this little Britain with year round sun and not for a moment seriously consider stepping outside the bubble. This gave me the idea of making some sort of performance on the way up El Teide.  

There came a point where the conversation died down altogether, the head dropped and the body just kept on marching relentlessly on. The walk was increasingly taking its toll on us and we all later said there were many moments when the mind wanted to walk in one direction but the body just kept moving in another. These dizzy moments are one thing standing up from a chair a little too quickly but on a mountain path, with treacherous drops to the side, they are something altogether more scary. The air was becoming noticeably thin and after each 20 second surge of energy would come a short pause to regain the breath. During one such stop the camera came out: I wear a lunatic grin while one of my companions wears a ragged gaze and the other drifts momentarily into sleep. 

At this point in the walk we had all had to confront the very real possibility that we might not make it to the top. With these moments of doubt came questions about the whole endeavour, such as, "why am I even doing this?" This, in retrospect, is excellent and helped make what was a simple physical trek into something with a deeper psychological and even spiritual dimension. Theme parks like Euro Disney or World Park just doesn't go there, they remain fun, or ironic, distractions. El Teide, however, demanded body and soul to do some real work.  

The actual experience of taking this walk was visually not so much like these images. I spent much more of my time continually scanning the ground one meter in front of me than I did looking out over the gradually expanding horizons. As I was often at the front, however, I had a chance, now and then, to stop and look up at this otherworldly landscape. The ridge of mountains in the background, I learnt, was the edge of the old crater. When I stopped to imagine how large this would make the old crater it was just staggering and impossible to fully take on board. 

I had to make my performance stops brief as we were walking against the clock and besides, it was not so easy to hold it together and make a performance, while at the same time making this ascent. I settled into a holy tourist routine inspired by a conversation I had had about holy theatre over beans and egg in Los Christianos the other day. This basically turned into making an offering to the mountain. I had heard that such practices existed in the past and goats had regularly been given to the volcano, which was sometimes regarded as a god. My offering was something more valuable to the British tourist, namely beer, which I poured onto the ground in circles around me. 

The summit is at 3718 meters, the final 100 meters of which are the most difficult: it was steeper than most other parts, we were tired and the heart was beating quickly after each effort to push even ten steps higher. Having the goal in sight up ahead of me, however, made it clear what had to be done, so, it was a matter of swinging my long legs and hauling myself up there. We assembled on the rocks and ended up looking like something from a bad movie.

Up on the windy summit the air was not only at its thinnest, it was also supplemented with thick sulphur smelling gases that I could see literally rising up from the ground below me. This activity made it clear to me that although volcano might be sleeping it will surely reawaken some time in the future. Up here, the footpath and entire mountain itself seemed to disappear, the only rocks visible were stained yellow and brown from the earth's guttural burping. I picked my way over them to get a view over the island but was too giddy to really take anything in.

More easy to understand was the simple fact that we made it. We took an obligatory photo to prove it so.

I was expecting there to be other people at the summit but it turned out to be just us. I had read that the crater was a very sensitive site so I did not pour beer down the old girl's neck but instead saved the last one for myself. I have come to regard the performance as a kind of inverted Nietzsche routine: Thus Sprach Trevor. I did not tell El Teide about football transfer deals or celebrity sleaze stories, I simply had a quiet beer, which was quite enough. Given the effort of the walk, my actions had to be quiet, quick and help spur me on. As with the Allenheads Fell walk of last year, a beer at the end does just that!

As the morning took hold, the crowds started to trickle up via the cable car and their entrance was the cue for our exit. I thought walking down would have been a good idea but that was just the adrenaline speaking and fortunately the rest of the group saw better sense. Once I had stopped for a minute I realised I too was really tired and the cable car was a magnificent way to glide back down. Indeed, I was so tired and in a hurry to descend that I took no pictures while descending but listened instead to the tourists who had already been up, seen it, done it and were now heading back to Los Christianos in time for lunch. A few minutes later, spat out onto a warm car park, we waited for the car that would next take us to the surrounding national park. The landscape here was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Blue and orange rocks arranged in patters that got me imaging this wilderness as the devil's playground.

 And here is a view of El Teide itself. 

And it was underneath it where we made another group photo. Compared to the previous one when we were balanced on the summit looking somewhat dishevelled, we look a good deal more relaxed here. By this time we had already started to talk about the walk and turn episodes of it into stories. It is astonishing how quickly that happens. We were here performing for the camera, a phone on a selfie stick, and our role was clear: the heroes returned from the mountain expedition, playing it cool.