Friday, 29 March 2013


'Why is there always an abandoned TV in the rubble? They are so ubiquitous in life that their bodies in death litter our wastelands and edgelands. And why does a TV's blank face resonate so much with us? Is this our image of oblivion? Now a TV should never be blank. There is no excuse. Gone are the days when - if you sat up beyond midnight - the credits would roll, anthems were played, and the stations were replaced by shash. No-one sees shash now, but it was naked television. Shash was the term for those black-and-burst patterns that danced across the screen when there was nothing being broadcast. You could turn the lights off, and watch this electric snow dance across the room.'

Edgelands - Journeys into England's True Wilderness
Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts


It's forty minutes since the alarm went off.

I pull up by the gates and climb out the van. An anonymous business estate on the edge of a struggling market town on the edge of the Wolds.

I open the heavy padlock, spotlighted by headlamps, an extra on a shabby stage that's seen better days.

I pull back the gates, get back in the van and drive to the shutter doors.

I open the doors, turn on the factory's lights, turn on the industrial gas heaters and head for the office.

I dump my bag by the photocopier and press the light switch by the front door.

I grab a chair, position it under the flickering flourescent tube, stand on it and fiddle with the tube's starter until the flickering stops and the small room becomes white.

I turn on the monitor, boot up the computer and start a scan.

I listen for left messages on the telephone's answering machine whilst flicking through any faxes sent since last night's clocking off.

I do these things each and every workday.

And then I run...

It's a cold, dull morning, no longer dark enough for a head-torch. The sky is dirty and silver. There's drizzle in the air.

I jog away from the shutter doors into a monochrome dawn - a fuzzy black and white picture from a 70's television set.

The printing lads are coughing over a last cigarette before their shift starts at six. They sit beside each other in a beat-up Subaru, engine running, keeping warm, not quite ready to face the day.

I raise my hand as I pass, heading out onto the estate road and towards the footpath by the electrical contractors. A sleeping halogen eye opens as I pass the main building, marking me out as a potential intruder, up to no good, someone who should be anywhere except there.

A sagging green-mesh fence separates the muddy puddles of this track and the building equipment,  racks of supplies and the treasures hidden in shipping containers on the other side.

Eventually, edgeland's business gives way to the end of days. The Spilsby cemetary sits, sombre, dignified and out of place in the midst of start-up enterprise, failed ventures,  piles of pallets, Sid Dennis skips and Veolia wheelie-bins.

The brick wall that collapsed before Christmas has been replaced with a hawthorn hedgerow, tiny saplings, white plastic tubes.

As I pass I think of loss, of second chances and of one of the young lads I work with who I've seen ocassionally, later in the day, standing by his father's grave.

His mum likes to pop into the factory now and again.

'How's he doing, Chris?' she'll say.

'He's doing great,' I'll tell her. 'He works really hard. He's a smashing lad.'

'I tell him to keep buggering in,' she'll say.

'Well, he does that,' I'll tell her.

'He likes it here,' she'll say. 'And he's not got far to go and see his dad.'

I never know what to say then.

In five minutes, I'm out of town. The morning picture's gained extra definition. The sun's still to rise and colour the screen. I move through the landscape of charcoal shades, listening to the birdsong, my footfall and the silence.

Helena knocks at the window as I run up the lane by Shelley's house. I smile and wave back. I pass the couple I see most mornings, whatever the time of year, whatever the weather, and we exchange simple greetings.

After fifty minutes, I arrive - a runner - back at the yard. And it's there that things will change.

Back in the office, nursing a mug of coffee, I spend ten minutes on the computer. A Facebook friend I've never met has posted a photograph with a message of cloyingly sentimental positivity. Underneath it says, 'Share if you've lost someone to cancer.'

I finish my drink and take a shower. The water's hot. I stand under it for a while as it tries to wash my run away.

Changing into work clothes, I prepare and eat my breakfast whilst scrolling through news headlines.

Then it's almost 8. I stand and feel a part of me slip away.

The runner leaves, through a dream, through the yard and to the fields beyond. Someone different is left behind. Someone indifferent, more downbeat, not quite whole.

I close the door and enter a new work day.


...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...orders picked and packed...a breakdown and an impromptu repair...the static...Tammy arrives...'You alright Chris? You look stressed.'

...customers with unreasonable demands...'The cheque's in the post'...'I sent a cheque. It must have got lost'...'I never received an invoice'...lies...lies...big whie lies.

...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...cartons sealed and stashed...the static...a breaking coffee cup...a call from a haulier over-apologising that the promised delivery won't now arrive until tomorrow.

...'You having a break Chris? What's up with you?'

...ten minutes on the internet over a lunchtime snack...headlines...the static...the world we live in...the shit we take from people who should know better but choose not to...politicians talking systems falling apart...the static...wild dogs killing dead-end kids...Facebook friends I've never met posting the same old phoney pictures with the same old words of inspirational motivational utter crap.

...a ringing telephone...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the hydraulic kiss of a hot wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...the static...unannounced visits from market chancers...'Can you lose the VAT?'...'Discount for cash?'...'Bloody hell, I can get them cheaper down the road!'

...unloading articulated trucks...the static...overheating empty bottle of gas...cold callers cold-calling with opportunities 'too good to miss'...the static...a man in a white van with a half-price mattress he's got left over from a non-existent show...'It's yours for only...'

...a ringing phone...the static...the monotonous swish of a plastic blade across a printing screen...the static...the rumble of a heat-tunnel...the static...the rattle of a chain-driven belt...the static...the hydraulic kiss of a hot-wire sealing shrink-wrap.

...the static

...the static

...the static...


At 5.30, I leave the factory, lock the gates to the yard and drive round to the carpark adjoining the Boston road. Pulling up, I sit in darkness.

The windscreen carries an image I'm familiar with. Chaotic white dots, black background. Interference. Static. Shash. A visual reflection of the way I feel most workdays at this time. A manifestation of a state of mind that's too busy, too blurred, too hectic to produce anything except a futile question - 'Why am I doing this?'

Naked television. Black-and-burst patterns explode across the screen. Nothing being broadcast. With the lights off, I watch this electric snow-dance.

I wait for stillness to arrive. But it doesn't. I stare at the screen with a beat detachment. I need a run to make things right.

A silver sports car turns into the carpark and I raise my hand in acknowledgement. It pulls up next to me and Shelley gets out. Whilst the majority of my running is done alone - I like it that way - this is Wednesday, and on Wednesday I run with my mate.

We chat a little. Shelley does a few half-hearted stretches and we jog off towards the rolling hills that surround Spilsby. Already I'm feeling better.

We've only run a few hundred yards when I know the runner's approaching. I don't see him, but I know he's there. Since he left me this morning, I've gone through the same workday routine while he's explored new paths, forgotten churches, country lanes. His pace increases. He joins me. He becomes me. I'm him. I'm alive again.

The shash disappears. I leave the day behind and, once more, I'm in the heartbeat of a run. Words come as naturally as each footfall. We share stories as red blood cells absorb oxygen and laughter.

An hour later, we're back at the carpark. We talk of impossibly fast times we ran in local races 20 years ago, of how mediocre England's football team is, of how next year will be Liverpool's year.

After a while, Shelley gets off. I close the van door, look through the windscreen, and only then do I appreciate the colour of the world around me.

Under the strip-lights of the Spar across the road, two primary school girls spark up cigarettes under hoods that hide their faces.

A middle-aged woman in a Barbour coat, pyjama bottoms and Ugg boots leaves the shop, pushing the door open with her shoulder, her hands clutching a bottle of wine and a cheap carrier bag full of beers.

A metallic purple Corsa cruises past, bass thumping, blue LED's illuminating the tarmac beneath.

I start the van, drive towards the entrance and stop for a moment where the pavement crosses. I wait while a skinny man in a fake-leather jacket and a baseball cap passes in front of me. He's pushing a wheelbarrow. In the wheel barrow is a large old-fashioned television. I watch as he heads towards the wasteland and a free final resting place. An electrical cable drags on the floor behind him. A broken plug taps out a tune I can't hear.

I watch till he's round the corner. Out of sight. Then I turn up the music on the radio and start the drive home.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

When Their Light Goes Out

I wish I knew the words to tell them.
To tell Mummy and Daddy what goes on in here - my room, Archie's room - when their light goes out.

But I'm only two. And I haven't learnt the words yet.

So, I stand in the dark at the child gate which blocks my door.
And when things get too bad, I cry and shout for Mummy and Daddy.
I shout for them to come and get me, hold me, make me safe, before it's too late.

I used to think that the toys were my friends. But that was before I knew that the walls had eyes.
That ghosts lived in the curtains.
And before I knew, once Mummy and Daddy go to bed, what the toys do when their light goes out.

Mummy and Daddy think it's a joke.
Daddy says, 'Do you want to go to bed, Archie?' and then laughs when I shout, 'No!'
Mummy says, 'You're tired, Archie. Stop fighting it darling - go to sleep.'
But I have to fight. Stop my eyes from closing. Try to stay awake.
Because, later, when I wake with a shudder in my own bed, I know what happens in my room, when Mummy and Daddy go to bed, when their light goes out.

So I stand at the child gate.
And it's nearly too late.

And I cry and shout for Mummy and Daddy.
And it's nearly too late.

And I hope for the day when I'm three and I know all the words I need to explain.

And then it's too late.

I feel their breath on my neck.
I feel their paws, hands and hooves pinching and kicking.
I turn round and I see that they know what I'm thinking.

And together, they laugh.

Then whisper, as one:

'But if you knew the words Archie, do you really think Mummy and Daddy would believe you?'

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Story of The Little Chef and The Invisible Architect

You wouldn't expect to find one of the country's most stunning man-made structures beside a busy interchange of the A1, but, I guess, you often find beauty in the strangest of places.

Several years ago, I'd drive past it every weekend on my way to and from the area's largest Sunday market. At the time, the sight always captivated me. I always resolved to find out more, but never got round to it.

More recently, frequent trips to the Peak District have involved travelling once again on the road past it.

A couple of weeks ago, on our return from the High Peak Marathon, I pointed it out to Tammy as we travelled between Worksop and Lincoln.

'See that there. It's beautiful isn't it?' I said.

No reply.

'A Modernist masterpiece.'

No reply.

'Built by the same man who designed the Sydney Opera House.' (Of course, it wasn't. But it was a story I'd heard told about it sometime back, and I wanted to provoke some sort of reaction.)


In spite of Tam's obvious underwhelment, I promised myself that I'd look deeper.

Look deeper I did. And what I found was a tale of a man of his time, ahead of his time, out of time. What I found was an unrecognised genius who transformed Lincolnshire's skyline, pushed forward Modernist design, but who was almost totally unknown. What I found was mystery, invisibility, and a  lightning strike of brilliance.

There's a great deal of praise heaped upon the iconic TWA Flight Centre, located at New York's JFK airport. The following give you just a glimpse:

"One of the most self-assured, self-confident— even self-conscious—buildings to emerge as a result of the interplay of the architectonic and engineer-inspired buildings was Saarinen's TWA Terminal Buildings at New York. It alarmed the remaining purists of modern architecture. Its bird-like symbolism, exciting forms and cavernous interior were not simply a casual reminder of the changes that had taken place in architectural thinking in the 1950s, but a demonstration of the architect's role as an originator and, in the American scene, as a 'building stylist'...Clearly it represented a revival of architectural Expressionism..." — Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. p245.

  "This is surely one of the world's most dramatic airline terminals. Few straight lines here: approached head on, its curving contours uncannily suggest a bird in flight. Inside, the main lobby's soaring, swooping walls, its carefully modeled staircases, seating areas, and many other features are a blend of graceful sculptural forms selected 'to suggest the excitement of the trip.' — Sylvia Hart Wright. Sourcebook of Contemporary North American Architecture: From Postwar to Postmodern. p117

Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, this was not his only work to receive international critical acclaim. Known particularly for his expressionism and his technical marvel in concrete shells, many of his other designs are equally as stunning as the TWA Flight Centre:

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Kresge Auditorium, M.I.T. campus

Ingalls Rink, New Haven

Saarinen's reputation grew to such a level in the architectural world that he served on the jury for the proposed Sydney Opera House project and was crucial in the selection of the now internationally-known design by Jorn Utzon. A previous jury which did not include Saarinen had discarded Utzon's design in the first round. However, Saarinen reviewed the discarded designs, recognised a quality in Utzon's design that, apparently, had eluded the rest of the jury and ultimately assured the commission of Utzon.

At the same time as the TWA structure was being constructed, Britain's own version was being built too. Whilst not as big or dramatic as the TWA Flight Centre, its design was just as beautiful - an impossible Modernist spark that, far from detracting from its rural surrounds, actively enhanced them. It arrived - a slice of the future - in 1961, beside the A1 at Markham Moor, when a new filling station opened for business.

Designed by Sam Scorer, working alongside structural engineer Dr Hajnal Konji, the Markham Moor filling station looked like nothing that had proceeded it. Whilst most petrol stations of the time consisted of a couple of pumps outside a wooden shed, this was, to coin a phrase of the '60s, 'far out.'

Its design consisted of a concrete roof, in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid, supported on four stanchions. In the only widely-available photograph of the filling station in use at the time, the image that greets you is a temporal clash of outrageous proportions - the present, represented by the old fashioned motorcars, contrasting with the future, vividly portrayed by the sleek contours of Scorer's 'hypar'.

The structure continued in use until the filling station closed in 1989. At that point, the then-flourishing roadside chain, Little Chef, built a restaurant under the roof.

In 2004, plans to improve the road junction at Markham Moor meant that the Little Chef and Scorer's roof were threatened with demolition by the Highways Agency. These suggestions provoked outrage. Whether you loved the building or hated it, it appears it had become a part of the landscape that most people cherished. After a fierce campaign, the plans were revised and the building escaped the wrecking ball.

In March 2012, the building was listed by English Heritage at Grade 2, with the then-Arts Minister describing Sam Scorer as 'a pioneer in the use of this type of roof construction and a figure of national significance.' The listing makes it clear that the paraboloid roof is the only thing of interest here, the restaurant underneath it being of no architectural merit whatsoever. It notes that:

'The canopy and four structural supports remain intact and uncompromised by the inserted building underneath. The restaurant building does not have special interest and is excluded from the listing. The interior of the restaurant building has standard late C20 fittings, typical of those found at motorway service stations, and is not of special interest.'

The Little Chef restaurant closed in the summer of 2012 and the building now stands devoid of use, just as the TWA Flight Centre does. However, whilst the Flight Centre is being lovingly restored at the cost of many millions, no-one seems sure what is going to happen to the Markham Moor filling station. Abandoned, it is looking increasingly shabby.

It's a great shame, but its fate seems to mirror that of its designer. For Sam Scorer, one of Britain's greatest provincial architects has also been largely ignored. Whilst comparable architects received national and international recognition, Scorer remained invisible, largely unheard of outside Lincolnshire - a shadow man who left behind a legacy of brilliance and idiosyncracy through pioneering designs.

Hugo Segar 'Sam' Scorer was born on 2nd March 1923. He was brought up in Lincoln, the youngest of five children. The Scorer family had once been important in Lincoln. (There is a 'Scorer Street' on Sincil Bank - a name I always assumed was the product of its proximity to the Lincoln City Football Club ground, but now know was named after previous generations of the Scorer family.) Sam's father was a clerk to Lindsey County Council, whilst his mother was a lecturer at the Bishop Grosseteste teacher-training college.

After becoming head-boy at Repton School in South Derbyshire and reading Mechanical Sciences at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, Scorer volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm to train as a fighter pilot. Whilst training, he met his wife and six weeks later they married. He served as a pilot until 1945, when he was invalided out of service after an accident.

Having decided to become an architect, he entered the Architectural Association School of  Architecture in the second year in 1946 and graduated in 1949. It was then that he changed his name by deed poll to 'Sam'.

After graduating, Scorer worked for a year as assistant to George Grey Woornum, who later won the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. A year later - 1951 - he was invited to work with Denis Clarke Hall. Clarke Hall regarded Scorer as a gifted designer, and just three years after employing him, he opened an office with Scorer in Lincoln and invited him to become his partner.

After the opening of the office, Scorer was promptly approached by the Freemasons. Should he join the brotherhood, he would never be short of work. Scorer declined, stating that if this was the only way he could secure work, he would rather not be an architect at all.

At first, Denis Clarke Hall, Scorer and Bright and Partners did a lot of work for county councils, designing two schools - William Farr School at Welton, and Riddings Comprehensive School in Scunthorpe. However, it wasn't long before Scorer hooked up with structural engineer, Hajnal Konji, A Hungarian refugee who had a particular interest in concrete shells, particularly hyperbolic paraboloids. Working together between 1954 and 1963, Scorer designed the buildings that have since been recognised as of national importance and special interest:

- the Markham Moor petrol station;

- the garage and car showroom on the Brayford Pool (now home to a number of restaurants);

- the St. John the Baptist Church on the Ermine estate.

All of these buildings have listed status, which guarantees that demolition, extension or alteration cannot take place without special permission from the local planning authority. Of the estimated 374,081 listed buildings in England, the total number of post-war listed buildings is approximately 0.2% Of this tiny number, three are Scorer's designs.

When the new garage for the Lincolnshire Motor Company showrooms was being built in 1959, it caused a sensation. This was the largest hyperbolic paraboloid to have been built in the UK. During its construction, the local newspaper - The Lincolnshire Echo - received a number of phone calls from passers-by alerting them that the roof had subsided in the middle and was about to collapse.

A spectacular achievement, the building consists of four hyperbolic paraboloid shells separated by a rooflight running the entire length of the building. An in-depth report, published in Concrete Quarterly (1960, vol.44, p.11-12) can be found here.

Still much admired locally, the St. John the Baptist church, located on a large housing estate, was commissioned by Father John Hodgkinson. After completion it was named as 'The Church of Tomorrow', and, according to the Telegraph, is one of the '100 most loved churches in the UK'. Not everyone at the time of its developement shared the same view however.

A letter, published in The Architect and Building News in 1963, refers to the church:

I am sure that the design of this church will shock most ordinary people. Did the architect have his inspiration on a wet Monday after an acute attack of indigestion? But perhaps having seen TV pictures of hurricane damage in America, he seized his set-squares and compasses and exclaimed Archimedes-like, 'I've got it.' In short, is this architect cocking a snook at traditional architecture and intentionally initiating the new 'typhoon' period at the expense of his Lincoln victims?

After these three stunning successes, Scorer and Konji were appointed for a project for what was billed as 'one of the most modern and progressive theatres in Europe'. To be situated in Lincoln, Scorer drew up proposals for an auditorium to seat 450 people, in addition to a separate 200-seat auditorium for use as a film theatre.

In May 1972, with the backing of Lincoln Corporation, Lindsey County Council and Kesteven County Council, and with 75% of the necessary funds secured, it looked certain that the project would go ahead. However, 1973 was to prove a low point in Scorer's life. Britain plunged into recession, there were big changes in local government after the by-election of 1973, and the City Council pulled its support of the venture. It was rejected entirely. What would have been the largest and most prestigious scheme in Scorer's career was lost. Later in the same year, Hajnal Konji died and Clarke Hall retired. Almost, but not quite, a broken man, Scorer stayed in Lincoln and took over the practice.

Although never replicating the heights of his 1960's achievements, Scorer worked indefatigably for the rest of his life. His archive houses a collosal 800 designs. From the 1970's, his projects became increasingly idiosyncratic, but full of imagination and historical illusions. Two, in particular, are more than worthy of mention.

Standing next to the seaside resort's famous miniature railway, The Southern Outfall Pumping Station in Cleethorpes was completed in 1987. Designed as a temple to Amon, the god of ammonia - a by-product of the decomposition of the pumping station content, this utility shed is a building of both great eccentricity and suprising beauty.

A familiar landmark on the bypass on the edge of Lincoln is another Scorer building - Damon's Restaurant. Designed in 1987-88, this is a circular building with an unusual feature in the middle of its roof. In fact, the wooden crown signifies the BBQ ribs that are served in the American-style restaurant. Inside the venue, walls are covered with film posters, smoky mirrors and artificial plants to create a glitzy, Hollywood themed interior. Those most inquisitive diners might also notice a photograph of an unfamiliar face. On the wall is a framed picture of Sam Scorer, keeping an eye on proceedings.

In his later life, Scorer founded and funded The Gallery, now The Sam Scorer Gallery on Drury Road, Lincoln.

He died, aged 80, on March 26th 2003. The funeral ceremony took place in the local crematorium. Sam lay in the coffin he'd designed, decorated with flowers from his garden. An acoustic jazz quartet played to the packed chapel. After the ceremony ended, the attendees were asked to go to Damon's Restaurant to enjoy a meal.

They say that each long journey starts with a single step. All journeys have a start point and a destination. Whilst you're certain of that start point when you make that first step, the most rewarding journeys often reach a destination other than the one you originally intended. This was one such journey.

What started as an idle enquiry over a beautiful, but discarded, building by a busy road, took me into the life of a brilliant, but puzzling, designer. What started as a question about a concrete roof ended up as The Story of The Little Chef and The Invisible Architect.

It's both foolish and dangerous to look into the life and work of an individual and postulate about what went on inside his head. I didn't know Scorer, don't know anyone who did know him - indeed, I don't know anyone who even knows of him. So, how can I presume to know or understand the feelings, the drive, the raison d'etre by which he lived his life. Of course, I can't. But I can imagine. After all, sometimes it's good to be foolish and dangerous.

There's question marks that hang around Mr Scorer.

The first is based around the invisibility of our man. The 1996 Proceedings of the Institute of Structural Engineers was an issue dedicated to the history of concrete shells, and contained an in-depth analysis of hyperbolic paraboloids. It's surprising then, that since no other architect built so many of them, Scorer doesn't receive a single mention.

Similarly, the only information catalogued in the Lincoln City Archives under the name of Scorer is a letter of complaint about the architect's behaviuor, dated 1997, at a meeting regarding Manton Parish Church. Data on Sam Scorer is virtually non-existent.

It seems that, although Scorer had every chance to become internationally famous, he never chose to profit from it, deciding instead on obscurity rather than celebrity.

Perhaps his invisibity was a conscious choice? Certainly, it seems that he chose not to write. Whilst his contemporaries were known as much for celebrating and explaining their own works, as much for their lectures on buildings as the buildings themselves, Sam Scorer chose to do no such thing. He left behind a vast archive of work, but little, if any, writing about his work. He refused to use his relationship with the Concrete and Cement Association, his practice in Lincoln, his position as president of the Nottingham, Derby and Lincoln Society of Architects or the Architect East Midlands magazine he was responsible for as tools for self-promotion. It seems that Scorer just did not care about publicity or what someone might think about him or his work during his lifetime.

Secondly, a look into the life of Sam Scorer would not be complete without an examination of the matter of location. Scorer was born in Lincoln. He worked in the same city for all of his adult life. His architectural projects, including his three magnificent listed buildings, were all based in Lincolnshire, the majority of them all within a few miles of Lincoln city centre. The art gallery Scorer founded was in Lincoln, and he died, just days after his 80th birthday in Lincoln. It's evident, to me at least, that Scorer had a strong sense of place. He belonged to this place. He loved it dearly. Lincoln was his home.

As I grow older, I increasingly feel the ties to the place I call home. And, in looking into the life of Sam Scorer, it is, perhaps, this matter that impresses me most about this secret of a man. He spurned opportunities to move to London, preferring the honesty of being a provincial architect. He stayed true to his roots. Perhaps this is the main reason why this great man remains unknown? If it is, then it's a fine one - a decision I can't help but admire.

A final mystery revolves around the apparent contradictions in Scorer's architectural beliefs. Whilst he worked almost exclusively on Modernist buildings, he was also a member of the Victorian Society. He served as the first chairman of the East Midlands Group of this Society, and is remembered  for his enthusiasm and knowledge. He worked on the conservation of Lincoln Cathedral and protested against the demolition of the Royal Insurance building on Silver Street.

In Scorer's hey-day, Victorian architecture was as unfashionable as it got. Victorian buildings were being demolished to be replaced by the stark concrete blocks of Modernism. No hero of Modernism was ever interested in the past. Except one.

Who knows why this particular Modernist was so passionate about what had been before? And maybe the answer is less important than the reminder it serves us with. A reminder of the myriad of facets of each human being, and the duty to follow what is truely felt, regardless of whether the course of action taken fits with the label you've been given, or the label you might have given yourself.

It is fitting that Sam Scorer's archive is stored in a redundant church - St. Benedict's - in the tiny Wolds village of Wood Enderby. He bought the building in 1976, when its demolition was being proposed. He encouraged his friends to buy other redundant churches, but it's unlikely that any of them did.

Inside the church, there is documentation for over 800 architectural jobs, all ordered and clearly numbered. The projects are packed in dusty tubes, and it seems possible that no-one has opened them since they were put aside after the projects were completed.

No-one visits the church anymore. The building and its contents are owned now by his son, who still holds the opinion of his father as one of the most important architects of post-war Britain.

                    *                   *                    *                    *                    *                     *

Information on Sam Scorer is difficult to come by. In telling this story I am hugely indebted to Karolina Szynalska's paper, 'Sam Scorer - A lesser known architect of the twentieth century'.
It is a very fine piece of writing and well worth a read.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The High Peak Marathon

The race description on The High Peak Marathon website said it all for me:

'The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile night-time navigation endurance challenge for teams of 4. The route traverses the Derwent Watershed, starting and finishing at Edale Village Hall, Derbyshire. The event is independently organised and run by members of the University of Sheffield High Peak Club, past and present.

The High Peak Marathon can test a competitor's fitness, endurance and navigational skills to their limit. The route is at least 40 miles long and, for much of its distance, the terrain is pathless peat bog. The dark, lack of sleep and winter weather add to the challenge. It has snowed in 4 of the last 10 events. All entrants should therefore be certain that they have the fitness and mountain experience necessary to make a safe passage.'

In an age where long distance racing is being hijacked by companies shamelessly plugging their own events for profit; where every race over 26 miles is seemingly billed as 'THE TOUGHEST RACE IN THE UK!'; where race organisers highlight the post-event goodie bag as much as the quality of the route; where entry fees can cost you almost as much as a Premier League football ticket - it's refreshing to find an event like the HPM. It's understated. It's run over a classic route in one of England's most beautiful areas. It's intimidating in terms of the fitness and skills needed to successfully complete it, yet doesn't need to stoop to hysterical marketing claims. In short, it's one of THE great mountain challenges.

Dave Swift had dropped it into a conversation in the Lakes during last summer.

'Fancy doing the High Peak Marathon, Chris?' he'd said, 'I could get a team together.'

'Love to,' I'd replied.

'Actually, I've something to tell you,' he'd gone on to confess, 'I put your name down in our team for last year's race, but we didn't get a place. Must have plain forgot to tell you.'

Good old Dave. I'd had to laugh.

Fast forward to November and Dave let me know he'd entered a team again. It's notoriously hard to secure a place in the HPM - the entry procedure changed a few years ago from 1st come/1st served to a new system where all entries have to be made during November, after which successful teams are selected by a system too complicated to go into here. To be honest, I held little hope of getting a place. However, good news arrived, via e-mail, just before Christmas. We were in.

Dave's not one for doing things in half-measures. By the time I managed to get up to the Peak District at the end of January to run over some of the route with him, he'd already been up countless times to recce parts of the route. As we'd spent the next month familiarising ourselves with the course, including a long night-time run to replicate the actual race conditions, I'd comforted myself with the thought that there were four of us in this together. The tough and unforgiving terrain of the Bleaklow area was amongst the most difficult I'd ever run in. The thought of being there at night, in winter, alone, was too much to take. There was a definite safety blanket in numbers.

But, as well as advantages, there were also disadvantages to competing in a team. All of these preyed on my mind at sometime before the event. Any foreseeable mishap would be multiplied by four. Falling, suffering an injury, hitting a bad spell - all of these and loads more would be four times more likely. And then there was one other thing. What if things went badly and I let everyone else down?

The night of Friday 2nd March approached with excitement, doubts and question marks.

It's 10.30 pm, Friday 2nd March, in Edale Village Hall. The small building is crammed full of runners and student helpers. A line of bodies wait at a table in one corner, waiting to register for the race. In another corner, teams are emptying out their sacks in front of a team of officials who check off items on a ticklist as part of the rigorous kit check. If ever anyone is inclined to under-estimate the challenge that awaits, the inclusion on the compulsory kit list of a sleeping bag and an emergency 4-man tent or shelter brings home the realisation that this is serious stuff.

By the canteen, providing free hot drinks, sandwiches and flapjacks, stand The Rainbow Warriers (we were supposed to be The Rainbow Worriers, but Dave's 'o's must look like 'a's), waiting for our start-time of 23.33. As far as conversations go, this one is either extremely tongue-in-cheek, or pretty worrying:

Dave: 'I've taken this week off. The pain in my groin and stomach's been getting worse for a while,
but I think the rest might have done it some good.'

Chris A: 'I'm a bit worried about this ankle ligament of mine. It's not really bad though - only hurts when I take a step. Just hope I don't go over on it too much. How's the rib, Ronnie?'

Ronnie: 'Dislocated it falling off a bloody ladder. It's not great, but it only hurts when I breathe. The doctor said no running, but as long as I don't tell him, I should be right.'

Dave: 'Best not breathe too much Ronnie. Try taking a really big one before we set off. What about you, Chris? What's your excuse?'

I have to think for a while. 'Everything seems to be ok at the minute,' I tell them, 'Mind you, hope the pacemaker keeps going.'

We all go quiet for a bit. All thinking the same thought. What the hell are we doing here?

At 23.33, our name gets called, we dib at the start table, leave through the side door and head into the night. The climb up to Hollins  Cross is done at a ferocious pace. In the HPM, the 50 teams are allocated a start-time, all at one minute intervals, according to predicted finishing times. The first team leaves at 11.00, and the last at 11.50. This leads to a mad scenario in the early miles. You're eager to both catch the teams in front and avoid being caught by the faster teams behind. For us, and for many of the teams around us, I fear, this means going off far too fast.

By the time we're 4 miles in, I'm shedding layers and holding on. Ronnie's out of sight in front, and the rest of us are cursing him under our breath, and, occasionally, over it.

We're at Lose Hill and Win Hill in no time. A short road section towards the traverse of High Neb follows, and although one of us keeps mentioning that our pace is too fast, our actions ignore our own advice and the pace, if anything, picks up further still. Although things seem to be going well for me personally, I'm glad of a short rest at the Moscar food stop. We've done brilliantly so far. However, I'm cautious that we've almost certainly over-reached ourselves, and I know that the next section of the route - a gruelling 19 mile slog over featureless peat bog - will be the crux of this journey.

On the way from Moscar to Cutthroat Bridge, there's a quietness between us. Ronnie keeps disappearing into the distance and it appears that Dave is struggling with his groin and a dodgy stomach. We climb the heathery slope towards the Wheel Stones in a strung-out line, saying little, passing teams and getting passed. Then, at the Derwent Moor checkpoint, something happens that changes the race for us.

After dibbing, three of us walk off while Dave takes off his sack to grab some foodand put on more clothes. A few moments later, he's still not appeared. Chris calls over, 'You alright Dave?' And the answer comes back, 'No!'

When we go over, Dave tears us off a strip. Now Dave's a good friend and I've spent lots of long days in the hills with him, but I've never seen him so pissed off. He gets a few things off his chest and the rest of us stand, chastised, and all knowing that he's right in everything he's saying. In that moment, we go from being just four individuals running together to being a team. In that moment, a spirit is fostered between us that will see us reach the finish as a  tight unit, listening to each other, helping each other through bad spells and working together.

We set off again at a steadier pace, but it's soon obvious that Dave's earlier frustrations have been pushed to the fore by the worsening of his injury. At Lost Lad, he raises the possibility of dropping out, but, aside from turning around, the next bail-out point is miles away. We decide to press on.

On the way to Sheepfold Clough I'm thinking of a conversation we'd had earlier in the night, after we'd all spent a tenner on a race t-shirt. 'That's it!' Ronnie had said. 'We've got to finish now. If we don't I'll have to cut this bloody t-shirt up!'

I can't help smiling as these words pass through my head. I fall into line with Dave as we start the trudge to Cut Gate and we walk and jog in silence together. Then Dave turns to me.

'You see it in boxing all the time,' he says.

'What?' I reply, non-plused.

'There's a point in  boxers' careers when their heads go. They lose, and then they get used to the idea of losing. And then they're finished.'

'Right. I know what you're saying.'

'I'm not going to get used to failing,' Dave continues.

'You're not going to not do this, mate,' I tell him. And I'd no doubts at all that he wouldn't. 'Besides, what about those bloody t-shirts?'

We have a laugh and run on, moving well and passing teams again. Dave's worried about his injury, but I give him my take. I've no time for dropping out to prevent an injury from getting worse, even if the cost is a longer than necessary spell of recovery. I go on about my Viking Way run last year. I could have dropped out when the pain started, and it probably would have saved me from virtually writing off the rest of my running year. But I didn't. I finished and I'm proud that I did. This race is the same. One that we've looked forward to for so long and can look back on with pleasure when we're done for even longer. If it means a couple of months rest through injury afterwards, in my book it's worth it.

I don't know if it's the words of encouragement or the super-strength painkillers from Ronnie's medicine bag that do it, but from that moment on, Dave's a changed man. We struggle to keep up with him for the rest of the run.

Making our way ever closer towards Bleaklow, I have moments when the beauty of the journey hits hard. The sky's clear, the moon large and lazy, the temperature well below freezing. The sloppy snowdrifts and knee-deep bogs of our run two weeks ago over the same section are frozen solid. The ground's hard and uneven, but the running's good. The headtorches of teams in front of us gradually thin out, but turning back to face the way we've come reveals forlorn strings of lights stretched over countless miles. There's magic in the air.

Checkpoints come and go, the words of encouragement from the students camped out for the night in these remote outposts, all attired in fancy dress, never failing to lift spirits on the verge of flagging.

None of us have any idea of our position in the race, but we seem to have been drawn into a tussle with a team of four ladies that ebbs and flows incessantly. Over the miles of the Bleaklow section we pass this team, and they pass us, many, many times. Eventually, on the way from Swain's Head, they take a better line, get away, and that - we think - is that.

After a recent run with Dave, Chris A and Our Kid, I'd driven home with Our Kid ranting on about what a great day he'd had. Chris A had been singled out for special praise. 'Jesus,' he'd said, 'He never stops talking does he? You'd think it would be all bullshit, but it's not - everything he goes on about is interesting!' As dawn starts to creep upon us, I realise that I've not heard Chris' voice for a good while. Going quiet on a long run is always a good indication of a bad spell. Soon enough, Dave drops back to me and has a quiet word in my ear. 'Let's try and gee Chris up - he's not feeling great.' As the most experienced of us, I've never had anything but the ultimate respect for Chris, and when he mentions stopping at Snake Road, I don't take it seriously for a minute. All he needs is a half-hour's joking and talking rubbish from the rest of us and I'm confident he'll come good.

Talking crap on a long day in the hills is a skill as important as navigation. All the members of our team are experts at it. After a period of non-stop jolliness that would have driven any sane man crazy, the success of our plan becomes apparent on the run-in to the Wain Stones. Having said little for a couple of hours, Chris suddenly appears revived and launches into a long story involving Ironman Triathlons and jelly babies. He's back. We're on fire. Surely nothing can stop us now?

As we head off Bleaklow towards the Snake Road, we're greeted to a new day. An extra-ordinary dawn waves the night goodbye. The surroundings lose their menace and are sprinkled with light. We run along the Pennine Way, re-invigorated, looking forward to the food and hot drinks we know are waiting at the next checkpoint. Arriving there, we're one of four teams patiently waiting for refuelling. The ladies who we thought had got away earlier are one of them. It's game on.

We spend little time hanging about, and, as the ladies team takes off, we follow close behind. On the flag stones to Mill Hill, we alternate running and walking, catching the team in front and then falling behind. It's now my turn to hit the skids. I hope it will pass, and sure enough it does, but for a half-hour all I really want to do is lay down, curl into a ball and cry.


A little later, we're coming off Kinder and heading towards Brown Knoll. To the left the finish at Edale is now in view. We're almost there. Smelling the end of the race, we chase down three teams ahead of us, including our female rivals, and now I'm feeling full of running. Dave pushes the pace relentlessly and the rest of us follow in his tracks. Up to Rushup Edge and beyond. Less than a couple of miles to go. But misfortune hasn't finished with us yet.

There's a shout behind us, and Ronnie's down, falling heavily on the rough track. 'Arghh - it's gone!' he's muttering over and over, and gets to his feet very slowly, clutching his ribs. An injury like this would lay many a fine man low, but not Ronnie - he's determined that t-shirt he bought earlier remains in one piece. He swears a lot, takes a couple of painful, shallow breaths and he's off again.

Skirting round Mam Tor and onto Hollins Cross, we descend quickly to the road and then the Edale Village Hall's in view. Moments later we're done, dibbing in at 10 hours and 9 minutes - a time that betters the best we'd dare dream of. I'm emotional, I admit.

The sun's shining as we enjoy post-race drinks and stew in the car-park. It's a gorgeous morning in the Edale valley. The words we all uttered at some stage during the night - 'Fuck me, never again!' - seem long distant, and maybe a little hastily spoken. After saying goodbyes and climbing awkwardly into the fell-wagon, I can't help but feel an immense pride in what we - all four of us together - have achieved. There's another feeling too as we pull away on the road for home. Maybe, just maybe, the HPM hasn't seen the last of The Rainbow Warriers.

                                          (L to R: SJC, Dave, Chris A., Ronnie)

                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                   *

The 2013 High Peak Marathon will, almost certainly, be remembered for many years. The almost perfect conditions meant that the records for fastest winning team, fastest ladies team and fastest mixed team were all broken. The full results can be found here.