Having ruled out Wales on account of it being ‘an arse to get to from Bath’ Andrew told me he had ‘always wanted to have a look at one of those chalk horses,’ adding, ‘it’s bang before Chrimbo but how does December 18th sound?’

18th was fine by me.

Andrew then suggested that I partake in his latest project, a series in which he reads to a sitter a section from their favourite childhood book. I was happy to oblige – I’d seen his first few takes with family members and was thrilled to be asked. The resulting work – a head and shoulders shot of the sitter, with the sound removed, reacting to Andrew’s reading – is a sort of animated portraiture, intimate and warm, that I had been unable to take my eyes off when he showed them at our MA group critique a month or so earlier. I do not, however, have a favourite childhood book, or at least I can’t remember one, but I did read JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye twice back to back when I was around 17, so I chose that along with the Uffington White Horse – the Neolithic, stylised one – and downloaded the ViewRanger app to plot a route.

The route would also take in the Neolithic long-barrow, Wayland’s Smithy. On the morning of the walk, however;

The weather looked appalling, and for a moment my inner voice, the one that allows me to bale at the emergence of even the slightest of doubts over my experience being anything short of perfect, looked like it might win the day. I texted Andrew with my concerns but he suggested coming over anyway, for the filmed reading, and taking another look at the weather mid-morning, in the hope that the forecast would improve. I remembered that our route would be a figure eight, and so could be chopped in half to make a smaller route if the weather proved as joyless as the iPhone app implied.

At some point in the previous week, Andrew had read The Catcher in the Rye in its entirety, and had chosen to read me the last thirty pages or so, in which the main character, Holden Caulfield, visits a mentor-like figure, Mr Antolini.

As Andrew was reading Holden’s description of Mr Antolini I remembered fondly the way Holden talks about people, and events in his life. I had never forgotten that everyone is ‘crazy’, or ‘damn near’, or how he refers to people – ‘Old Phoebe’, ‘Old Stradlater’. For a while I wrote my own diary in that style; ‘Damn near broke my leg when old Matt, the crazy bastard, skated a little too close today’.

Holden is an inveterate exaggerator; there are hints that Mr Antolini’s marriage is a sham, and that he is in some way attracted to Holden – not least when Holden wakes in the night to find Mr Antolini sitting by the sofa, stroking his head, at which point Holden makes his excuses and leaves. The killer passage, for me, was when Mr. Antolini got to the heart of his point about education, when he said,

“If you go along with it […] it’ll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have […] After a while, you’ll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing. For one thing, it may save you an extraordinary amount of time trying on ideas that don’t suit you, aren’t becoming to you” 

That hit home, as I‘ve come to realise that I could have used that advice, but instead my focus at the time of reading the novel was Holden’s distaste for the rest of humanity. I was too busy being jealous of the amount of girls this so-called misfit had in his life to take stock of the advice that Holden was receiving.

The experience of being read to was a pleasant one. Words like generous and warmth come to mind. I wouldn’t think just any old text would work, but that Andrew reads from the sitters’ favourite novel enriches the experience immeasurably. I will be interested to see the end result.

TO COME: Walks with other artists, Andrew Brooks part 2: The Walk.



I have a 28-year history with the Pennine Way, the UKs oldest and toughest National Trail. In the summer of 1990 my dad and I walked the last sixty miles of it, over four days, from Hadrian’s Wall to Kirk Yetholm. In the summer of 2007, my friend Derek and I walked the southern half of it – we had intended to walk its entire length, but I picked up an injury and we withdrew at the half way point. In the summer of 2017, Facebook reminded me of this aborted attempt, and I speculatively asked Derek whether he felt we would ever have another go at it, now that we each have young families and proper jobs (okay, it’s just him with the proper job, but the family part is true). A few days later, and after much WhatsApping between me and Derek, me and my wife, Derek and his partner, Derek and my wife, me and Derek’s partner, and all four of us together plus my mum, we managed to get our heads around the logistics of it all and a date was set for mine and Derek’s second attempt at the Pennine Way.

This blog is not designed to tell the story of our walk, but it is appropriate to set the scene. We completed the walk in seventeen days, and the sense of achievement I have felt – which took perhaps weeks to settle in – has been incredible. It is equalled only by the pride I take in my transformation from doorbell-dodging, phone-non-answering, street-blanking recluse to artist talk-giving, performance poetry reading, undergraduate lecture-giving pot-bellied bloke that sits on his sofa writing this today. It was that good. I think about it every day. The Pennine Way, not the other stuff. Well, apart from the pot-belly.

I saw, in my walk, the potential for some kind of artistic endeavour to take place. and so I announced myself as the Pennine Way’s Unsolicited Artist in Residence, and hoped something would emerge.