The Via Gellia exists.
It was constructed in the early 18th century for the purpose of transporting quarried stone to the sites of the villages that were rising up across the High Peak area of Derbyshire. It remains the epicentre of the greatest concentration of Victorian brickworks in the country.
The Via Gellia exists.
It is a steep-sided valley lined by tall, over-hanging trees that trap the damp making the ever-twisting A5012 one of the country’s most dangerous roads. A road sign informs drivers that their have been 22 deaths in the last five years. Fate has a funny way of making you slow down a touch.
The Via Gellia exists.
It is the 1hr23 route from my home to Buxton for the purpose of transporting an unfinished Brick to TOXTETH ON THE MOORS, to witness the rise of The People’s Pyramid. The road is also the origin of my name. Along my beginning is my end.
For 2021, the annual pilgrimage to L8 had been relocated to Buxton, where X, presumably, marks the spot. Trolley stewards of Tescos in Oxford and Exeter should begin contingency planning.
Buxton is a proxy-Toxteth, a Proxteth if you will, and I will, until it’s become a T-shirt.
My maternal grandparents were butchers, makers of the finest sausages The North has ever known. For forty long years, they dedicated their lives to the business. No holidays, just Sunday’s off to boil the hams and the occasional evening out with The Rotary Club. When they retired, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. My grandad loved to drive. He drove a tank onto the beach at Normandy. Now he drove a Volvo estate and any excuse for a long drive was taken.
My grandparents shopped at Sainsbury’s. Not the one in the next town. They shopped at the Sainsbury’s in Buxton. A three hour round trip to fill the chest freezer every fortnight. Growing up, Buxton had legendary status. “Are Grandma and Grandpa coming today?”. “No, son. They’ve gone to Buxton.”
As a grown-up with a car and weekends to fill with adventure, it wasn’t long before Buxton rose to the top of the list. I have never been so disappointed by a place in my life. I went to Sainsbury’s to pay my respects and drove home.
This year’s visit to Buxton had much more of a sense of purpose. The People’s Pyramid was to be built, one bony Brick at a time. From its announcement to showtime, several iterations of plans came and went.
Pub car parks were mooted.
A coach was booked and unbooked and rebooked.
Hi vis was customised.
Warm layers were purchased.
Walking shoes were cleaned.
Hip flasks were filled.
Plans were made.
Rooms were booked.
Trip Advisor was checked.
Fingers were crossed.
Deadly viruses were shrugged off.
Boosters were taken.
Gimpo was woken up.
Jimmy was rested.
Bill had work to do.
A fifth successive year of scheduling serendipity enabled me to arrive in Buxton, with half an hour to spare. The journey along the Via Gellia had been enlivened by psychotic lorry drivers, the occasional brickworks and fields that couldn’t decide if they favoured Chill Out or Atom Heart Mother.
The reception of The Palace Hotel resembled the Health & Safety Gone Mad Annual Conference with hi vis in all shapes, sizes and fabrics. Familiar faces came into focus. We’re getting the gang back together. Heroic dashes across the Atlantic, from the villages of the Sierra Nevada, Colchester to Gloucester, Bounds Beaten Toxteth to empty office desks in Sheffield. Mayoral chains hung up for the weekend, nuclear bunkers due their annual inspection.
This year, I’d volunteered to help with the marshalling and after the briefest run through of the key stages – the cavern, the woods, the stile, the blast holes… – I donned my blue K2 hi vis and took my place outside on the hotel steps.
Outside was a sea of yellow and orange and it was wonderful to see that the relatives of those being MuMufied had embraced the dress code. These were the VIPs. It was their day. They had to feel comfortable with everything.
Tommy announced that we would be embarking on a walking tour of Liverpool, with the attractions of Buxton/Proxteth filling in for the likes of the Liver Building, Princes Park and The Cavern.
A stroll through Princes/Buxton Park led to our first encounter with Hope Street Harmonies, who serenaded us with a rendition of When Doves Cry. Then after making some school children divert their route home, we linked up with the prophetically named Temple Road. After plans were dropped for an event at The Cat & Fiddle pub in the hills above Buxton, I’d scoured Google Maps trying to second guess The JAMs’ choice for an alternate location. It didn’t take long to find Solomon’s Temple, a Victorian folly, built for the purposes of storing Bricks and providing an oratory platform for any passing undertakers. These events are always attended by many fantastic photographers and film makers, whose generous sharing of the fruits of their labours always facilitates a gentle come down in the days following a November 23rd. As I walked along Temple Road, Nick confirmed my suspicions. He had been testing out his drone and had inadvertently flown into the airspace about Solomon’s Temple, where he could clearly see, K2 Plant Hire’s last minute preparations taking place.
As the 223 participants were either taking a breather, sipping some Jura or having a pre-ritual toilet break, the car park to Poole’s Cavern was suddenly serenaded by the now all too familiar chimes of a Ukrainian Ice Kream Van that had suddenly apparated half up the neighbouring hillside of Grin Low. With no roads, lifts or cranes in sight, I think it’s safer to assume that it was simply magicked up there.
Then began the slow climb up the Grin Low hill towards Solomon’s Temple. Spirits were still high and occasionally boosted by the appearance of some curious signs.
Once we’d cleared the trees, we approached a stile where we were serenaded again by Hope Street Harmonies, this time with You’re All I Need To Get By by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell or Mary J Blige & Method Man depending on your boomer status.
Post-stile, as the last of the light dissipated, Solomon’s Temple faded into view. A twenty-three feet tall folly, built for no other reason than for the hell of it. Tonight, it was standing in for The People’s Pyramid of some distant, far off future.
A future beyond the Foundation Stone on wheels.
A future beyond the K2 Plant Hire branded mini-shipping container.
A future where 30000 Bricks have already been laid and the best estimates suggest that the Capstone Ceremony will be happening at some point in the next hundred years.
A future where everyone in this procession has had 23g of their bony remains baked into a Brick Of Mu at HG Matthews (Est. 1923)
Back to the present. The Victorian folly is suddenly transformed into the Do Lung Bridge scene from Apocalypse Now. Gimpo’s skills with Smoke Grenades have come a long way since he filled a telephone box in Hackney with thick yellow smoke. He’s added red and orange to his pallet and the results were breathtaking.
The next day, a friend shared this image taken from some distance away.
At the crest of the hill, we were confronted by the spectacular site of Johnny Gauld – The Lone Piper – playing ‘America No More’.
My marshalling duties had been superseded by the role of Lightbringer. Chief Marshall Richard had handed me a Tesco carrier bag full of glow sticks. The story was that they had been liberated from a production of Mamma Mia, in effect being provided by Bjorn and Benny themselves. The JAMs play the long game. The JAMs never forget.
And then I saw Bill. Video footage showed him sat at the foot of the internal staircase, a burning flare in each hand. This was nothing too out of the ordinary for someone who has always put himself at the heart of his art, but this was different.
A fire at the heart of the tower.
A pyre in the middle.
Once we had all surrounded Solomon’s Temple, Ru and Claire began the orations. Their words and wisdom as integral to this project as everything else.
It begins to snow. In three days time it will be eight inches deep up here. The ancient burial mound buried under a thick white blanket. We got lucky.
My own thoughts about life and death:
Don’t be afraid, you’re already dead.
Don’t be afraid, you’re already born.
On a cosmic scale,
We are a blip on the timeline.
A footnote of a footnote of a footnote.
As inconsequential as the fusion of a two hydrogen atoms into helium in the furnace of a distant star.
Inconsequential but essential to the chain reaction that keeps the star burning.
A star that one day might collide with another.
Their union, the alchemy that brings us gold.
Each of us a slow burning star.
Each of us an alchemical process,
Turning dust to dust to dust.
Inside us the stuff of stars.
Inside us the stuff of tsars.
We could be pharoahs,
Just for one day.
The People’s Pyramid,
A fixed point in some distant future.
Time is eternal.
We are already dead.
The People’s Pyramid is already built.
Ours is a defiant acceptance of death,
A radical embracing of life.
Dead and alive
Did you have a good life?
Enough to make a Brick?
The Undertakers were followed by The Wonderists. Michelle and Tommy with a rallying cry to fill our hearts and minds for another year. Twenty-six Bricks we’re distributed from inside of the tower, an orange arm, returning the MuMuFied remains of loved ones to loved ones.
But this was not the sight of Mumufication. Glow sticks and the torches of marshalls – I’d popped in some new batteries especially – illuminated the journey back down the hill. The Grand Old Duke of Brick, marching us up to the top of the hill and…
We emerged from another woodland into the car park of the Buxton Riding School and The Old Stables Hotel. There we were met by The Bricklayer and Hope Street Harmonies, whose ability to disappear and reappear was matched only by the Ice Kream Van, that had somehow found its way here.
After a small logistical hitch that created a gap that could only be filled by a stand-up routine about dog sharpening and Daisy’s eulogising about the greatest story still to be told that is that of The People’s Pyramid, we were ready for the laying of The Bricks.
As each Brick was cemented into place, accompanied by a heartfelt and sometimes hilarious dedication, my mind drifted to a future where I may have known the Bricks, and to my own Bricks cementing.
What will be said?
Will my family and friends be OK?
What will the ceremony look like?
This years ceremony, and the one in 2019 were beautifully put together. I felt so lucky and privileged to be there, witnessing, in effect, a version of my own funeral. There’s a tree yet to be planted, in Tithe Green Burial Ground that will one day sit over 99.7% of my ashes. 23g, or a few multiples there of, is not a huge amount of the six to eight pounds of cremated remains that I’ll leave behind. They’ll still be plenty to feed the tree.
Those MuMuFied this year included a married couple, a brother joining a brother, a member of the mighty Badger Kull, a legendary DJ from Nottingham and two people with very close links to the project.
The People’s Pyramid now has 35 Bricks.
1/1000th of the way there.
The Foundation Stone is full.
The only way is up.
Picture credits to the mighty Dan Dares Photography, chronicling the inception of a pipe dream since 2017.
NOW THEN ARTICLE 23/11/21
FIVE YEARS 23/11/20
ANOTHER LEVEL 23/11/19
THE BEGINNING OF MY END 23/11/18
WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARED 23/11/17