Friday, 26 June 2009

Eating an Orange

This morning I got up at six o'clock, jumped onto the mountainbike and went off for a ride. It was just a little chilly. There was a bitter but pleasant tang in the air that always reminds me of camping, of sticking my head out of a tent doorway first thing in the morning. The sky was full of blue-grey clouds with an occasional narrow streak of blue sky. On the pull up to the summit of the road over Bellerby Moor three crows were disembowelling a dead rabbit. I got the impression that they flew off far sooner than they would have had I been in a car. Was it because pushbikes, unlike cars, have a human on the outside, or was it just a question of familiarity? They probably see fifty cars coming towards them for every bike.
Most of the moorland in the immediate vicinity is used by the MOD for training and is hedged round with warning signs and red flags. However, not all of it is, and close to the summit I dismounted, and climbed a small hillock. It was a place I had not paid much attention to in the past and I was struck by how one notices such details in the landscape when riding a bike. At the top, I sat myself on a rock and ate an orange. On most days I would have enjoyed a clear view of Pen Hill and the other sizeable hills of Coverdale but this morning there was simply a blue-grey haze where the hills ought to be.

Photo: (c) Malcolm Street
Licenced for reuse under a Creative Commons licence

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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Magic Pebbles

I was reading the other day about my favourite guitar composer, the Paraguayan Agustin Barrios. It is said that he practised with a bag and upto 50 pebbles. He'd play a short, difficult passage. If he got it right, he put a pebble in the bag. If he got it wrong, he emptied the bag. He carried on like this until the bag was full. The method really works, although I quickly decided that five pebbles are probably enough for ordinary mortals to use in their day to day practise to start with. I've started using the technique when teaching. Small children, it seems, are enthralled with the idea of putting "magic pebbles" in a bag, and before they know it, they can play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

In addition to being an important composer, Barrios was also a great performer and an interesting character. At one point he started calling himself Agustin Barrios Mangore (Mangore being the name of a legendary Guarani chief) and sometimes performed in full Indian costume. For the last five years of his life he was Professor of the Guitar at the National Conservatoire in San Salvador and he was so well-known that when he died in 1944, people left their market stalls to join the procession behind his cortege.

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Thursday, 11 June 2009


Whenever I go out for a run, it seems, I disturb a curlew. The curlew is perhaps my favourite bird, possibly for the obscure reason that my father once built a Curlew-class sailing dinghy. There was a silhouette of the bird's head on the sail, with it's characteristic long, curved beak.

I once travelled to Knoydart in Scotland, famously promoted for being the only substantial part of the mainland of Britain inaccessible by road. You either take a boat or brace yourself for a ten-mile walk-in, carrying everything you need. I had a wretched time of it. I went for the walk-in to the campsite that exists there -a wild, up-and-down path along the bank of Loch Hourne- and by the time I arrived had aquired a couple of excruciating blisters on my feet. Blisters or no blisters, I decided I was going to climb the highest Munro in the area - Ladhar Beinn (1019m). For a supposedly remote area there were a lot of people about and, to make matters worse, half way up the mountain a film crew were filming take after take of a scene involving a helicopter. However, for a few, brief minutes I did have the summit to myself. You could see for miles. The sky was blue and cloudless and the Hebrides could be seen through a heat-haze, scattered over the sea. I had not sat admiring the view for very long when I heard a slight disturbance on the slope below me, just out of sight. A golden eagle came into view and glided away from me towards the islands.

On the way down I met two men and could not resist telling them of my experience. One was a keen birdwatcher. He was very interested. He said that he, too, had seen a golden eagle. There was, however, one British bird he'd never managed to see. He'd never set eyes on a curlew.


With a beak like that
you'd think he'd have to flap his wings like mad
just to stay in the air but instead
he flies gracefully

Rising from among
the buttercups and dandelions
he describes a circle around me,
warning me: curlew,

My fascination plays no part
in his calculations. I am merely
an invader.
I should not be there.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Vital Statistics

As suggested by Dick Jones (basic format nicked from The Independent Magazine):
I drive…
A Kia Rio.
If I have time to myself…
I go on air, looking for other radio amateurs to contact, look at the sky, scramble up hills.
You wouldn’t know it but I’m very good at…

Making wooden tent pegs and turning tree branches into clothes props.
I’m no good at…

Whatever the opposite of procrastination is
Books that changed me…
In what way? This strikes me as an interesting and ambivalent category, I thought, not to be confused with “favourite books” or "world's greatest books". In the tradition of Desert Island Discs, I have taken the influence of The Bible and Shakespeare as given. Quite a lot of poets, plus, in approximate chronological order:

Piggly Plays Truant by W Perring and AJ MacGregor
Rupert annuals
The Miracle of Life ed., Harold Wheeler
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Fun with Short Wave Radio by Gilbert Davey
The Children of Albion, ed. Michael Horowitz
Composition with 12 Notes Related Only to One Another by Josef Rufer
Briggflatts by Basil Bunting
The Communist Manifesto
Silence by John Cage
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps
The Penguin Book of Surrealist Poetry (the title is, arguably, slightly misleading in the case of many poets included)
Mountaineering in Scotland and Undiscovered Scotland by WH Murray
Moby Dick
The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
To the Lighthouse
Movie heaven…
Most “Powell Pressburger” films
Battleship Potemkin
Star Trek First Contact
April in Paris
The Cruel Sea
Baghdad Cafe
Comfort eating…
Bread and Marmite
Chocolate digestive biscuits
Banana sandwiches
Jordan's "Crunchy" cereals
When I was a child, I wanted to be...
An electronics engineer
All my (spare) money goes on...
If you find out, please let me know.
At night I dream of...
I dream but quickly forget what I dream of, so I don't know. Ask me at 6.30am.
My favourite buildings...
This one.
School Cottage, Aisthorpe
Lichfield Cathedral
The remains of Tre'r Ceiri
The structures around Avebury
My biggest regret...
I don't go in for big ones.
Losing a piece of music manuscript written and autographed by Olivier Messiaen.
If I wasn’t me I’d like to be...
Tony Benn, Buzz Aldrin or Bjork.
My favourite works of art...
Another Place and Domain Field by Antony Gormley
A lot of the Grayson Perry pots I've seen
Several oil paintings by my father
L.H.O.O.Q. By Marcel Duchamp
The Family of Man by Barbara Hepworth
The current soundtracks to my life...
Pupils playing their guitars, cellos and basses
Recently I've been listening to Charles Mingus, Harry Partch and David Bowie but it could be something completely different next week (Haydn, The Clash, etc.)
The piano in the dining room.
The best inventions ever...
The triode valve
The mosquito net
Loads of medical ones