Monday, 30 November 2009

Monday Poem

I see  Monday poems are still popping up, despite the demise of TFE's admirable bus. (Crashed by Einstein, as I remember? Oh, well. All good things come to an end). I wrote this poem about rock-climbing on a gritstone outcrop in Yorkshire a long time ago. I posted it when I first started this blog. Since probably no-one but me read it then, I thought I'd repost it.


From one angle
it looked
like the head
of a man.

I climbed up.
The grit slashed
the pale skin
on my knuckles.

I held on-
to the nose-bridge,
pressed down
onto the cheekbone,

rested my hands
on the forehead,
looked at the sky
reflected in the rain-

-pool worn
into the rough pate
of the stone.
I rested there,

a temporary statue,
relishing the touch
of a dark moon,
newly inhabited.

(c)Dominic Rivron 2000

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Electric Sheep?

We wondered today, were we androids, dreaming, or has the tourist board started to deploy electric sheep round here to impress the tourists? You would think they could make the eyes more realistic (click to enlarge).

Seriously, it's been raining hard all night and all day, so we thought we'd go out and take some photographs. I drove up the dale (Wensleydale) as far as Aysgarth Falls, while Karen snapped away.

West Burton Falls usually looks something like this (well, without the icicles):

Today it looked like this:

Meanwhile, the trees in the woods were up to their ankles:


I'd just thought I'd  finished writing this when it occurred to me to go out into the lane outside our house and see what it was like. It's still raining, and the beck that runs alongside the lane is still rising. This is usually a lane, with a well behaved beck running down one side. Tonight it's all stream. We're very lucky that most people don't suffer the misery of having their houses flooded out round here - we just get to see water at it's most spectacular (well, for the UK).

Karen (walking up the lane in her wellies, above) has just started a new blog to go with her digital camera. She has put two more shots from our afternoon out on it here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

And the answer is...

...number 8!


Much to my surprise, I passed my driving test first time. I thought I'd made all sorts of mistakes. At the end, the examiner sat staring out into the middle-distance for what seemed like a long time.
"You've passed," he said, in a deadpan voice, still staring straight ahead.
"Didn't I drive straight across an unmarked crossroads without checking?" I asked.
"You don't seriously expect me to answer that?" he said.
I still think he sat, weighing things up, and decided that he never wanted to have to get into a car with me again.


Well, I thought, that's all life's necessary exams out of the way. Exams are for schoolkids and students. I can now get on with my life. I went round to the Lada garage and bought my first car - the first of several Lada estates. (They were great, I thought. I only stopped buying them because they became impossible to get).


Exams. Little did I know. Somehow, years later I found myself taking my chainsaw certificate, sawing down a 60ft pine tree while the examiner stood where he expected the tip to land.


I was a NUPE Shop Steward in my youth. I was a care assistant at the time, working for Camden Council. We're talking late 70s, early 80s: heady political days. Every now and again we had mass meetings at which the members of the shop stewards' committee were expected to address the membership. My enduring memory of these events was an old man who, whatever the hot topic of the day, always delivered the same speech with slight topical modifications. There was always general agreement with what he said. It was just the way he chose to say it. On one occasion, a good ten minutes in, as he reached the climax ("and, brothers and sisters, we must unite to fight this Tory government..."), his false teeth flew out and landed in the front row.


I once played a small part in a gig at the Band on the Wall in Manchester. NME or Melody Maker (I forget which) reviewed the evening's entertainment, describing our contribution as "a pseudo-exploratory metaphysical..." Well, if you read the previous post, you'll know.


Over twenty years later, I found myself walking up Ben Nevis. Spent a happy afternoon -along with quite a crowd- sheltering in the windowless steel box on the summit, passing round the whisky bottle. Next day, I walked up it again, by a different route.


I ran away from boarding school, never to board again. I have vivid memories of looking over hedge and seeing a queue of panda cars waiting at a junction. At one point we (there were two of us) hid in a barn to escape the attention of what we were sure was a police helicopter. As evening approached and it began to get cold, we gave ourselves up. Back at school, I was told, sternly, that I was being suspended. I never went back. I went to a different prep school as a day boy: it was a lucky break for me, They help me get myself together and, as it provided the choir for the near-by cathedral, I was introduced to making music.


Once, on holiday in Sweden (well, visiting a friend in Stockholm) I went for a swim in the Baltic. It was extremely cold. Looking back, I think I must have done it just so I could quote the fact in a list of things I'd done in my life.


I once did a gig at the Ulster American Folk Park - well, several gigs over a weekend. I was playing bass -temporarily- in a fiddle band, The Rosinators. The best part was sneaking out to a tiny bar just down the road from the hotel we'd been billetted in. I've never had the car-meeting-me-at-the-airport treatment before or since. It was only the second time in my life I'd flown and I've not flown since.


I went on some memorable journeys sat on the back of my friend Sam's old MZ, but I've never owned or ridden a motorbike myself.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Odd one out

Since there still seems to be plenty of room on the bandwagon, I thought I'd jump on. One of the following so-called facts about me is not true. Which one?

1. I hold a chainsaw certificate.
2. I've walked up Ben Nevis twice.
3. My first car was a Lada.
4. I used to be a NUPE shop steward.
5. I passed my driving test first time.
6. I once swam in the Baltic.
7. I ran away from boarding school, prompting a police hunt.
8. I used to ride an old MZ motorbike.
9. I once played at the Ulster American Folk Park in Castletown, Co. Tyrone.
10. I was once reviewed as “a pseudo-exploratory metaphysical ******** usually confined to Radio 3”.

Age? Stress? Reading through the list again, I momentarily forgot which one it was myself.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

By the Sea

A song for TFE's on-going poteen party. Since it's a bit of fun, I couldn't resist overdoing the sound effects a bit...

By the Sea by Dominic Rivron

Friday, 20 November 2009

The View from the Mantlepiece

This little collection has sat on our mantlepiece for quite a while. The pine cones were gathered from under the tree that overlooks Arthur and Evgenia Ransome's grave in the grounds of Rusland Church in the Lake District. (I didn't realise when I collected the cones but I read somewhere afterwards that Ransome had actually chosen the spot and remarked to the vicar how nice it would be to be buried under that particular tree). Behind them Che, James and Virginia (all finger-puppets I've been given by kind, good people at various times) sit in a row. Well, stand, or whatever it is finger puppets do when they've not got a finger stuck up them.

I often wonder what they're saying to each other, Che, James and Virginia, on a set dominated by giant pine cones...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Driving down
the motorway
the spray rises
from the wheels
like precious dust.
Sidelights shine
like rubies. This is
our nature, what
we are. It is
as amazing as
a beaver's house
or the intricate nest
of the Bower Bird.
It is also the case
that if we are to survive
we must change what we do.
We must not be
deceived by our
intelligence or our
into thinking
that we are what
we want to be
if in fact we're no more
than what we've become
or, to put it
another way,
into thinking
it will be easy.

After the Rain

on the sunlit grass
like a hole
in space:

Friday, 13 November 2009

Bloggers do it with Audacity

I never fail to be amazed that with free Audacity sound recorder software you can do what it took a machine you'd have to save up for to do twenty years ago. I thought I ought to try recording myself (as suggested by TFE and Poetikat: see previous post) singing Purcell's Fie, nay prithee John and overdubbing it.

I then thought I'd provide a "solo" version for anyone keen to sing along to. You can pick it up by ear or preferably follow the music - you can get it here and print it out. If you can record it (without me in the background: play me through half a set of headphones as you sing along) create a Soundcloud account(easy) and deposit it there, tell me where to get it and I'll try to create a mass bloggers ensemble, overlaying the tracks! Now there's a challenge. Don't go thinking you need a great voice (I haven't got one): it's more about going for it! The most important thing is to sing along with me as in synch as possible using the SingAlongaDom track, preferably singing the same notes.

If you try recording yourself I'd suggest printing out the page with the music on even if you can't read music. You'll be able to follow it to some extent and it'll make a difficult job easier. Also if you use Soundcloud make sure you "enable download" when you upload the file (it's obvious when you come to it). Also, don't delete your contribution from your own computer once you've uploaded it just in case I have download problems.

Fie, nay, prithee John by Henry Purcell

SingAlongaDom by Henry Purcell

It's More Fun with Three...

I've just spent a very enjoyable few minutes singing a drinking song by Henry Purcell (1659-95). It's a three-part round. You may know it:

(Voice 1)Fie, nay, prithee, John,
Do not quarrel, man!
Let's be merry and drink about;
(Voice 2)You're a rogue, you cheated me!
I'll prove before this company,
I caren't a farthing, sir,
for all you are so stout!
(Voice 1 or 3)Sir, you lie! I scorn your word,
or any man that wears a sword!
For all your huff, who cares a damn,
and who cares for you?

Singing it, I found myself reflecting on the words. I've never had any truck with the "things were better in my day" view of the world. It's reassuring to see that the current preoccupation with  the with alcohol-fuelled, yob culture is a preoccupation with something that has been around for a long time. At least we don't wear swords anymore.

If you want to sing the song, the sheet music can be found here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Importance of Coming Together

The days are getting shorter and darker. The air smells of fire. Everything is wet and brown. Nothing will really dry out now until the Spring although soon, it will freeze. The leaves that are left on the trees are hanging, limp. You can still hear the birds singing but there are fewer notes, more rests.

One of the highlights for me of this time of year has just passed: bonfire night. For the last couple of years we've let off our own - this year we went to a display. We were driving home through Bedale when we saw a massive pile of pallets topped with a guy in the field where they usually hold car boot sales. It was already late afternoon so we decided we'd go home, drop off our stuff, grab some hats and coats and come back.

Bedale is not a big place and it was amazing to see how when thousands of people descended on it the usual rules ceased to apply. People just parked where there was a space to park: the whole place bristled with parked cars. The atmosphere was great and the fireworks incredible. I don't know how long it went on for - I lost all sense of time. The combination of the charity shop LP box favourite, The Planets Suite (which I really like) played full blast and a sky full of spectacular fireworks was overwhelming. Communal, exciting, straightforward, emotional, like a football match with the competitive bit taken out. Somehow they worked the Dr Who theme into it as well (and that would make the hairs on the back of my neck if I had any stand up on end even if I heard it through the world's tinniest clock radio). Part of me (not the hedgehog and cat-lover though) wishes we did it every Saturday night, from when the clocks go back to when they go forward again. But it would pall. Oh well, roll on Christmas...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Robert McTavish: the Unsung Mountaineer

Exploring the links list I mentioned in the previous post, I came across a dead link. Yahoo Geocities sites, apparently, have ceased to exist! Fortunately, I was able to retrieve information from the page I'd linked to and I thought I'd publish it here. Apologies to anyone already familiar with McTavish's doings...

Though many have heard of Sir Hugh Munro, creator of the famous list which gave birth to the sport of "Munro bagging", few have heard of Robert McTavish (1746-1795) - the unsung founder of Scottish mountaineering.

McTavish grew up in a fashionable suburb Edinburgh. He was a bright lad, though attracted from an early age to the hills. Often, his parents would frantically scour Edinburgh in search of him. More often than not, they would find him on the summit of Arthur's Seat.

The young McTavish went on to study law, but when his father was tragically killed by a horse, he inherited his father's fortune which, sorry to say, had been made in the slave trade. McTavish, an admirer of Thomas Paine, who held high hopes for the turbulent political changes of his age, always felt uncomfortable about the source of the wealth which allowed him to pursue his first passion: mountaineering.

McTavish was a contemporary and friend of Burns, who he met at a country dancing school in 1776. The "twa Rabbies" as they were known were a familiar sight in the dives and fleshpots of Glasgow. Burns wrote an epitaph on the occasion of his friend's untimey death (he died of typhus, aged 49):

On Mr McTavish
McTavish is to heaven gane
And mony shall lament him.
His talents midst the Bens they lay.
The English nane e'er kent him.
He scaled a' the fearfu' hichts
He hirpled doun the glen.
A braw, braid laddie was our Rabbie -
When will we see his likes again?

The dismissive reference to the English alludes to McTavish's education. His father had sent him to England to study law at Oxford University. He returned to Scotland an Englishman in language and manner, though as all who knew him could testify, still Scottish at heart. Burns was no doubt amused that the English were wholly unaware of McTavish's achievements. Unlike that of Balmart and Paccard, who had made the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786, McTavish's achievements were unknown and unsung outside his native country.
McTavish was also known to McGonnagal, who wrote of him:
In Praise of Robert McTavish
How much praise can I lavish
On Robert McTavish?
From the loftiest Ben
To the leafiest Glen,
From Arthur's Seat to Ben Nevis,
He explored every crevice.
The bold mountaineer
Was totally without fear,
And only the very cynical could doubt
The voracity of his account of the ascent
Of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye.
from "Forgotten Scotsmen" (1896)

How much credence can we give to McTavish's accounts of his doings? His journals leave us in little doubt that in his short life he scaled most, if not all, the peaks later catalogued by Munro, plus many lesser peaks besides. Living as he did prior to the age of Victorian reductionism, he was not particularly interested in the height of the hills he climbed, or in listing them. Unlike Munro, he successfully ascended the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye.
The peaks of the Cuillin on Skye were undoubtedly McTavish's favourite hills. The southerly peak(625m) of Bla Bheinn remains un-named and it has recently been suggested that the peak to be officially renamed Sgurr MhicTammas, in homage to the man.

Signals from Outer Space...

I bet no-one who visits this blog ever goes right down to the bottom of the right hand margin - and I don't blame them. Few people reading through their favourite blogs have time to linger that long on any one. There's a whole list of links down there.  I suppose they're there for my own benefit as much as anybody else's - it's a convenient place to put them. They're easier to access than bookmarks, and because they're listed, I'm reminded that they're there.

I've just added one. An astronomical poem on Poet-in-Residence's blog reminded me of a page I created a long, long time ago (you can date it by the corny design): How to Receive Radio-Signals from Outer Space - with a Wok! We'd been on a visit to the Jodrell Bank Visitor Centre. It's a great place to go. Standing at the foot of the huge Lovell telescope and looking up is a breathtaking experience. I can't think of any more impressive recent man-made structure in Britain. When we got back I wondered how crude and simple a radio telescope could actually be made to work. I had a go making one out of a wok. Once I'd cobbled it together, I optimistically stalked round the garden at night in my headphones, waving the wok, but received nothing. All I proved was that someone can, for the most rational of reasons, be involved in an activity which appears, to the outsider, to be totally senseless. Next morning, as I was telling Karen what a dead loss it was, I waved it in front of the window to demonstrate - and it worked! Well, sort of. It wasn't sensitive enough to pick up the distant hiss of the Milky Way, but it could receive radio waves from the sun. At least it worked better than the TV camera I made, when I was six, out of a cardboard box and a toilet roll. We'd been on a visit to a TV studio: some people never grow up.