Tuesday, 31 August 2010

So that was August

Oh well, tomorrow will be September - and, for us, the first day of term. No teaching happens until next week - but there's plenty to do organising timetables, fitting in new pupils and sorting out resources. I dread it when it's weeks away, but as it approaches I remember that last September wasn't that bad and well, I actually quite enjoy it. It does mean I won't be blogging quite so much.

I set myself the aim of blogging every day in August. I didn't quite manage it. This will be my 25th post in 31 days: a record for me. One reason for doing it was that when routines are removed -as they are for me for most of the Summer- it's easy for time to pass in a blur, and when you look back it's hard to remember what happened. Your first reaction is that it was time wasted, when in fact it wasn't. Some sort of diary -in the form of a blog- would prevent that this year, I decided.

Today Andy and I went for a swim in the Swale again  - the first time for a while. It seemed as if we were only in the water for a few minutes - although when we got out we checked the time and realised we'd been in it for an hour. This time we ventured further upstream to a long-ish stretch, just deep enough to swim in. Insects were milling around just above the surface. The water was calm, slightly undulating, and having it there, at eye-level, had a deeply calming effect on the mind. The current wasn't that strong today and, swimming up the river in a leisurely fashion we were in some sort of heaven. The kingfisher was out conducting low-flying exercises upstream and down. A fish somewhere up ahead of us kept leaping out of the water: once, just long enough for an image of the fish to register on my mind, I saw it there, in mid-air, just like the pictures you see of jumping whales. Roly the dog either ran along the shoreline or jumped in to swim, racing us from bank to bank. It felt great. It was as if all the living things around us were, like us, making the most of the last day of August: there won't be many more afternoons like this before the autumn kicks in.

Cod Beck Reservoir

© Crown Copyright 2010

Image produced from Ordnance Survey's Get-a-map service.
Image reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey and
Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
Yesterday, Amy, Daniel and I went for a walk around Cod Beck Reservoir, just North of Osmotherley in the North Yorkshire Moors. I've provided a map of the area (see left), although we didn't have one at the time. No map, no compass, no watch... We were very poorly equipped which shouldn't matter, of course, if your just wandering round the lake and back. However, we went off a bit further, through the woods, leaving the paths behind, to the edge of Pamperdale Moor.

There was very little chance of us getting lost, of course. We just had to keep turning left to get back to where we started from. But it was great to wander around off the path, with no names for the places we found ourselves in, and no idea of the time. I realised I was conditioned to know exactly where I was and when it was most of the time and to be without this information felt good, liberating.

We began with a conventional, anticlockwise circuit of the reservoir from the car park, setting off East-ish into the woods once we'd crossed the dam. A faint track leading off the hard-core path was irresistible. There were some interesting ruins, still standing among the pine trees, and the trees were far enough apart for it to be possible to walk between them. It was a magical place: and a great place to lie down, as we did, on the soft pine needles of the forest floor and look up at the light filtering through the high branches. Break over, we continued up through the woods to the fence at the edge (although we didn't know it at the time) of Pamperdale Moor. From there we turned back into the forest and kept exploring until we came to a gate further up the same fence. Here was a sign: there was to be no camping and no walking off the way-marked track. It's amusing to come upon these signs from behind - only to then examine the front to see what it is you shouldn't have done.

We followed a path back to the dam and continued the conventional circuit, singing a Syd Barrett song:

I've got a bike
You can ride it if you like
It's got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.
I'd give it to you if I could,
But I borrowed it.
We came to a very climbable tree at the water's edge, so we climbed it. We sat in it's branches for a while singing snatches of the song, like hippie birds.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


A poem for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Karen. I must admit it's not a new one, but it is about school. I was reminded of it as soon as I read the week's task...


One day at school
our english teacher
handed out the poetry books.

He made us read
a short, sad story of rejection
by one Wole Soyenka.

It seemed
a strange poem to find
in a place like that:
one of those grubby, hardback schoolbooks
full of poems about animals
full of in-your-face similes
illustrating the power of
the english language.

But then
it was not a poem,
the english teacher said. It was
just prose chopped up and
not a rhyme in sight.

He sucked his teeth, in case
a few stray syllables had lodged
between them.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Monsal Dale

Yesterday we went to Monsal Head in the Peak District. I was going to describe it as a village, but it's little more than a pub at a crossroads on the edge of a steep valley known as Monsal Dale. The River Wye (not the famous Wye in Wales) flows through it. None of us had been there before. Karen and Phil wanted to take photos - mainly  of the weir although, as it turned out, it was a very photogenic area, so they took a lot of other photos too (more of these later, once we've processed them). I fancied a swim. The area is a wonderfully rich place to wander around. We followed a path through the woods which led onto a disused railway line, which crossed a spectacular viaduct. We didn't go over the viaduct, as we wanted to find the weir - and the path to the weir lay another way. There is much to explore and we quickly decided we wanted to revisit the place later.

We hadn't got far when we bumped into a couple and got talking. She showed me watercress growing on the river's edge -I wouldn't have recognised it- and recommended the pub, which we went to later. I said I was looking for somewhere to swim and her eyes lit up: she had grown up locally, she said, and had swum in the river often, but the best places were further downstream where it was deeper.

The way to the weir lay through a field full of cows and heifers. They were docile enough and stood looking at us with the usual mixture of innocence and obstinacy. The river to the left of the field looked particularly inviting: it was wide, slow-flowing and deep enough for  a swim. Once we reached the weir, I left the others to snap away, changed behind a bush and lowered myself in. It felt quite warm after a minute or two and I set off upstream, at a slow breaststroke. It was raining gently and, since the water surface was at eye-level, I got a great view of the drops of rain hitting the surface. There were one or two ducks about, the odd duck-feather floating on the surface and the whole place stank of fish (it would, wouldn't it?). Trees lined both banks, although I at last got back to the cow field. Most of the cows were very young and probably hadn't seen a swimmer before: they all looked very startled and  came down to the water edge to watch. Their reaction was the sort one would expect of humans had they seen someone flying, unaided, in the sky. I decided it was time to get out and made for the bank. The edge of the river, where the water was inches deep, was lined with a thick ooze. I couldn't stand up, so I tried crawling out towards the jostling semi-circle of heifers, only my arms sank up to the shoulders before they reached a firm surface, my legs to the thighs. I persevered and, as the bank got closer, so the mud got less deep. The cattle made way for me as I staggered out.

It's great to be able to do things related to a book as you're reading it: to travel round Dublin while reading Ulysses or go for long walks in the woods while reading Lord of the Rings, for example. To be able to go for wild swims while reading Deakin's Waterlog is a real treat. As I made my muddy way along the bank I was reminded of this passage:

I scrambled out with the help of the reeds but still managed to daub myself in a woad of black silt, so that I had to face my walk back along the bank in my swimming trunks, looking like some neolithic erstwhile inhabitant.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Fall and the Zodiac

Inspired by the River Swale and Roger Deakin, I went off to West Burton Falls last night for a moonlight swim. It's a great place which has evolved to the usual Dales limestone design: a horseshoe of cliffs with a waterfall in the middle,  a Malham Cove in miniature. (OK, so these days there's no waterfall at Malham Cove, but there used to be).

I squirmed into my shorts and old trainers in the car and made off down the muddy path towards the roar of the waterfall. There's a pool at the foot of the falls (which fall not into the pool but onto a stone table at the head of it), just big enough to swim in. It was very cold and there was a moment as I got in when I thought I couldn't face it. Don't be a great wuss, I said to myself and, sure enough, once I was in, the water was lovely. I swam a couple of "lengths" of the pool (more like "widths" of the conventional, indoor kind). I was joined, briefly, by a swooping bat. It was great, swimming under trees, dark water at eye-level.


I don't know much about this joint project by Capilla Flamenca (an early music group) and Het Collectief (a contemporary music group). I think I've worked out that it combines early music chosen to relate to the zodiac with pieces from Stockhausen's Tierkreis - 12 short pieces based on aspects of signs of the zodiac, originally written for musical boxes, though often played as chamber music. That's all I can tell you. I like listening to it a lot:

Monday, 23 August 2010


I've just started reading Roger Deakin's Waterlog. So far I've fairly gobbled it up. I was struck by a passage in the first few pages, in which he explains why he set of on a journey swimming around British waterways. I was struck by how he explained, better than I could, two things I've touched on here, recently: firstly the joy of wild swimming (my experience of this has been slight, but intense), and secondly the subversive role of outdoor pursuits in the otherwise humdrum lives of most of us:

So swimming is a rite of passage, a crossing of boundaries; the line of the shore, the bank of the river, the edge of the pool, the surface itself. ... You are in nature, part and parcel of it, in a far more complete and intense way than on dry land and your sense of the present is overwhelming... In wild water you are on equal terms with the animal world around you: in every sense, on the same level. As a swimmer, I can go right up to a frog in the water and it will show more curiosity than fear. The damselflies and dragonflies that crowd the surface of the moat ignore me, just taking off for a moment to allow me to go by, then landing again in my wake...

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled and officially 'interpreted'. There is something in all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official versions of things. A swimming journey would give me access to that part of our world which, like darkness, mist, woods or high mountains, still retains most mystery.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Poem for the Poetry Bus

On the Death of Edwin Morgan

This morning the birds stopped singing
and the sun decided not to rise.
But his voice could never die:
it was heard to say
this will never do.
And at these words
normal service was resumed
(a tad reluctantly).

 The Bus this week is being driven by Chiccoreal.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Had a bit of a lazy day yesterday, what with all the exertions of the day before, but I did put together another Youtube video, using more stills from Hartlepool:

Friday, 20 August 2010

Watch out for the Tea-Drinking Tabby

Laddow Rocks © Copyright John Darch and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Yesterday my son Daniel and I went for a walk in the Peak District. We walked on the Pennine Way from Crowden (site of a camp site and Youth Hostel), over the summit of Black Hill, to the edge of Saddleworth Moor.

We picked a good day for it. It was warm and, although it was cloudy, the cloud was high. The path follows the left side of a valley, running through bracken over undulating ground until it rises up a steep-ish, rounded ridge. We stopped half way up it to eat. From where we sat we had a great across the valley to the other two "big hills" at the start of the Pennine Way:  Bleaklow and, just peeping over the top of it, Kinder Scout.

At the top of the ridge the path turned right and ran along the top of Laddow Rocks (see picture - you can just see the Pennine Way path on the left hand side). After that, I must say the route has a bit of an "are we nearly there yet?" feel to it - surely it's not such a long way to the summit of Black Hill?

It is. The fact that Black Hill is the least high of the three aforementioned hills doesn't mean it's any more compact - like the others, it's made up of a sprawling system of valleys and ridges. One of the great attractions of the area, to me, is the way what appears from a distance to be a fairly obvious lump of land turns out, on closer inspection, to conceal all sorts of nooks and crannies. Streams disappear round corners into steep-sided valleys that you only find when you go exploring. What looks like a straightforward green hilltop turns out to be a patchwork of stream beds, peat groughs and pools. What looks like one hill is in fact a whole range of hills and valleys.

Another great attraction for me is the area's associations. I don't know why, as the early photos are black and white, but something about the heather in flower, the deep greens and reds of the rowan trees, the bracken, and the dark grey gritstone outcrops sets me thinking of the people who came here walking and climbing in the mid-twentieth century. People still walk and climb there, but it was all new to them then. Rambling was a new idea (and sometimes illegal), and the land they rambled over, undiscovered country. The hill would seem bigger, the valleys more mysterious. They were not recreating others' well-documented adventures, or following green dotted lines on Outdoor Leisure maps. They were discovering routes through the hills or climbing and naming routes on the crags they came across. And I have a real soft spot for the names climbers give their climbs. They have a poetry of their own and often say a lot about the lives and times of those who think them up. They are a way for their inventors to stake a claim on the landscape - one (and this is part of the attraction, I think) that a casual passer by would be totally oblivious to. These are just a few of the routes you can climb on Laddow Rocks, for example: Easter Bunny, The Tea Drinking Tabby, Gardener's Question Time, The Pongo Finish, Tuppence Ha'penny (an old one, I suspect), Surfing with the Aliens (a newer one). (If you find this interesting, check out the full list).

We finally made it to the high, distant point in the photo: the summit of Black Hill - the oddly named "Soldier's Lump".  Off to the right is the pretty unsightly but necessary (if you think television is necessary) Holme Moss TV mast which stand at the other end of the summit plateau. It had taken us about two and a half hours to get there, so we stopped for a second time and admired the spectacular view you get from there of the sprawling cities of West Yorkshire. We then headed off along the old Pennine Way path towards Saddleworth Moor. This involved descending a different side of the hill. The path was more interesting: no stiles, no paving slabs over the muddy bits. You were on your own, with nothing but footprints and the occasional small cairn to help you. Far more fun. We finally reached a point where our route was blocked by a network of substantial streams that had carved their way across the moor. You couldn't see much of the water: there were reeds all over and the surface was covered with a substantial mat of bright green vegetation. But it wouldn't hold a person's weight: step on it and it bounced. Put your weight on it and you you sank. We explored, looking for an easy place to cross: we finally found one. However, it took a while and, once on the other side, we realised time was getting on. We hadn't intended to go much further anyway, so we decided to set off back.

We simply reversed our route (as we had always intended), but we didn't linger much on that return trip. The distant clouds looked a bit darker than the ones over our heads so we weren't sure what we'd be in for if we hung around. We got a good pace going back up to the summit. Every now and again you could feel a spot of water on your face. By the time we got back to Laddow Rocks, the odd spot was a sprinkling. By the time we were back down to the foot of the rounded ridge, steady rain was falling. We arrived back at the car seven hours after we'd set out.

We had both enjoyed ourselves. My only regret was that I didn't discover Black Hill years ago. In the past I'd always driven past it to the more alluring world of Kinder Scout and, sometimes, Bleaklow. But although Kinder has a magic few English hills can rival, and Bleaklow is, well, bleaker than most, Black Hill has a charm all of it's own which makes it well worth walking over.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

In Praise of the Harp

I really like the harp. Mozart wrote a Concerto for Flute and Harp. Ravel, an Introduction and Allegro which includes it. I'm fond of both. Then there's this piece by Stockhausen, which I didn't know until I found it on Youtube the other day. Stockhausen had a reputation as a contraversial enfant terrible. Often this made his music more, not less difficult to take in: it clouded the fact that the driving force behind the music of this creator of radical sound-worlds is that of a deeply religious composer.

It's hard to know when you are used to the unusual sound-worlds of twentieth century classical music, but I think this piece might make quite a good "way in" to Stockhausen's music. I think it's delightful.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Life Outside the Box

What a busy day. Well, sort of. A lot of driving was involved. Went to visit the dentist. We still go to the dentist in the area where we used to live. Two reasons:  firstly, we often have reasons to go down there, so it's no hassle, usually, to fit it in. Secondly, he's a very good dentist. Usually, it's an effort to stay awake in his comfiest of dentist's chairs, even when he's performing roadworks in my mouth with frankly medieval-looking instruments (as he was today. I needed a filling. He said he'd a few minutes to spare so he'd do it there and then. And he stuck a pin in it, too, he told me afterwards. And, yes, I almost dropped off).

Stopped at Wetherby Services for coffee on the way back. Surprisingly pleasant. Sat drinking said coffee while watching the A1 through the panoramic window. Had the sensation that the window was a cinema screen, and the comings and goings on the A1 a film. I could have sat there quite a long time.

On the way home we called in at a café - not for more coffee, but because we might get a gig there, if we're lucky.If you don't ask...

There was an article in the Observer on Sunday about the internet and the human brain. Is the internet changing the way our brains work - and if so, for the better or for the worse? I heard something to this effect on the radio recently, too. One of the main planks of the case seems to be that prose on the net is short, so using the net a lot conditions us to have short attention spans. Another is that links encourage us to choose between options as opposed to coming up with additional ideas. On reflection, I decided it was a load of tosh. If anything encourages us to do these things it's newspapers. I found myself consciously leafing through the Observer Review and, yes, my eye grazed the content much as I might graze the net. There were more similarities than differences and I've been doing this every since I started reading newspapers - years before the net came into being. As for choice and creative thinking, I don't think people need the net to slavishly choose as opposed to thinking originally. Socially, original thought is often frowned upon or derided: this goes for everything from social details (coincidentally, this follows on rather nicely from my recent thoughts on "man skirts") to wider political life. For example, whoever heard of an election where, in addition to the candidates, a large box was provided for the voter to write about what he or she might like to happen instead? Think outside the box and your ballot paper is considered spoilt.

The whole thing reminded me rather of the argument that was all the rage in my childhood: comics were bad for the brain and discouraged young people from reading serious books. All tosh, I suspect. The important thing is that young people are encouraged to read gradually more demanding literature - not that they be prevented from reading comics or browsing the net (although moderation, as in all things, may be called for). The biggest internet user I know (a keen game-player, too) is an avid reader of Dostoevsky.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Unusual Happenings...

Roly thinks better of it. Photo: Karen Rivron
Two unusual things happened yesterday. Firstly, during a break in the band rehearsal -spent, as usual on a nice day, on the bank of the River Swale- we decided to go for a swim. I don't remember ever deliberately swimming in a substantial river before, but this was quite an experience. Andy -who lives there- does it regularly and pointed out some dos and don'ts, after which we jumped in or rather, in my case, sat on the rocks on the riverbank and edged in slowly on account of the painfully cold water.

Once in, oddly, it felt warm and I was quickly pulled by the current into a deeper, less turbulent part of the river where it was easier to swim. Suddenly, I couldn't feel the pebbles on the bottom anymore - but at least I felt more in control and could just manage to swim upstream against the current. I swam back towards the rocks. It was a struggle to make headway in the shallower, narrower fast flowing part, and I had to resort to grabbing onto the branches of willow trees to pull myself along. Back at the rocks I thought, why not, and set off downstream again. It was great to get close up to the river, feel the current pulling you, see the ripples on the surface at eye-level, and feel the pebbles and rocks of the riverbed with your feet - instead of simply admiring it from a distance. It was great fun, too. Here's to more wild swimming. (Don't try this at home, as they say. Please don't go jumping into rivers on my account: check out the risks first).

If that wasn't enough excitement for one day, Karen and I were driving through Leyburn in the dark, about 9.15pm, when we saw what I can only describe as a UFO. I use the term in the strictest sense: it was simply a flying object we couldn't identify: I suspect there's a perfectly commonplace explanation for what we saw, but we don't know what it is.

It was a cloudy night. Looking out of the passenger-side window I saw a single light in the sky that seemed to illuminate something above it with an orange glow. I seemed quite close. It was moving Northwards quite slowly.Odd, I thought, that it should be close and slow-moving. Then I thought that it might be a microlight, flying at night (how would it land, I wondered?). At first, what I could see fitted that explanation, but then the "something" seemed to be oblong, the wrong shape for the delta wings of a microlight. Then slightly more of it became visible: there was more to it than the oblong, but exactly how much more was difficult to tell. We'd slowed down, but the car was still moving, and the buildings on our left obscured the view. We turned left in the Market Square and suddenly got a view of the sky again. The light in sky was still there, but it had moved off into the Northeast, and seemed to be a lot further away all of a sudden. At first I thought it was a bright star,and not the light I'd just seen, but the sky was cloudy and it wasn't quite the right colour for a star. Over a few seconds it got fainter and fainter before going out all together (presumably it had disappeared into the cloud).

What was it? It just didn't seem to resemble or behave like any aircraft I've seen before. At first it was low and slow moving then, in a very short space of time, it seemed to be higher up and moving considerably faster. I've heard of the military using small robot planes in Afghanistan and, from my very limited knowledge of such things, I can only assume that this was one of them, or something like it. (There is an RAF base not far away). Or perhaps we were visited by extraterrestrials? Personally, I doubt it, but it's quite amusing to think of someone travelling lightyears on a voyage of discovery only to discover Leyburn. It's a long way to come to discover the teapot shop's shut.

Monday, 16 August 2010

By Popular Request

More than one visitor commenting on my previous post (A Day Out for the Knees) intimated that  I should make my knees public.Yesterday we went to the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival and it just so happens that Karen took this photograph:

It strikes me that there is a meme (argh, no, not a meme!) in this - think of it as a sort of non-competitive knobbly knees contest. Dig out your cameras, angle your laptop built-in webcams, or whatever... Go for it! Knees please! Sorry, I'm getting really silly... But why not? It is August after all.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A Day Out for the Knees

Yesterday the band found itself in Bishop Aukland (a small town South of Durham). We had been hired by the local council to play in the street. We were asked to adopt fancy dress, find a spot in the shopping centre and play - "official busking" if you like.

We all dug out Hawaiian shirts for the occasion. I decided to add to this one of Karen's skirts -dark, knee length- and a snorkeller's facemask (OK, a bit student rag day-sh, but there we are. We should have more fun!). Andy turned up in a straw hat. We spent the afternoon playing half hour sets with short rests in between.

Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, sporting a natty, crenellated little number
Skirts are really comfortable I decided and I was quite sad to take mine off and return to my shapeless jeans, with their pockets full of keys and old receipts. Why don't men wear skirts? There is absolutely no reason why they shouldn't. Jonathan Ross and David Beckham briefly tried to start a trend, as I remember, but it got nowhere. Western men (on the whole: there is the odd regional exception) seem to think skirts "unmanly", whatever that means. Going back in history to the times when men were, by that token, "real men" (i.e., when they all carried swords and killed each other a lot), wearing skirt-like garments was pretty normal. Moreover, there are plently of places round the world where men wear flowing garments, so what's the big deal?

Here's another Trio Gitan Youtube slide-show - using photos that Karen took of us on the riverbank:

Saturday, 14 August 2010



Sooner or later
this had to be.
I'd come to the water
alone -there's just me-

to the boat that's been waiting
here, all this time,
and I'd have to set out
and leave all this behind.

Look to the front,
admire the view:
it won't do to look back,
it just won't do.

One for the Poetry Bus, driven this week by Enchanted Oak.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Getting Around

I've stumbled a bit this week: as it is the school holidays, I decided I'd try and write a post every day throughout August.  The gig in Hartlepool put paid to that. Not that I wasn't slaving over a hot computer: I spent the time I would have spent posting -and more- creating Youtube videos (see the gig link).

Sadly, I just can't think of anything for the Poetry Bus, being driven this week by Enchanted Oak. It's a shame, as the prompt is a great one: a picture of an empty boat. Oh well, there's still time - I might yet. Trouble is, my brain has a tendency to either think either about music or words, not both at the same time, and it's rather taken up with music at the moment. There I go: a classic case of what in my previous life as a social worker we would have called "statementing" - making a statement about myself which might actually affect what I do, negatively. (The classic cases are the child who always says they "can't" do something before they do it, or the adult who begins a speech with "I should begin by saying I'm no good at public speaking..." One's biggest critic is usually oneself, so it is essential to make sure that that critic is a helpful -but, critically, not uncritical- one. Sometimes, of course, there may be some truth to the statement: one should strive to be realistic; but, in the end one should realise, it is only a statement and question it constructively).

Went down to West Yorkshire yesterday, paying visits. On the way back the skyscapes were spectacular: dark, lowering clouds, spectacular towering fronts, jumbles of cloud in the distance, rainbows. And it kept raining - short, intense summer rainstorms. The combination of heavy rain and often bright (despite the cloud) light made motorway driving pretty unpleasant, so I turned off and took a scenic route, some of it down roads that were unfamiliar to me, even though they were quite close to home. It was quite refreshing to have to read road-signs.A bit slower, perhaps, but a lot more pleasant. None of the dazzling spray - just the occasional large puddle.

On Monday (I was too taken up with the gig to write about it) we went to Ulverston, to visit my cousin there. Went for a great walk, the three of us, with Jo's dog, along the shore of Morcambe Bay. The tide was out. You can see for miles across the sands, the only blot on the landscape being the distant yet large ugly box that is the nuclear power station at Heysham. It's a great place to be. Something about the space, the sand, the rocks underfoot makes me breathe more easily. After that we went to the (really good)fish and chip shop in Greenodd.

Another gig tomorrow: we're playing in Bishop Auckland town centre (11am). Acoustic, which is always easier as there'll be no lugging of amplifiers to be done. The brief specifies fancy dress, so I'll be getting the Hawaiian shirt out for the occasion, a straw hat perhaps. Anything else? I'll have to have a think.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Trio Gitan - The Tall Ships Races, 2010

Today the band -Trio Gitan- played on the Main Stage at the Tall Ships' Village at the Hartlepool Tall Ships Races 2010.  We were on for an hour and played a set that ranged from Swing 49 and A Night in Tunisia to our jazz take on The Zuton's Valerie. We really enjoyed it and hope that the audience who braved the not-very-summery weather enjoyed it to. It rained heavily for a few minutes towards the end of the set. The people who stuck it out were a real inspiration. When Andy asked if they didn't want to go where it was dry, they replied they couldn't get any wetter, so they might as well stay and listen.

We were really well treated. We even had our own dressing room complete with orange juice, coffee and chocolate bars. Can't be bad. We could see the masts of some of the tall ships from where we were working.  Once we'd packed up, we walked over to have a look - but there was only one left, the Thor Heyerdal (see picture). The engineers very decently provided us with pictures of the performance, which we've used as a slide show for this video. Unfortunately, we weren't able to record ourselves. However, we did record a track last week, Swing 49, so we've used that instead, to accompany the pictures.

And thanks to the anonymous passing person who took our photograph for us, outside the dressing room. As you can see, it was a bit windy on and off:

Monday, 9 August 2010

Something about Rock

Jeanne Iris gave us three options for this weeks Poetry Bus Challenge: poem, song, or flash fiction. Apologies for inventing a fourth. Whatever the word is for "un-flash fact", this is it. What is my favourite sensory summer memory? The smell of warm rock.

I'm not sure when or why I started rock-climbing. I know that when I was very small we went on holiday to Cornwall and I was very impressed by the rocks at Cheddar Gorge (my parents and I slept there one night in the back of our three-wheel Reliant van) and I remember clambering over the rocks at the seaside with a passion. Then we went to Wales, to a hotel near Capel Curig (I was still very young) and I remember feeling powerfully drawn to the tops of the mountains. Some colleagues -I think- of my mother were there. We met, and they talked about climbing in the Llanberis Pass. Later, we drove up the Pass and we could just see people through the mist, climbing on the cliffs (probably Dinas Mot, looking back). It looked like the thing to do!

Probably to "get it out of my system" my dad bought a climbing rope, a karribiner and a book, Know the Game: Rock Climbing. I still have it somewhere: it just came out at the tail-end of the era when people still stuck nails in the soles of their boots (there was much discussion as to the best kinds and the patterns thereof, but that's another story). We spent several afternoons, my dad tied to a fencepost at the top of a quarry, holding my rope as I attempted to climb up it.

After that, there was a gap of some years. I wasn't a particularly athletic teenager. However, once you're into your twenties, working, with a bit of money in your pocket, it occurs to you that you can do more or less whatever you want, within reason. A group of us started to walk - and most of us quickly gravitated to walking up hills. We soon found our way to Tryfan, a Welsh mountain so steep and rocky that it stretches the definition of a "walk" to breaking point. You need your hands. You find yourself face-to-face with the rock and as you work your way up it, you realise you are part of an environment that is usually alien to you and which, if you are so inclined, triggers your more adventurous instincts. In summer it feels warm: you can smell the rock, and it's a smell that lingers on your hands for hours afterwards.

My real chance to rock climb came when we moved to West Yorkshire. The moors in that part of the world are littered with gritstone outcrops: dark, uncanny, rounded natural sculptures that cry out to be climbed. I learned to drive, which made it a lot easier to reach them. I joined a local club and bought some climbing gear. I was never very good at it - I just enjoyed doing it. Rather than aiming to climb harder and harder climbs, I aimed to climb longer and longer ones. Scottish mountains seemed to carry a good selection of huge, technically easy climbs, so Scotland was the place to go. My friend Graham and I climbed quite few.

The end of my serious interest in climbing was a route in Glencoe called Agag's Groove. It takes an obvious line up a tower block-like cliff overlooking Rannoch Moor. The first pitch, which I led, is 90 feet long, as I remember. I found it totally impossible to protect it. I found myself climbing the whole pitch facing the risk of a serious fall. The holds were large, but I had to rely on friction as they sloped outwards. Retreat was impossible and the further I climbed, the more serious the risk became. My hands began to sweat. I had children by then, and it struck me forcibly that risking my life in this way was in my opinion, for me, idiotic and something I definitely did not want to do. Obviously, I survived and, having decided that this might well be my last ever climb, made up my mind to enjoy the rest of it. I have vivid memories of sharing a ledge with Graham on that vertical face, barely large enough to accommodate the soles of three boots, hundreds of feet above the moor, while we arranged our gear to climb the final, exhilarating pitch. It wasn't exactly my last climb, but I'd passed a watershed - I never attempted anything half so challenging after that trip. As the pioneer mountaineer Edmund Whymper put it (and he spoke from experience, having lost several of his colleagues on their ascent of the Matterhorn):

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste: look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.

I still like to get close to rocks and clamber over them - but  nothing too hard, or too high: nothing that demands a rope. There's still something magnetic for me about the touch, the smell and the close-up view of them that will never go away.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

You remember that rainy evenin'...

Yesterday went round to the farm for a musical evening. Fantastic food and lots of wine as usual, followed by the traditional piano duets: The Dolly Suite, The Entry of the Queen of Sheba and Country Gardens. The latter two are quite funny after a few drinks (especially if it's the pianists who've drunk them). Mum's friend Wendy had brought a Ukulele with her and so had I. There was a spare ukulele, too, so we gave Peter, fresh from the piano, a crash-course in uke and we all played Edelweiss and The Sloop John B among other things. Joan played the piano and I swapped ukulele for bass and Joan and I thrashed Bill Bailey (we're talking about the song here, not the comedian). I wish I could remember the words.  I've just checked them out on Wikipedia. I never knew that in the Simpsons episode, Whacking Day Abe Simpson is seen posing as a female cabaret singer in Nazi Germany, singing the song to Adolf Hitler. You learn something every day. I'll have to watch out for it.

Percy Grainger, by the way, was an interesting chap. The Australian composer is remembered today mainly for his folk song pieces (like Country Gardens) but he was quite an innovator, who worked with hand-built music making machines designed to compose music unconstrained by the usual conventions of pitch and rhythm. Unfortunately, I don't think any machine-composed music by him exists, so exactly what Grainger's "free music" sounds like will have to remain the stuff of imagination.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Happy Birthday Natalie D'Arbeloff!

This is not a service I offer as a matter of course -if I did, I'd spend my whole life doing it- but Natalie did post a post this morning "fishing for birthday wishes" so here goes! A quick rendition of what was for many years probably the most copyright-infringed song in the world. Her's is a great blog, by the way, and if you don't read it, check it out. Watch her painting of her parents unfold. Follow her round Paris. Visit the Lucian Freud exhibition at the Pompidou Centre with her. Decide if you're an obsessive creative or a receptive creative...

Friday, 6 August 2010

Tale from the River Bank

Band rehearsal yesterday evening - and photo session. We took our instruments down to the river bank while Karen snapped away. Roly, Andy's three-legged dog, came to help and sing along: his vocals are very impressive and he could easily find himself starring on a reality television show. We've now, thanks to Karen, got over 100 shots of ourselves playing, some of which will be very useful for publicity and others for a Youtube video slideshow. I've posted one of her photos here: (from left to right) Andy, Jack and I, jamming on the banks of the Swale.

We finished playing quite late. When we got home, I took a glass of whisky for a walk down the lane to look at the stars. The hang-glider shaped constellation, Cygnus, was hovering overhead. It was the first dark sky I've noticed for months. The longer I looked, the more stars I could see. There was no sign of that pesky aurora borealis the TV  people keep going on about (there rarely is round here -or in Ireland apparently - although there is an amusing post on aurora hunting over at the watercats, if you haven't read it), although I was lucky enough to see a shooting star later on. Playing music with other like-minded people really leaves me feeling good - I'm reminded, as we hopefully all are from time to time, how good it is to be alive. I also found myself reflecting on the nature of music. I remembered hearing a Sufi musician say how although he was a Muslim when he wasn't making music he couldn't describe himself as such exactly when he was: he felt he existed in a state beyond words where it would be dishonest of him to seperate himself from the mass of humanity, Muslim and non-Muslim. (I heard him speak a long time ago: I hope I've represented what he said correctly). 


Continuing a theme from yesterday -thoughts about famous people from people who were close to them personally- it's back to The Andy Warhol Diaries. Pat Hackett started as Warhol's volunteer secretary and ended up taking down his diary - he'd phone her every day and she'd sit with a pad, noting down everything he told her:

Andy was polite and humble. He rarely told anyone to do things - he'd just ask in a hopeful tone. ... He treated everyone with respect, he never talked down to anyone. And he made everyone feel important, soliciting their opinions and probing with questions about their own lives. He expected everyone who worked for him to do their job, but he was nonetheless grateful when they did - he knew that any degree of conscienciousness was hard to find, even when you paid for it. And he was especially grateful for even the smallest extra thing you might do for him. I never heard anyone say "thank you" more than Andy, and from his tone, you always felt he meant it....
The worse things Andy could think to say about someone was that he was "the kind of person who thinks he's better than you" or, simply, "He thinks he's an intellectual."...
He never took his success for granted, he was thrilled to have it. His uniform humility and courtesy were my two favourite things about him.
Pat Hackett: Introduction to The Andy Warhol Diaries


And finally...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Buena Vista (or not, as the case may be)!

I've been listening a lot this week to the Buena Vista Social Club. I'm enjoying it, too. I'm sure it's wrong to lump together the cultures of all the American countries South of Texas, but I have to say that whenever I encounter them I am left wanting more. It keeps happening.

Still reading Che's Motorcycle Diaries. From the introduction, by his daughter, Aleida Guevara March:

When I read these notes for the first time, they were not yet in book form and I did not know the person who had written them. I was much younger then and I immediately identified with this man who had narrated his adventures in such a spontaneous manner. Of course, as I continued reading, I began to see more clearly who this person was and I was very happy to be his daughter.
To tell you the truth, I should say that the more I read, the more in love I was with the boy my father had been. I do not know if you will share these sentiments with me, but while I was reading, I got to know the young Ernesto better: the Ernesto who left Argentina with his yearning for adventure and his dreams of the great deeds he would perform, ... grew increasingly aware of the pain of many others and he allowed it to become part of himself.

Trying to find out more about the man, I came across his last words. For anyone who doesn't know, he was captured with a group of guerrillas in Bolivia and executed. There is some confusion as to what he actually said. The odd-sounding "I am Che Guevara and I have failed" sounds like the spur-of-the moment creation of a propagandist. More convincingly, the official report into his death quotes: "I knew you were going to shoot me; I should never have been taken alive. Tell Fidel that this failure does not mean the end of the revolution, that it will triumph elsewhere. Tell Aleida [his wife - his daughter was also given the name] to forget this, remarry and be happy, and keep the children studying. Ask the soldiers to aim well."

And finally, a picture of Gibbon Hill (see yesterday's post). These heather-covered, broadbacked hills are hard to photograph effectively. When you take a few you just end up with a pile of brown mounds. Some things are better remembered than captured on film. I remember going off on a Munro-bagging expedition years ago to the Loch Tay area. I walked over all the hills in the Ben Lawers group, assiduously photographing them. I felt very pleased with myself - always a bad sign. It would make quite a slideshow, I thought, and it did. Whenever I suggested getting the projector out subsequently, I was told I could so long as I wasn't showing "the boring Bens" again. It became something of a catchphrase. Anyway, having written about Gibbon Hill, I thought I ought at least to provide a photo of it, taken close to the top, from a high road that runs over a col close by:

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Gibbon Hill

Went to Richmond yesterday afternoon. Had a wander round the charity shops there. There's often a good LP to be had, but not yesterday. Went to the bank. Later went for a bike ride to the top of Gibbon Hill, one end of a horseshoe ridge enclosing Apedale, a minor valley between Wensleydale and Swaledale. Why it should be called Gibbon Hill I've not the faintest idea: I can think of few places where you're less likely to see a gibbon*. To get there meant cycling miles of hardcore track up past the ruin of an old leadmine and then a long, pretty sustained climb on the road. Somebody was out running up ahead of me. I never caught them up. Just over the brow of the hill, it was back onto the moor along a landrover track. I had to walk the last few yards. I stopped at the summit cairn to have a drink and admire the view. East: across the Vale of York to the North Yorkshire Moors some twenty miles away. Thought of George's recent Coast to Coast walk. The sun was catching the structures in the industrial complex that lies on the coast beyond Middlesborough. I could almost see the sea. South: to our local "big hills" (well, big by local standards), Great Whernside and Buckden Pike. North: to Fremington Edge. West: to Rogan's Seat and the next hill, Apedale Head. The ground was very stony and at my feet I found a stone with beautiful lichen patterns on it.

I found myself wondering if patterns like this had in any way inspired prehistoric "cup and ring" marks. They could also have been some of the earliest signs of life on this planet: patterns on stones before there was anyone -or anything- around to see them.

On the way down I could hear -and finally saw- a curlew (not an unusual sight round here) and narrowly avoided running over a very small frog.

Reading Andy Warhol's Diaries has got me googling Songs for Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale. (I think it was this album that first got me into Warhol although, as a Velvet Underground fan I'd been aware of him before that). The lyrics for the album, based on things Warhol had said, fascinated me when I first read them. So many things about the man would take a casual, unsympathetic observer of the sixties by surprise. He was very conventional in some ways with a penchant for working hard. Reed and Cale are on Youtube singing one of the songs, Work. (The French subtitles mystefied me, until I checked out the origin of the word "marmite" - it's French for a large, covered cooking-pot, in case you didn't know).

*The knoll above our village is known as Zebra Hill and I've never seen a zebra there, either.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Of Photos, Flowers and Films

Yesterday we went out in search of wall-space. Karen has a pile of framed photographs (like the one on the left) which might sell if people could see them, so we visited a few gallery-cum-coffee shops to see what we could come up with. One was closed, one didn't seem to exist anymore and the third had a wall full of decent prints for sale already, most of which were there last year! I suspect the recession has knocked sales of such things on the head. Oh, well - it wasn't time wasted. At least we were doing something positive.

We dropped in at the Kershaw's Garden Centre on the way back, near Askrigg. It's one of our favourite places to buy plants. "Garden Centre" is perhaps a bit of a misnomer - it is, in fact, somebody's garden, only the somebody is a great gardener who rears a lot of stuff from seed and sells it in the drive. We had a long chat, as usual, (I once taught her son the cello) and bought a couple of plants.

Back at home, I composed for a bit. (It's one of my aims over the summer to write a short-ish piece of music that I feel was worth the effort). I've been writing a piece for quartet on and off for a few weeks now and I spent an hour working a number of scetches I've made into a movement. It's quite short, but at least it has a beginning, a middle and an end now. I hope to make four or five similar pieces and group them together as a divertimento (a light-weight collection of movements, not as serious as a suite or a sonata).

Later on we went round to see some friends, Alex and Denise. Stopped on the way to buy a bottle of white wine. We've got into the habit of watching a film together, ostensibly weekly. This week, we delved into the DVD pile and pulled out Paris, Texas. What a gripping film. It goes well with white wine and pizza, too. The photography is wonderful. And watching films with Natassja Kinski in them always makes me feel good as they remind me of Werner Herzog films.

Monday, 2 August 2010


I spent all yesterday replacing my double bass bridge. It's not as simple as it might sound. You don't just loosen the strings and do a swap. Even if it were that easy, there would still be the risk of the soundpost falling over. For anyone unfamiliar with the arcanities of string instrument acoustics, the soundpost is wedged, not glued, between the front and the back of the soundbox between the f-holes and under the bridge. Loosen the strings and clunk! the soundpost goes for a burton. Cue for an hour of effing and blinding trying to retrieve it from the depths of the soundbox, through the f-holes, with a pair of barbeque tongs. Then you have the pleasure of trying to stand it up.

Observant readers will have noticed that there's a pencil taped to a bamboo cane in the first picture. This was for job number one: to draw round the foot of the soundpost on the inside of the back. Then, if it falls over, at least you know where it has to go.

The reason I did the job myself was that it costs and arm and a leg to have the job done for you. Now I know why. (No irony was intended in the choice of Saturday Guardian supplement used to line the bench. It's just the one I never read! Perhaps I should pay more attention to it). Observant readers, again, will notice how thick the bridge in the picture is. This is because bass bridges come as "blanks": not only do you have to trim the feet to fit the contours of the instrument's belly, you also have to plane the thing so it tapers to the top. You also have to get it just the right height: too high and the strings are hard to press down, too low and the strings buzz when you play them. If it ends up too low, there is a way of putting it right - if you remember to cut a few thin strips off the feet before you cut them to size. These can be inserted under the feet later if you chop too much off the top:

Once that's done, there's no putting it off. It's time to start the irreversible stuff. Once it's chopped off, it's off!

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account. Let's just say I spent the afternoon, plane in hand, stripped down to my shorts, sweating over a hot bridge. In the end, I got there. Fortunately, nothing went wrong!

The job needed doing: the original bridge had warped. It curled upwards and was threatening to fall over. New bridges can be very expensive (80 quid plus), but I got mine from janika's music shop for twenty quid, and it came the next day, so I don't mind giving them a plug. They seem to deal in parts and accessories for string instruments, guitars, and percussion.