Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (17)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Upon the Moor

How perilously upon the Moor
The cotton-grasses cling!
While yonder stone stands all alone
Surveying everything;

See overhead the cloudy sky
Brood dark upon the hill
While Autumn winds sigh through the heather
And make it feel chill.

How many moods the Moor subsumes
Can scarcely be expressed!
Now bright, the sun breaks o’er my head
And kindly warms my breast
(A boon indeed! 'Twas getting cold
Beneath my cotton vest).

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Lines Written in 1848

I dreamed of travelling o’er the sea
  To foreign lands unknown,
Aboard a ship, without a chart,
  To where’er it might be blown,

That I might leave this place behind,
  So silent, full of gloom,
A house so full of sadness,
  So redolent of Doom.

Love and sweet companionship
  Have borne me through the years –
Now, they are gone, I am alone
  To face my darkest fears

And sadly, in my watery dreams,
  I’ve found no place to rest,
No land of joy and plenty,
  By Nature’s bounty blessed –

Merely a storm that rages on
  And tears the sails to shreds,
Beneath the low’ring storm-cloud
  Which hovers o’er our heads.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! This is a photograph of our Christmas tree. When, in the 1840s,  following the example set by the Royal Family, people in England started to set up their own Christmas trees there is some evidence that they were not quite sure what to do with them...

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Christmas, 1842

Build up the fire! ‘Tis cold without -
The coldest I’ve known without a doubt!
But Christmas time demands that we
Cheerful, bright and merry be.
E’en pagans chose this frosty time
To celebrate, despite the clime,
And, whate’er the hardships of the season
There can be no better reason
To pour ourselves a cup of tea
And contemplate the Christmas Tree.

O holy night! O holy night!
Come forth, perform the sacred rite!
Let us celebrate with glee
And dance around the Christmas Tree!

Without, the Christmas bells are ringing
And the carol singers singing;
In the church the busy vicar
Blesses his flock by candle-flicker,
While through the woods men gaily go,
Gathering the mistletoe
To deck their halls and rafters bare
That they might then make merry there,
Sat beneath the wild berry
Eating mince pies and watching telly drinking sherry.

O holy night! O holy night!
Come forth, perform the sacred rite!
Let us celebrate with glee
And dance around the Christmas Tree!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (15)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

The Poet Speaks

Mama and Papa have confused me,
Though 'twas not their intention, I deem.
They filled up my head with the oddest ideas
- I wander through life in a dream!

But they in their turn had their heads filled up
By old men in frockcoat and wig,
Whose coffee-house chatter resulted in notions
For which I would not give a fig!

Things can only get worse, I fear -
Good sense is destined to fade
Unless every young lady avoids young men
And resolves to die an old maid!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

On the Opening of St George's Hall, Bradford, 1853

That so grand an edifice
Should house so great a Hall
Is but a Law of Nature:
'Tis but the outside wall.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

The Storm

Thunder and lightning fill my brain
With tumultuous thoughts, all the day long.
Sometimes I think it will surely explode,
Leaving me headless: I hope I'm wrong.

Come lightening, flash! Come, thunder, crash!
Do your worst, that you might inspire
A river of words to flow from my pen
As sweet music flows from the lyre.

Margery Clute (1824-76) 

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Went to Darlington today. Decided to combine a bit of Christmas shopping with International Put Your Poem In A Shop Month. I placed four in all : three I've written (and posted) before, plus one I wrote specially for the occasion. Below the poems you'll find a flickr slideshow with the documentary evidence! Which poem went in which shop is self explanatory.

Banana Poem


Love in the Café

Just across the way from me
sat a woman, drinking herbal tea.
Her other hand played on the screen
of a shiny new hand-held machine.
I drank up, left, felt very green:
it was the coolest phone I'd seen.

In A Bookshop

All you can see through the tall windows are
the rooftops of the city, and the sky
(both crinkled slightly by the imperfect glass).
This partial view serves to convey a sense
of stillness in which people linger, drawn
to contemplate the stacks, searching the spines
for words they hadn't thought of, books that might provide
some sort of landmark on a mental map.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

RIP Christopher Logue

I ought to read the paper more. I've only just caught up with the fact that Christopher Logue died a couple of weeks ago on 2nd December, aged 85. He's been at the front of my mind this month, too. It was all sparked off by Dick Jones, who posted recordings of Logue's excellent Red Bird EP on his Patteran Pages blog (from which I have borrowed the photo - I feel sure Dick won't mind). If you haven't been there to listen to Logue's jazz-accompanied loose translations of Neruda, do go: they make a great epitaph for the man.

Dick's recordings got me going back to Logue's poems - I've had a copy of his Ode to the Dodo sitting on the shelves for years. I won't write about it at length, only to say that he speaks with a bold, musical, refreshing authority. I'll just quote this, from New Numbers (1969):

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.

Monday, 12 December 2011


I though I should get into the spirit of International Put Your Poem In A Shop Month. Yesterday I paid a visit to the local garden centre. They have some very nice plants with big red leaves on. They were also giving out free coffee and mince pies. Brief, spontaneous and heavily reliant on an ancient TV series but there we go. It's a start...

The Flowerpot Man's Love Song

Obadob flobadob
Little Weed!

You've taken root
but you ain't gone to seed.

Obadob flobadob
Little Weed!

You look bloomin' wonderful,
Petal, indeed.

Obadob flobadob
Little Weed!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (14)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.


To see the yellow daffodils
Drives away all sundry ills,
And upon the lawn the crocus
Peeps out from the grass to poke us.

Harken to the cows that moo
And to the rooks that make ado
Among the treetops (such a flock!
Were they men, they'd run amok!)

And see the stripèd bee that flies
Along the hedge before my eyes!
Nature has woken to a joyful morn!
Who could, for long, remain forlorn?

Margery Clute (1824-76) 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (13)

Autumn Gales

What thoughts absorb the lofty trees
As in the wind they sway,
As gales roar around them
Like the tide around a quay?

Do they despair of the turbulent air
That wafts them to and fro?
Or do they dance in ecstasy?
How can we ever know?

 Margery Clute (1824-76)

Ode to an Ancient Stone

O Ancient Stone
If thou couldst speak
How thou wouldst groan!
I can no more
My thoughts postpone,
O Ancient Stone.

O Ancient Stone
The birds are flown
That once adorned
That rocky zone
About thy crest.
No more art thou
So fairly blessed!

The wingèd birds
Possess the air
As thou the mossy ground.
They sing a song
Both loud and long;
Thou makest not a sound.

O voiceless Stone!
This song I'll drone
For thee, that all might hear:
As thou wouldst,
Had Nature's art
Fashioned thee an ear!

 Margery Clute (1824-76)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (12)

 If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.



He glowed with beauty like a tree
That reaches up towards the sky.


I dozed: my soul did drift away,
Fearless, to a sleepy land,
Where Wilfred stood upon a cloud,
A golden harp held in his hand.

Motionless he stood and yet
The sweetest music seemed to flow
Down from his aethereal height
To waft around my ears below.

I woke to bitter memory:
Alas! Poor Wilfred is no more!
At one now with the rocks and stones,
Cold, beneath the chapel floor!

 Margery Clute (1824-76)

Winter Sketch

When icicles hang

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (11)

A Wayward Thought

A Wayward thought assailed me:
I know this place of yore.
The range, the chair, the window:
I've seen them all before.

Perhaps I dreamt of such a place,
Forgotten until now?
There is no way of telling:
If I did, I'll never know.

Perhaps I lived another life,
Unknown until some potent thing
Disturbed a knowledge, parcelled up,
Unravelling the string?

(Can I be sure? Does Time connect
Each moment to the next?
Such wayward thoughts confuse me
And leave me feeling vexed).

Perhaps this is the place I sat
Before I went outside
And coming back it's still the same,
The place where I reside?

'Tis so, I deem. The answer's clear!
Simplicity itself!
I recognise that book I left
Sitting on the shelf!

 Margery Clute (1824-76)

Monday, 14 November 2011


If you're not up to speed on 7ism, check out Natalie D'Arbeloff's blog:

The aim of 7ism is the creation of Complete and Wonderful artworks, in any medium, within the time frame of seven days, no less and no more, in a continuous procession of seven day periods, ad infinitum.

This is her first 7ist project:

If You go Down to the Woods Today...

Not, I hasten to add, a continuation of the teddy bears theme although it does make me wonder what deep, embedded folk memories gave rise to that song. I recently read a post on The Solitary Walker's blog in the course of which he posted this anonymous 14th century poem:

While leaves were green, I gave
Veneration to my sweetheart's leafy bower.
Sweet it was awhile, my love,
To live under the birch grove,
Sweeter still to clasp fondly
Hidden together in our woodland hide,
Strolling together by the seashore,
Lingering together by the wood-shore,
Planting birches together, goodly task!
Weaving the branches together,
Love-talking with my slender girl.

An innocent occupation for a girl -
To stroll the forest with her lover,
To mirror expressions, to smile together,
To laugh together and, mouth to mouth,
To lie together in the grove,
To shun others, to complain together,
To live together kindly, drinking mead,
To repose together, to celebrate love,
To keep love's secret cordon, covertly:
Truly, I have no need to tell you more.

Did I hear someone on TV the other week (Ronald Blythe?) talking about or did I read in Deakin's Wildwood the fact that in the past romance went on in the woods, there being no privacy in house where many people shared a room? Whoever it was claimed that for centuries most people in Britain were conceived in the woods.

So, perhaps we actually had a "mating season" at one time. Perhaps what people see as an "over sexualized" culture in the West has more to do with general improvements to the standard of living and housing than sexual imagery in the media and all the usually cited causes. (Of course it does, as any fule kno. Seems obvious when I write it). If so, all the usual suspects (however unwholesome they are) may indeed be the effects, the symptoms - rather than the root cause.

No-one would choose a return to Victorian living conditions, but the fact is we were not designed for too much comfort. I find myself wondering what would happen to any animal if you serruptitiously removed it from the natural cycles it took for granted and find myself looking at our own species. Perhaps the process in our case has been going on for thousands of years, ever since our intelligence began to develop and we started to make more and more "intelligent" rather than intuitive decisions. This perhaps created a vicious circle, which would fuel the evolution of our kind of intelligence. I'm imagining that, stepping outside the bounds of instinct and intuition, we create problems that need solving, and need more and more of that intelligence to solve them, reducing our intuition to an advisory capacity. The bigger the hole we dig for ourselves, the more we have to think about how to get out of it - and we started digging millenia ago. How much deeper will it get? And how much more "intelligent" will we get? Will we ever get so intelligent we decide to stop digging?

To put it another way, once cheetahs started chasing prey, they had to evolve to run faster and faster, I imagine, as the also-evolving prey took up the challenge. Similarly, as soon as we began to rely on "bright ideas" to survive, we needed to have brighter and brighter ones to fix the mistakes of the past. I speculate, but if you live on fish and invent a way to fish more effectively, you exhaust the fish stocks and have to think up a new way to avoid starving. If you lacked the intelligence to invent spears and nets you would have to rely on grabbing your fish. Both you and the fish would get by.

Now, what are we going to do about all that nuclear waste?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (10)

 If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

The Fireside

'Tis night! The darkness closes in.
Without, the raw wind moans and howls.
I sit enchanted, by the fire,
And listen to the hooting owls.

To-wit to-woo! To-wit to-woo!
I'm pleased I'm in here and not out there,
Where ragged clouds eclipse the stars
And leaves swirl wildly in the air.

The darkness of the sky goes on
And on forever, it seems to me.
If only I could sit beside
This fire, for all eternity

And listen to the roar without
While eating muffins, drinking tea.
I cannot think of anywhere
In all the world I'd rather be.

  Margery Clute (1824-76)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Of Teddy Bears and Poetry

I've been collecting together the poetry I've written over the past few years, selecting the the stuff I'm reasonably pleased with and weeding out the rest. I've put it all together on a page, here for anyone who'd like to read it. There's a link to it, too, below the blog header, above.


I've just been enjoying reading through the blog of Alan Measles - Grayson Perry's teddy bear. I'm seriously tempted to go down to London to see The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. Whatever Alan's head is stuffed with seems to work better than the grey stuff I've got stuffed between my ears. He says:

Grayson bless him has his ‘art’. He hopes the show will inspire people to take their inner lives more seriously. Seeing world culture through his obsessions and perversities might help people to start out on their own personal pilgrimages and find relics of their own selves laid out before them just as he is coming to realise that the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman may be a very elaborate inner self portrait.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

24 Hours of Art

It's turning into quite an artistic weekend, here. Last night we stayed up late watching a TV documentary on Grayson Perry's Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum. Then, this afternoon, we went to the Baltic art gallery in Gateshead, to see the Turner Prize exhibition.

First, the Grayson Perry. This was the remarkable story of how Perry has built a cast iron boat - a tomb, in the spirit of Sutton Hoo, of the unknown craftsman who is, on one level, a symbolic figure representing all the unknown craftspeople who created artefacts the likes of which are now in the British Museum and, on another level, Perry's father, a man who could as Perry put it, 'fix a motorbike and "rewire the television"'. Perry's mother had an affair with the milkman, prompting his father to leave when Perry was very small, leaving nothing behind him but a shed full of tools and a motorbike.

A work of art in the form of a custom built motorbike decorated by Perry and incorporating a shrine for his teddy bear-god Alan Measles, also features prominently in the exhibition. Perry took Alan and the motorbike on a pilgrimage to Germany. The young Perry and Measles had fought many imaginary battles with German soldiers and so, he felt, it was the right thing to do - an act of peace-making. It also, very cleverly I thought, gave the bike a "backstory" not unlike many of the artefacts in the Museum which so interested the artist.

In the course of the progamme, Perry said (I think I've got this right) how although he was pleased to be a part of the 'modern art' world, he was concerned that many contemporary works of art were less interesting than the buildings they were exhibited in, relying on the milieu of the gallery space to confer the aura of an artwork upon them. This was one of the things he liked about the British Museum - the artefacts in it were interesting in themselves. These thoughts were still kicking around inside my head when we went to the Baltic this afternoon. The Turner Prize Exhibition was certainly popular. The queue to get in was twenty minutes long...

The video work on show by Hilary Lloyd was OK so far as it went. The blurb told us that "her films are often displayed using a number of projectors to create a collaged effect of moving images with various angles shown at the same time". This is certainly accurate.  However, it's not so long since I went to the Baltic to see a Robert Breer exhibition. He was doing similar things with animation in the 1960s. I have to say I found his work a lot more interesting.

I thought the work Martin Boyce had on offer, harking back to Calder mobiles, seemed a tad derivative too. I've not seen any of his work before but, judging by photos of it on the internet, I'd probably find much of it more interesting, I suspect, than the work on show at the Baltic at the moment. To be fair to both artists, I'm not familiar with either of them and there is only a small proportion of their work on show here - nothing like enough to draw any conclusions about what they do.

I quite liked Karla Black's work - a landscape that might possibly belong to another planet (not unlike a Star Trek original series set) created from crumpled thick paper, transparent plastic, dry powder paint, and crumbling "bath bombs". I particularly liked the suspended cloud created -I think- from crumpled net curtain. I felt an urge to cautiously stalk around the area with a drawn phaser.

My favourite artist in the exhibition -by a mile- was George Shaw, with his Humbrol model-paint landscapes. To quote the blurb, Shaw (as many people know, as he's getting deservedly famous these days)
paints the landscape of his childhood on a council estate in Coventry using Humbrol enamel... The highly detailed paintings are of houses, pubs and nearby parks, without people but filled with evidence of human activities.
The exhibition quoted Larkin:  "Nothing, like something, happens anywhere". One might equally have invoked Samuel Beckett. Shaw has a penchant for the great title. My favourite picture (and title) of his here was Landscape with Dog Shit Bin. To my mind, this was an artist doing what Grayson Perry wants artists to do. There were overtones of Perry, too, in the preoccupation with the artist's childhood - with regard not only to subject-matter but also to the choice of materials (the Humbrol paint, as the blurb says, "the material of choice for teenage model makers" ). Definitely worth queuing round the block for.

As was the exhibition on the floor above the Turner Prize show: a far less well-attended exhibition of work by the American artists, Mike Kelly and Michael Smith, A Voyage of Growth and Discovery. This featured videos of Mike Smith performing in the role of his famous "Baby Ikki" character, an ambiguous mute figure dressed as a baby, wearing sunglasses and sucking a dummy. There were definite overtones of Grayson Perry again, I thought, with his preoccupations with childhood and the way it reverberates through life as a whole. There is even a motor vehicle -in this case, a drab, dilapidated camper van. There are teddy bears, too. Smith's vision, though, is bleak and minimal where Perry's is lush and Rococo. (I enjoyed both).

For now, the Grayson Perry documentary can be seen here:

You can read brief bios of the Turner Prize artists here:

The Poetry of Margery Clute (9)

 If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

The Ploughman

Were we but to follow
Like the tiny sparrow
The ploughman as he turns his furrow
With no thought for the morrow!

Time turns our thoughts to higher things
As ploughshares turn the hefty clods
So that we are left at odds
With this material world, that springs

From that same instinct that inspires
The tiny sparrow's song!
O, that we need not wait too long
To kindle the immortal fires!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Back from Wales

Just back from 10 internet-free days in Wales. Had a great time, even though it rained a lot. There's no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather, as they say.

Karen took a lot of photographs including this one,taken from the back of the house we stayed in which is on a hill overlooking  Borth y Gest.

Found some interesting places we've never been before, even though we've been going to that area twice a year for about fifteen years, including two medieval houses -Ty Mawr and Penarth Fawr- that are open to the public.

Wrote a poem:

Borth y Gest

it's cold and you can smell
the woodsmoke on the air:
it's late october. the tide is in
and in the blue dusk the sea
laps against the harbour wall.

if you try to feel unworldly
it's easy to fall into the trap
of thinking you're succeeding -
yet when you feel grateful
by the harbour wall you know
it's not as easy as all that
(if indeed it is desirable at all).

We tried to fix up an internet connection but couldn't get it to work which, I thought, turned out to be a good thing. It meant I read more and found time to write stuff other than blog posts! I'm currently ploughing through Iris Murdoch's Nuns and Soldiers. Found two or three good second hand book stalls too. It seems to me that they're harder to find than they used to be these days. I picked up a few books I've not read, including The Crow Road by Iain Banks and Virtual Light by William Gibson (I've never read any William Gibson). I also found a copy of Selected Poems by Edwin Muir which -although I like his poetry- I didn't have.

Being on holiday meant I got time to read the paper. Read a very interesting article in the Guardian by Jeanette Winterson about her childhood.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (8)


If I could but sail the bluebell sea
And ride the myriad tinkling waves
'Twould be the acme of this world's delight!
Unsullied blue, untainted by the factory smoke,
Blue as the sky that first succumbs to city belch,
A letter, writ upon the forest floor
For all to read who dare! Could I but sing
The song that's written there – sweeter still than poetry:
A Holy Writ that fades with the shortening of the days.
I must content myself to walk among
It's mute, mysterious words that touch
The very essence of my Being.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Birds

It's been a while since I wrote a poem not under a nom de plume. I put that right this week. This, for what it's worth, is it:

The Birds

can you hear the birds?
they're somewhere over there

it's so dark between the lights
they never turn them off
it sounds as if
there must be trees

we can only dream
as we walk

keep walking he said
either the wire goes on forever or
this is the place I started out

play your violin
I'll listen I said
play a tune I know
tell me what it is

they tell me the birds
are singing the national anthem only
these days my ears
don't work properly and it just sounds
like twittering to me

play your violin I say
anything is better
than the birds

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Would two heads be better than one?

This is not what I set out to blog about today. I started to write a post, read it back - and then decided to delete it. One of the things I find particularly satisfying about writing a blog is the way it challenges you to examine what you think.

We all have those experiences when it's as if a light has come on in our heads. We've followed a train of thought and suddenly we have an idea or see something in a different light. It's easy to feel smug when this happens, in the uneditted part of our minds. Blogging is guaranteed to bring you down to earth in these situations. Nine times out of ten I find, if I set these things down they appear, when I read them back, to be simplistic, self-satisfied or just plain wrong. Blogging can be driven by vanity - it can also be a chastening source of humility.

I almost wrote another post the other day, and then -for the reasons above- decided not to. I'd found myself thinking how much better it would be if we all had two heads. I'm not just talking about appearances here (although it is the case that it would great if one could be a hippy and a skinhead at the same time). I'm sure as a species we'd be far more reflective if we had to discuss everything we did with a second self. And we'd never be lonely.

There are downsides. It would be good to be more reflective, but it could work the other way: my two heads could egg each other on to ever more despicable acts. Some aspects of modern life would be made more difficult: would I share a mobile phone with myself? If my other head was into "I'm on the train" kind of conversations, it could prove very annoying. As for tastes in music, or the chattery noise that comes out of walkman headphones, it doesn't bear thinking about. Garlic, snoring... I could go on.

Anyway, from the ridiculous to the sublime. If my other head was into this, I wouldn't mind at all. This is what happened when John Cage met up with James Joyce and Robert Wyatt...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (7)

What is the World?

What is the world? Is there a scheme or plan
To that in which we sit and pass the time,
Or think, or act, or listen for the chime?
Has it been just so since time began?
Why do the stars shine in the sky?
Why are people born? Why do they die?

Such is the poet's lot, I deem! - To fret
On things sane men endeavour to forget.

Margery Clute (1824-76) 


Untouchable, invisible,
A breathless wind that blows
From whence it came
To who knows where!
The clock, it's weather-vane -
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Time passes, pitiless,
Without a care!

Would that I might sail against the stream
Recapturing the youthful gleam;
But who can resist Time's ruthless flow?
If any can, please let me know!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

News from Nowhere... and the The Bell...

Just had one of those weeks that's dominated by work. I'd been hoping to intersperse my posts on the timeless verse of Margery Clute with a few other posts, but few opportunities have arisen.

It began with a busy weekend last weekend - the band did a gig at The Victoria Theatre, Halifax. Alan Burnett, of the News From Nowhere blog came along with his partner, which was great. He was kind enough to take a photo - and give us a plug on his blog.

Ever since then it's been work. And, personally, I find the best way to get through a heavy schedule is to relax in a positively cat-like way whenever the odd opportunity to do so arises. A spare couple of hours on Monday night was spent with half a bottle of wine, a few green olives and Dr Who. Other rare moments of peace have been spent reading Iris Murdoch's The Bell. This proved to be unputdownable. It's left me with the feeling Murdoch novels often leave me with: that I was about to be shown the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but never quite was - which, in a novel, is the way it should be (and, of course, has to be). This is accentuated in The Bell by the brooding presence of the Benedictine Abbey, the inner life of which is largely obscured from the other characters in the book and the reader. One is led to consider that perhaps, within the novel, meaning lies within it: since what happens there remains largely unsaid, it's impossible to rule this possibility out. And the nuns who live there are largely portrayed as people of wisdom and integrity - unlike the religious characters on the outside who rarely, in the book, attain these qualities and certainly not both at once!

I picked the book up in an Oxfam shop together with another Murdoch novel I haven't read, The Unicorn. That can serve as next week's dose of escapism.

Oh, and I've been listening to this. Treated myself to a CD of Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux. This is an excerpt from Le Merle  Bleu: The Rock Thrush. Messiaen's pieces set out to evoke the songs and habitats of French birds. I've discovered that it's fascinating to listen to the music in a place where you can watch birds in the wild. I came to the fanciful conclusion that if birds could play the piano (not that they need to), this is the sort of music they'd make:

The Poetry of Margery Clute (6)


It always makes me frown
To see the Sun go Down -
I always feel depressed
As it sinks into the West.
Does it know no other way
To end the day?

Margery Clute (1824-76)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (5)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some important background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Night Thoughts

The stars shine down upon the dingy streets -
Diamond studs upon a sable dome;
Frost glistens on the cobble stones
And makes me feel sad to be at home.

To think I sleep beneath so grand a sight,
Blind as a stone, oblivious to it all!
Or lie awake, considering our earthly plight,
Staring blankly at the mind's dark wall,

Thinking sad thoughts, such as a horse might think
Hauling it's load along the dingy bank
From Liverpool to Leeds, when I might dance
Alone, uncorsetted, beneath the Moon!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Day full of Music

It's late... Just gone 1am. I've just got back from a day of gigging that started at 11am and finished at 10pm. How any of us have any fingers left I'll never know.

It began at a local business, who employ us now and again to play at their promotional events. We played there (with breaks) until 4pm, when we had to pack up and head off to Glusburn Institute -its a community and arts centre in -where else- the Yorkshire village of Glusburn, half way between Skipton and Keighley. It's a good example of North of England 19th century civic architecture, complete with dome and public clock. The hall there boasts an impressive stage. We'd driven 50 miles to get there so it was good to discover that the audience, though small, was truly enthusiastic.

On the way back, in complete contrast to the Gypsy jazz we'd been playing, we found ourselves listening to Trevor Wishart's Globalalia on Radio 3. It's a multi-channel electronic piece which uses syllables taken from 26 languages from around the world to create music based on the sounds of language itself. One of the great things about his music is that, at its best, it has the capacity to captivate and enthrall people who do not think themselves as fans of "difficult" music. Unfortunately, none of his most exciting work is available on Youtube, but here's a short documentary about a smaller but similar project he undertook in Madrid:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (4)

Poem, 1867

What lies between my Ears?
So many things remembered,
Set aside lest I Forget -
My hopes, my Fears - although
The Image fades with Time
To shades of Grey.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

The Cuckoo

The Cuckoo pecked
At the Portal of my Mind
Hoping, no doubt,
A Little Seed to find.

O Cuckoo, Sing!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.
Your Fluting Song of Spring
Is not unkind.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Monday, 19 September 2011


"Imagine we're all characters in a novel," said B.
"OK," said a man he didn't know by name but could imagine sat, like himself, in front of a glowing computer screen, killing time, escaping from 101 things that needed to be done... "So - what we think of as real life is actually just a book?"
"Exactly. Everything we say is the stuff that gets squeezed between the inverted commas", said B.
"I'm with you", the shadowy figure replied.
"So who writes all the stuff in between? Who's the narrator? Who writes all those paragraphs where no-one actually says anything?"
"Dunno," said the shadowly figure. "Isn't that taking the idea a bit far?"
"Humour me," said B.
"OK. I don't know. Who does write all the stuff in between?" said the shadowy figure.
"The artists," said B. "The painters, the writers, the sculptors, the composers, the poets, and so on."
There was a pause. A box popped up on B's screen telling him an update was available for a programme he'd never heard of. He cancelled it.
"I see what you mean," said the shadowy figure.
It's a shame, thought B: it's getting late. It would soon be time to go to work. He'd have to log off. Just when things were getting interesting.
"What if the novel's all dialogue?" said the shadowy figure. What a clever shadowy figure, thought B. He had to think fast.
"Then the characters have to work harder to say what they mean," he said. It was the best he could do.
"It's an interesting idea," said Mr Shadow.
"It is. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense of things. I mean, the meaning or purpose of the arts. It explains why they're more than entertainment. It cuts across boundaries. You don't have to take sides (not that you ever did). I mean, you don't have to choose between Tracy Emin and the Stuckists. Elgar and John Cage. If something someone makes is a meaningful part of the narrative then great."
"Music - now that's interesting. Are you saying that when we listen to music we should ask ourselves: what is this piece of music a soundtrack to?"
"Yes, I suppose I am," said B.
"And poetry... It means it might rhyme and go dumdidumdidum or be all irregular lines with funny punctuation but that doesn't matter at all, what's important is the part it plays in the narrative?"
"Exactly," said B.
"If you're right then the arts are pretty important," said Mr Shadow.
"Indeed," said B. "Invaluable." It was 7.55. If he stayed online longer he'd be pushing it...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (3)

On Baildon Moor

On Baildon Moor the howling wind
Is not unkind.
‘Tis city life –not moorland air-
That makes us blind.

The dingy streets confound our souls
And burden us with unnatural care!
One can see the world so clearly here.
Not so, down there.

And, I must say, I feel bereft
When I desert this mossy cleft –
As if here is all the light that’s left
In this dark world;

Even as if this wild, wide expanse
So calculated to entrance
Was (it could be worse)
The Centre of the Universe.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

The Fly

I saw a Fly.
It made me sigh.
Poor Fly!

Doomed to buzz
From Wall to Wall
Oblivious to the Rise and Fall
Of Humankind.

It doesn't mind
At all.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (2)

If you missed the first installment, which provided some background information regarding Margery Clute's poetry, you can read it here.

The Trees in Spring

The Trees in Spring
Adorn their twigs
With a multitude
Of verdant Sprigs

- And all the while the Birds
Sing out their Hearts
To Hill and Vale
In many Parts.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

The indents employed by Clute in the next poem made impossible to publish as text on blogger, so I've had to present it as an image:

Monday, 5 September 2011

So that was Friday...

Pen Hill from Zebra Hill

Last Friday I went for run over Pen Hill. It's a long time since I was out running on the fells. For the last couple of years, when I've been out running, it's usually been on the road. Walking parts of Hadrian's Wall, climbing Helvellyn and -on a more sedentary note- seeing some great photos of running in the Dark Peak (and cake) recently over at Tea & Cake had really got me itching to get up a hill with my running shoes on again.

I started from a roadside layby half way up - a cheat I felt, in a way, as it's more satisfying to start from the bottom. I'd not done any hill work for ages though, so rather than wear myself out I thought I'd ease myself in gradually - a wise decision, I decided, as I struggled up the slope to the beacon that stands on the Eastern end of summit-plateau.

It was great to be running through flowering heather again, along the plateau's Southern edge with it's superb view of a distant Great Whernside, and the sky. Along that side the path fades into a network of faint desire-lines. Some lead nowhere, others join up at eroded nexus-points, from which other lines lead off. Sometimes the heather hides a treacherous surface of tumbled rocks which slows you down to a walk. I chose the lines which took me to my first objective - a miniature rocky outcrop, strung out along the Southern edge. I touched the rocks in greeting -it had been a long time since I'd been there- without stopping. I've run on Pen Hill a great deal in the past -it's the "local hill", just down the road from here- so I was quite surprised to find a  path I'd not explored before. I took it, glad for a break from the awkward terrain.

The path took me down to a Land Rover-track that cuts up from the valley and across the middle of the plateau. As I've got out the habit of hill-running, the reascent seemed quite hard work. Then, all of a sudden, I realised that my field of vision -ahead, left, right- contained nothing but the moor immediately around me, skyline and sky. It was an exhilarating feeling. A minute later and I was looking down into Wensleydale - the valley on the Northern side. From there, it was a short run along the tops of the Northern cliffs, past the Iron Age chieftan's grave, to the beacon. I could see the car from there and after a steep descent it was no more than a jog across a couple of fields to the end of the first fell-run in ages.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Poetry of Margery Clute (1)

Margery Clute, from the frontespiece of Fallen Leaves

This is the first of an series of posts I'll be posting on Saturdays to promote the poetry of Margery Clute.

Margery Clute was born in the village of Baildon, on the outskirts of Bradford, in 1824 - less than 20 miles from her more well-known contemporaries, the Bronte sisters.

By the time of her birth, Bradford was an important centre for the textile trade, with over 200 factory chimneys belching black smoke. Cholera and typhoid were rife, and the average life expectancy of a Bradford-dweller was a mere 18 years.

Living in Baildon, close to the Moor, the tension between the rural and the industrial would have been part of Margery's day-to-day experience. It is hardly surprising to find this tension reflected in her work - for example, in the short lyric My Fevered Brain (1846).

Astute readers will detect a kinship with the American poetry of Emily Dickinson - a delicately observed metaphysical take on the world that opens the eyes of the reader to the previously invisible. There are also overtones of Blake, in theme and simplicity and, of course, the Lakeland poets.

Her poetry was always alert to contemporary developments: take for example her account of the arrival of the railway in Bradford - On the Opening of the Leeds and Bradford Railway, 1846.

Very little of Margery's poetry was published in her lifetime, and none since. On the Opening of the Leeds and Bradford Railway was published in a local Bradford newspaper. However, she did arrange to have a volume of her poems -entitled Fallen Leaves- privately printed and she deposited the result at Bradford Central Library. It was borrowed only rarely, although when I was living in West Yorkshire in the 1980s I was lucky enough to come across across it by accident in the poetry section. I was quite interested in her at the time: I made photocopies of quite a lot of it. I was reminded of it all when I came across them in a cardboard box the other day when I was cleaning out the attic. Hopefully, thanks to the internet, it will now be possible to give her the readership she deserves. I intend to publish a number of her poems in a series of occasional posts.

Daughter of a local mill-owner, Margery was always comfortably off. Her life, however, was not untouched by troubles: she had three sisters and two brothers - all but one of whom were carried off by the cholera epidemic in 1848.
In 1876, Margery herself died, as she had lived, in obscurity. She was buried in Undercliffe Cemetery in the Clute family vault.

The Moon

The moon cries out in anguish -
His silver face so sad!
His silent song disturbs my heart -
I wish he’d smile instead

And look down on the world below
With an optimistic eye
When he comes out to say hello
Or sinks, to say goodbye.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Written on a Foggy Day

If you could see what I can see
You'd wonder where you are.
I'm not that sure myself
As I can't see very far.

All around 'tis milky white
I could be anywhere!
Atop a crag, beside a hole -
To venture out, who'd dare?

Such dreadful visions crowd the brain!
None but the intrepid soul
Would venture out and take the risk
Of falling down a hole.

Margery Clute (1824-76)

On the Opening of the Leeds and
Bradford Railway, 1846

I had not seen a 'train' before -
It took me by Surprise.
An Iron House on wheels, belching
Smoke, and such a size!

With a noise like Drummers Drumming,
The massive Wheels turned -
While in the creature's Belly
A Hellish Fire burned.

And how I longed to jump aboard,
To go off on a Spree!
To travel through the countryside
Past Field, and Hill, and Tree!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

My Fevered Brain

My Fevered Brain
Unhinged by Moorland Stream
Propelled me forth
Like a Demented Sunbeam
Unto a Second Birth.

No more, the Smoking Mills!
The Drudge of Darkened Days!
No more the back
Bent to the Loom of Time!

Margery Clute (1824-76)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


A sleepless night. I'm not complaining. I drifted in and out of consciousness, dream and reality melding one into the other. And at 3.30am a barbershop quartet started to sing in the street outside.

Meet the gang, 'cos the boys are here,
The boys to entertain you-ou-ou...

I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled into the living room. I opened the window and leaned out.

"What the hell..." I began.

The quartet ground to a halt.

"I'm terribly sorry sir", said one of the singers, clearly the mover and shaker. "We're from Arnside Rotary Club. We have to get up early to catch the commuters."

At the this point our host, mother of F, popped her head out of another window and addressed me.

"Don't be too hard on them," she said. They do a lot of good work for the local community."

I aquiesced, and returned to bed.

Nothing much else happened. The grey sky I could see though the gaps in the blind gradually got lighter. Drizzle rattled on the window from time to time. As dawn approached the gaps between the pulses of rain began to close. I had planned to get up at 6.30, by which time they'd closed altogether. I fell asleep.

I woke up two hours later. Drat that barbershop quartet.

Or not. In fact, starting out later than we intended to meant that we caught the best part of the day. We stopped briefly at a coffee shop in Glenridding then set off on the stiff, uphill trudge that leads to the foot of Striding Edge (there are good photos at this link: I took no camera).

The trudge is worth it, as it means that nothing ever seems quite so steep for the rest of the day. We intended to climb Helvellyn via the classic circuit - ascend Striding Edge, walk along the summit ridge to the summit, descend Swirral Edge at the other end.  F and I had been up Helvellyn before and remembered Striding Edge as being a lot easier a scramble than its reputation suggested. It turned out to be not quite as easy as I remembered it: in the past, I decided, I must have taken the easier path around the most difficult part, the rock tower near the end known as The Chimney. It starts off easily enough. You have the pleasant feeling of rock underfoot as you walk along a ridge not unlike the ridge of a roof, with a view down both sides. An even easier path winds around the rocks for anyone who wishes to take it. However, as you approach the main body of the mountain The Chimney rises up (this is the part I must have circumvented in the past). This time we strayed onto it and were treated to several minutes of exhilarating, airy scrambling, ending in the descent of a short, steep gully which I'd guess would count as a Moderate-graded rock climb. All three of us -myself, friend F and son D- gathered finally on the col which separated the pinnacle from the long dirty climb to the summit ridge itself.

Any believer in the Genesis account of creation would be forgiven for mistaking this slope for God's building site. Piles of shattered rock are strewn all over the slope over a surface with the consistency of sludgy cement. Fortunately, although it's steep it's nothing like as long as the intitial trudge up from Glenridding, so we soon came out on the summit ridge. Surprisingly for a Bank Holiday, we had it to ourselves. The sun was out, the cloud was high and the wind only slight. We sat down, ate cake and admired the view. Then we made a few calls (including to F's mum, who had kindly offered to cook us a meal when we returned) and set off down Swirral Edge, feeling a twinge of envy for the handful of wild campers pitched below us on the banks of Red Tarn. As we did so, the first wisps of cloud appeared between ourselves and the summit. The further we went the damper the air became. A mile or so out from Glenridding it began to rain seriously. By the time we got back to the car park we were soaked.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Lindisfarne Senryu

Early in the Twentieth Century, the Portugese cellist, Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medim Suggia Carteado Mena (1885-1950), known as Guilhermina Suggia was a frequent visitor to Lindisfarne Castle. She was briefly engaged to the then-owner, Edward Hudson. The reasons for the breaking of the engagement are unclear.

here is a cello
like a coffin full of air
the space around it


playing a Bach suite
the harebells for company
the sea, listening


                               Photo: Karen Rivron

Campanula rotundifolia (harebells) growing on the wall of 
Lindisfarne Castle 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Conlon Nancarrow and the Player Piano

If I wanted an example of what I personally find so great about the internet, the case of Conlon Nancarrow would be a good one to quote. When I was younger, he'd be no more than a footnote in a book about music: an eccentric US composer who gets mentioned after Ives, Cowell and Partch. The jolly cacophony of his Studies for Player Piano would have had to remain in my imagination, unless I was lucky enough to come across a recording in the local record library - fat chance. That was then. Now, someone has had the good sense to upload videos of them to Youtube.

Nancarrow, a communist who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, spent most of his life living in Mexico. He's most famous for composing these Studies. The player piano/pianola has two advantages over the more normal kind. It's not limited to playing the notes you can reach with two five-digit human hands  and it can play incredibly complex rhythms - for example you can make it play any number of musical lines at once, all moving at different speeds. Here's to jolly cacophony...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Moon Worshippers

Went to Lindisfarne the other day. We've been there many times, but we've never actually visited the castle before. It's a great place and it's owned by the National Trust (so if you're a member you get in free). Like most NT properties, it's full of paintings, old furniture, interesting books and suchlike, only in this case -for me- the most interesting thing was the place itself. I didn't feel moved to find out a lot about it (how it was once a castle, but was turned into a house by the architect Edwin Lutyens). Instead, I just wanted to climb the stairs, look out of the windows, walk on the battlements and admire the view.

The island was very busy. On pleasant Summer days a tide of people almost as overwhelming as the tide that covers the sands around it and cuts it off floods onto the island as the water recedes. Queuing anywhere that sells food and drink can be a nightmare. (We've found, in the past, that one of the best ways to enjoy the place is to stay there after the tide has come in - it's usually quieter then). Instead, hungry and thirsty, we drove up to Berwick. Neither of us knew the place really. I'd been fantasising about Italian food all afternoon and I was delighted to catch sight of an Italian flag as we drove over the long bridge into the town centre. As I suspected, it hung over the door of an Italian restaurant. After eating we headed back to Lindisfarne, knowing that the tide would soon be in and the causeway which joins the island to the mainland at low tide covered.

The incoming tide on a pleasant evening at Lindisfarne is something of a tourist attraction. People are drawn there and if you've ever been there and soaked up the atmosphere it's easy to see why. They park up and gather at the end of the causeway at the water's edge, watching the intractable line of the water as it trickles innocuously over the grit and through the grass, up onto the road itself. I always feel uncannily aware there that what I'm watching, at my feet, is the moon pulling at the earth. Hardly surprising, as Lindisfarne is an uncanny place all round. When we were there there were about fifteen swans there too, waddling over the sand and swimming up and down the deepening channels. If you're lucky, seals swim up to the road to say hello. Finally the road is covered and the crowd melts away.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Almost Heaven

I've had a great time the last couple of days: I've been walking a section of Hadrian's Wall. I've not been on my own - it was a sort of informal "bloggers convention". It all began when George (who writes the Transit Notes blog) decided to spend a week walking the wall from coast to coast. The on this occasion not-so-Solitary Walker then said he'd join him for a few days. Then I said I'd tag along for a day or two too.

My plan was to base myself in the village of Gilsland. From there I'd head East along the Wall, hopefully meeting up with George, who was traveling West. I'd then walk back to Gilsland with him. (I enjoy straight, "there and back" walks - to my mind they're often more enjoyable than circular routes). In Gilsland we'd meet up with the Solitary Walker and spend the night in a B&B (Tantallon House: it turned out to be really good). The following day, I'd set off West with the others until lunchtime, after which I'd leave  them to carry on and make my own way back to Gilsland, and the car.

Nothing ever goes to plan, quite - but then, unpredictability is one of the joys of walking. Robert had decided to come down early and hunt down George. I ran into them both, deep in conversation, just East of the Walltown turret. Deep conversation turned out to be the order of the day, and the next day. We stopped to eat in the turret ruins, then made our way down to the refreshment kiosk at Walltown Quarry, before heading off back to Gilsland.

The central section of the wall, East of Walltown is the most spectacular -  and the most photographed. Not only has a lot of the wall (and the buildings around it) survived, but it also runs along the top of a steep ridge. It's quite easy to imagine what it might have been like: or so I thought. Until I began researching this post, I'd not realised that in its day the wall may well have been rendered and painted white. It's hard to think of  it without thinking of its neatly cut but chunky stones. As we walked along I did find myself wondering how had the landscape around the wall changed? Of course, there are modern buildings here and there, pylons, masts, conifer plantations, but I found myself wondering: just how thickly wooded was the land there in AD122, when they began building it? Were there fields, as there are now, and if so, how big were they? The more I thought about it, the harder it was to imagine Roman Britain and I found myself wishing I knew more about it.

West of this section of the wall, the character of walk changes: you're surrounded by fields, trees and wildflowers. The wall is often only recognisable from the ditch the Romans dug along its length. In some places this is quite a landmark, in others it's been reduced to a bump in the ground.

Next morning, we set off West and soon found ourselves crossing the River Irthing. Although, as I said, the remains of the wall are not so spectacular here, it's still a quite magical walk. Stone ruins remain here and there: for example, the remains of a stone bridge where the wall crosses the Irthing and the fort at Birdoswald. Wherever you are on this section, the Irthing is never that far away. At one point, crossing a bridge, we spotted an uncanny line of cairns -straight as a Roman Road- built on the stony river bed and across the pebbles of the river bank (the river there was rarely more than ankle deep). It disappeared among the trees on a bend in the river. A work of landscape art, we decided - the sort of thing Andy Galsworthy might construct. We thought it might even be an Andy Galsworthy. The river -and the line of cairns- disappeared around a bend so, intrigued, we took a track through the woods on the riverbank to find the other end of the line.

What we discovered is hard to describe. When you come across things unexpectedly you feel disorientated. You feel ill at ease and look around, wondering what's going on. Is there anybody there? Are you under some sort of threat? However benign the discovery, its unexpectedness triggers a sense of foreboding. What we discovered was a sign: Welcome to (almost) heaven. Various bits and pieces of paraphernalia were stacked against or hung from trees. Ropes, tarpaulins, bits of junk. Was this real life or Ruth Rendell? There was a line of armchairs and a settee stood on the pebbles of the riverbank, along with a table - a kind of outdoor living-room, only where you'd expect to find the TV, there was the river. Behind, strung between the trees, was a white tarpaulin on which visitors had written messages. From the messages it seemed clear that whatever the origins of (almost) heaven, it had -al least- evolved into an impromptu Hadrian's Wall service station for the soul (I say "soul" as it lacked those must-haves of UK motorway services - either a Costa Coffee or a Burger King).

We lingered for a while, tried out the armchairs, and added a cairn to the line. We found nothing more sinister than a dead mouse.

I was enjoying myself so much -what with the walk and the company- that I had neglected to turn back half way through the day and, throwing caution to the wind, had decided to finish the day's walk with Robert and George. So what if I finished twelve miles from my car? I'd get back somehow. I left the others to their B&Bs in Newton and set off to see what I could do. Plan A was to walk down to Brampton and hitch down the A69 back to Gilsland. It was a good plan - only it turned out that the bridge which carried the road from Newton to Brampton was closed for repairs. A team of men in hard hats were busy covering it with wet concrete. I had to ford the river, beneath the bridge. I squelched my way into Brampton, sticking out my thumb whenever I heard a car behind me - which wasn't often. What use is a road when a bridge on it is closed?

I hadn't a lot of water left, so I bought myself a carton of orange, and trudged on to the A69. Once there, I got a lift quite quickly from a chap who lived in Newcastle and worked at a radio station in Carlisle, who very kindly made a detour off the the main road to drop me in Gilsland. Thank you again, whoever you are. In the end I made such good time that I decided to drive to Newton and join George and Robert again for the evening.

It's great meeting up with other bloggers. Of course there are parts of other people we can never know and even parts of ourselves are hidden from us, but meeting people whose written thoughts you've read regularly for the first time is uncanny: it's as if you know them, at least partly, "inside out". The usual pleasantries never did play a part in getting to know them. In the pre-internet age it must have been similar for "penpals" meeting for the first time. It was great to be able to talk among ourselves about all the things which one would gather from reading our blogs we had more-or-less in common. If you could draw our thoughts in the form of a Venn Diagram, there would be quite a lot of places where two of the circles overlapped and, quite often, all three.

Thanks, Robert and George, for a great walk! And then there was the wall. Two days spent wandering along it has left me with an urge to walk the whole thing. Possibly in one go, certainly in sections. I wonder if I'll get round to it? What I do know is that next time I go for a long walk, I'll take two stout carrier-bags with me. Squelch.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me. George and Robert did though. Hopefully they'll upload some of them on their blogs, Transit Notes and Solitary Walker.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Music Maker

Have fun! I, for one, had not come across these before. Click on a few random squares and take it from there...

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fred Vargas

A while ago, I posted a request for good books I might try reading. I've since made a start on the suggestions, starting with  Tony Zimnoch's recommendation: Fred Vargas' crime fiction. I've been pretty well absorbed in it ever since. Whatever I've been doing, I've been wondering how I can squeeze in a half hour of Vargas-reading. I've gone from bookless to booked-out.

What's she like? George Simenon meets Sherlock, perhaps. Romans policiers with a dash of the strange. So far I've managed to read The Chalk Circle Man and An Uncertain Place. In the first, an odd, elusive character starts drawing chalk circles on the pavements of Paris around pieces of litter: Commissaire Adamsberg (Vargas' detective) is the first to suspect something sinister is afoot. It left me with a taste for these books and the second certainly gave me something to get my teeth into: it bases its fictional world on the historical ("true" would be a slightly confusing word to use in this context) 300-year-old vampire stories of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole. It's strictly a detective rather than  a horror story as such, but Vargas can certainly turn on the gothic when she needs to:

The smell was ghastly, the scene was appalling, and even Adamsberg stiffened, standing back a little behind his English colleague. From the ancient shoes, with their cracked leather and trailing laces, projected decomposed ankles, showing dark flesh and white shinbones which had been cleanly chopped off. The only thing that didn't match Clyde-Fox's account was that the feet were not trying to get into the cemetery. They were just there, on the pavement, terrible and provocative, sitting inside their shoes at the historic gateway to Highgate Cemetery.                 Fred Vargas, An Uncertain Place

Funnily enough, I used to live near Highgate Cemetery and work in the very same road (it was just a short walk from there to Karl Marx' grave). It's the perfect horror-film set and it comes as no surprise that vampire stories have grown up around the place, no doubt providing Vargas with more grist to her fictional mill. It's not the very occasional grisly bit that keeps you reading (like the above, which I couldn't resist quoting) but the humanity of the books and the realism of the characters. The Weaver of Grass is reading them too: I'm just going round, now, to swap An Uncertain Place for The Three Evangelists. I can't wait to get down to reading it: otherwise this post might have gone on a little longer.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Let's Hear it for the Book!

Books don't break down. You can't turn a book off. You don't need to charge its battery or plug it in. I've got loads of books. I've had quite a lot of them for years - some, all my life. Quite a few of my books are way older than me. I've never bought a digital device that's lasted more than a few years: we take their built-in obsolescence for granted. Not so books. To replace books with files on a digital machine that needs replacing every few years is frought with problems which I think are insoluble.

If all the mod cons we take for granted ceased to exist (and we take them for granted at our peril) we'd still be able to read any books we came across so long as we kept them dry. Digital media, with no electricity and no internet, will simply turn into enigmatic curiosities. If such a calamity came to pass, we'd need a repository of civilised values to see us through. That repository is the book.

There's something potentially democratic about the printed word. Printed words live in books like people live in cities. People leave books they've read on the tube and on park benches. I can't see them leaving Kindles lying around. A future in which only people who can afford to buy (and replace) gadgets can read books worries me.

If the pigs in Animal Farm had written The Seven Principles of Animalism on their website instead of the barn wall, it would have been easier for them to change them. Instead of creeping out at night with a paint tin -or whatever they did*- they could have done it with a few clicks of a mouse. OK, so our civilisation is pretty secure, but if we think we've reached the end of history I think we're kidding ourselves. I'm not trying to be alarmist here: I suppose what I'm trying to say is that if we take our way of life for granted we make it more vulnerable, not less.

The Rosetta Memory Stick? Eh?

We're not being sold the next great step for civilisation. We're being sold stuff.

* Apologies - but this is a mere blogpost. I don't have time to re-read Animal Farm. :)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Sachal Studios Orchestra

Enjoy! I heard them on the radio the other day playing Erroll Garner's Misty. I couldn't take my ears off it. Sadly for me it doesn't seem to be on Youtube, so I'll have to go and buy the CD, which can't be a bad thing. I did find these, though:

Friday, 5 August 2011

Through the Pinhole

Karen and I have fancied trying pinhole photography for some time. Well, we finally got round to it the other day. This is the result:

We pointed the camera at the front garden and hoped for the best. So little light goes through the hole you can see nothing through the viewfinder. Pinhole shots tend by their nature to be hazy and impressionistic. It's quite easy to do, too. I won't reinvent the wheel by providing a detailed description as there are a lot of pages on the net already explaining what to do in detail. Basically, if you've got an SLR camera, you obtain a "body cap" (like a lens cap, but designed to fit over the hole the lens screws into). You drill a, say, 0.5-1.00 cm hole in the centre and tape tinfoil over the hole on the inner side. Use dark tape and don't leave a lot of shiny foil showing if you can help it. Carefully prick the centre of the foil covering the hole to make the "pinhole". Put the cap on the camera. Now it gets technical. Set the camera to "M" and stick it on a tripod. Now experiment with a shot. On a bright day in the garden with our particular pinhole 10 seconds was over exposed, 3 seconds under exposed. For the above photo the shutter was left open for 7 seconds, I think. That's a quick guide. It's obvious that if the SLR is digital, the whole process is easier, as you can experiment without having to hang about developing film. If you fancy having a go, google it. In fact, it's an interesting thing to google anyway. "Pinhole camera" yields 2.39 million results - many of which seem to be enthusiasts who can't resist sharing their enthusiasms with the world, an aspect of the internet I rather like.

For optical reasons I don't fully understand, pinhole shots show up every last little bit of muck on a digital camera's sensor. I wrecked an old-fashioned SLR trying to clean its mirror, so I was loath to mess around. Fools rush in and all that. I'm pleased I checked the manual and followed the instructions in this case, as it said that under no circumstances should the sensor be touched.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Photography Exhibition

Karen Rivron's photographs are now being exhibited for sale at Golden Brown Coffee in Darlington. The four currently on show reflect her interest in capturing the unusual in the everyday. There's also an element of North East-interest in the form of St Mary's Lighthouse which can be found further up the coast, East of Newcastle. Below are the four photographs you can see in the gallery (picture, left) plus a few others Karen also has for sale as framed prints (£35 each plus p&p):

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

The coffee shop hasn't been open long and is, in my opinion, a real breath of fresh (well, coffee-scented) air for Darlington. As well as the coffee shop downstairs, there is an art gallery upstairs. Once visited, it can become something of a habit.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Rhino Mountain

The Yorkshire Dales, apparently, are a dangerous place to be these days. Seriously, I've been meaning to photograph this sign for some time. You can find it on a high road in the hills between Kirkby Stephen and Sedburgh. I'm sure it's cheered up a lot of tourists (or worried them, if they're slow on the uptake). It's been there for years now. Are "SEM" the initials of the artist? Who knows.


Not so long ago we paid a visit to Ormesby Hall, a National Trust property just outside Middlesborough. Prior to passing to the Trust, it was the home of Colonel Jim Pennyman and his wife, Ruth. They were an interesting couple: Ruth was a socialist while the colonel was an active member of the Conservative Party. It's a pleasant afternoon out: there's a lot to look at in the hall, especially since Ruth -in addition to everything else- was a semi-professional artist. The exhibits which stick in the mind, though, are pretty gruesome. Ruth kept one of her milk teeth and it's now in a glass case along with two sections of Jim's ribs: he received a bullet wound in the war and, as a result, they had to be removed surgically. He kept them, wrapped in cotton wool.

Having had a wander round, I came across a portrait of Sir Michael Tippett in a corridor close to the exit. I was quite excited by this as, if pushed, I think I'd have to name Tippett as my favourite composer. I headed back to the information desk to find out what he was doing there.

It turned out that Tippett had been a friend of Ruth Pennyman in the inter-war years. He had worked with her on a project for unemployed people in the area - first on a production of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and then on an opera which he composed himself, Robin Hood. Ruth Pennyman wrote the libretto. As it was an early work he was not altogether pleased with, Tippett later withdrew the music and forbade its performance.

He did write his Piano Sonata No. 1 in the thirties, though (this is "1/2", so if you listen, and it captivates you, click on the "2/2" that appears at the end to hear the rest) :

Now I've seen it in a new light I'll have to go back to Ormesby Hall.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Birds

Writing my last-post-but-one got me searching Youtube for Messiaen's music. In the process I found these videos of the composer talking about birdsong. Birdsong was a huge influence on him: it found its way into a huge number of his pieces and, frequently, into the titles he gave them.

And here's Le Rouge-Gorge (The Robin), from Messiaen's Petites Esquisses d'Oiseaux (1985-1987), played by Thibaut Surugue:

I was reminded of Messiaen's music when I went to an exhibition of Marcus Coates' work at the Baltic in Gateshead in 2007:

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Fall

You weren't there:
neither was I.

The evidence of
the tape, however,
is unequivocal: there was
an urgent, white crescendo
as the twigs
of the desiccated canopy
crumpled against the sand
followed by
a dark sforzando
as that broken branch
that had stuck out
for so long
like the stump
of a severed arm
buried itself after which
time (as before) continued
on its invisible way

Saturday, 23 July 2011

My Kind of Music (8)

It's a while since I added anything to this series of posts. However, I've been listening to this composer a lot recently and was reminded that one of his pieces, The Quartet for the End of Time, was a piece I got into as a teenager. At the time I was bowled over by its originality and still am.

Olivier Messiaen wrote the piece while he was being held by the Germans in a prison camp during WWII. It was scored for the instruments available: piano, violin, clarinet and cello. It was first performed in 1941 in Stalag VIIIA, to an audience of about 400 prisoners and guards. Etienne Pasquier, the cellist, described the event in an interview with Hannelore Lauerwald:

[The performance took place] in the hut that we used as the theatre. All the seats were taken, about four hundred in all, and people listened raptly, their thoughts turning inward, even those who may have been listening to chamber music for the first time. The concert took place on Wednesday, 15 January 1941, at six in the evening. It was bitterly cold outside the hut, and there was snow on the ground and on the rooftops.

This is the sixth movement, Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Night Run

Busy day again yesterday, tying up administrative loose ends. Went out for a run last night: I'd spent so much time sat in front of a computer or a steering wheel I desperately needed a bit of exercise. Stuck my headphones in and, fortunately, caught the Alastair Roberts Trio on Late Junction (Radio 3). (You can still hear the concert for the next six days here, on the BBC website if it's available where you are). I'm not usually a folk music fan, but this struck a nerve. I just liked what I heard (and not just because Roberts is credited, somewhat journalistically, with "reinventing Scottish folk music"). It certainly helped that the combination of bass, guitar, violin and voice is the same as the band I play in - only we're playing jazz. It was interesting to hear a texture that was the same, but different. It was musically thought-provoking.

I'm looking for a good book to read and had a browse through the local Oxfam shop this morning. Several things attracted my attention, but I came away empty handed. I almost bought a Doris Lessing scifi book, almost bought The Gormenghast Trilogy. Both were books I'd like to have read. But I read a page of both and couldn't see myself reading another few hundred in either. In both cases, something about the style got on my nerves. It's a shame - as I'd like to have read both and I'm sure I'd get a lot out of them if I could bring myself. I was left feeling that, having been around for half a century, if there's a book I've wanted to read for years but kept picking up and not reading, there's probably a good reason for it. Why voluntarily knock my head against a brick wall? If I picked up Titus Groan 1982, 1991 and 2001 and put it down again perhaps I should just resign myself to accepting that it's not "me", not bother and look elsewhere.

Or perhaps not. Certainly with music, I often find myself listening to stuff I'd heard years ago and thought I didn't like only to find something in it.

The fact remains, I feel in need of a good book to read, and can't find one. And although you can't make special things happen, I'd quite like it to be a life changing discovery. Some books are. It's not about whether it's a good book or a bad book - but just about the impression it makes on you when you read it. For one reason or another, things after you've read it are never quite the same again.

I can feel a list coming on - books I've read, which have had this effect on me, in no particular order. I've excluded overtly philosophical books as what I'm interested in here is how books that are not directly so can affect the way one thinks. There's no poetry there, either - I decided poetry would warrant a list of its own.

Mountaineering in Scotland and Undiscovered Scotland by WH Murray
Waterlog by Roger Deakin
Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome
Lord of the Rings by Tolkein
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Composition With Twelve Tones Related Only To One Another by Josef Rufer
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle
A Year From Monday by John Cage
Piggly Plays Truant by AJ MacGregor
Fun With Short Wave Radio by Gilbert Davey

It strikes me that there's quite a few doorstops in there. I seem to like big books. That having been said, I've stalled on a few. I'm just over half way through Middlemarch. I had decided to "rest" it (after all, it came out in installments) but when I picked it up again, it suddenly seemed to be hard going. It's billed as "A Study in Provincial Life" and it suddenly seemed very, well, provincial. Did I really want to wade through it? Perhaps I don't like novels - certainly, many books on my list aren't novels.

I'll have to keep looking...