Saturday, 30 April 2011

Die Tödliche Doris

Not wishing to reinvent the wheel, I'll leave a description of the long-defunct Die Tödliche Doris to their Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, their name doesn't translate well. In English, they were "Deadly Doris". However, in German, change the r in Doris to an s and apparently they become "The Deadly Dose". (An English equivalent -although it's a completely different name- might be "Lethal Rose"). They're well worth a Google if, like me, you like this kind of thing.

I said they're defunct, but, actually, according to their own publicity,

The Deadly Doris broke into three parts in 1987. Each of the three members of the group transported the multi-parted Deadly Doris into one or several different conditions. Wolfgang Müller transformed Deadly Doris into white wine.

Wolfgang Müller's myspace page is here.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


Borth y Gest, Friday, 15th April

I went off on my own this afternoon, to climb Cnicht. Cnicht is a 2,260-foot hill (or 689m if you prefer) between Beddgelert and Ffestiniog. It stands alongside “the Moelwyns” and, from Porthmadog, has a fine, Matterhorn-like profile.

I was aiming to climb it from another direction, though. On the far side of Llyn Dinas, just outside Beddgelert, lies an expanse of wild land. If you travel across it, as the crow flies, for about two and a half miles, you come to Cnicht. A long time ago I'd read a book by EG Rowland, a populariser of walking in the Welsh mountains in the 1950s. In it, he recommended an ascent from the Llyn as one of the best ways to climb the mountain.

I parked the car in the lay-by close to the Southern end of the lake. The start of my route took my around the edge of the lake. I passed two artists with their easels, painting landscapes. The path, once it reached the far side of the lake, turned East, up through the woods. It was in the woods I made my first mistake. Perhaps I was feeling a bit vague today. Perhaps I was carried away by the excitement of walking through a fantastic Welsh wood – the kind I often drive past but too rarely stop to walk through. Anyway, I reached a fork in the path and turned right.

Of course, I should have paid more attention to the map. If you were to do this walk yourself, you might find yourself thinking, “What was he complaining about? The navigation's easy”. However, I spotted at least three places where it was easy to go disasterously wrong (and any mistake is a disaster in this terrain: miss the path and progress is a struggle, as you see later). It's as well to keep one's map-reading hat firmly on when walking this route.

It soon became clear I'd gone wrong. I didn't mind that much at first – in fact, I was enjoying myself. So long as I headed East-ish, I reasoned, I'd soon hit the road. I had underestimated how hard-going it was going to be without a path. I stopped at a destinctive stone sheepfold: this must be on the map, I decided. Find it there, and I'd know where I was.

No such luck. My first response in such situations is to blame myself. The map doesn't lie. I was obviously looking at the wrong part of the map. I moved on a short way, up and East, and triangulated my position, using mountains in the Snowdon group. I decided I was high on the flanks of a minor lump, Mynydd Llyndy. No problem. I'd take a bearing East and soon end up at the road.

I don't suppose it took that long, but the going was rough, slow and exhausting. The terrain was either flat and very squelchy or steep and rocky. It undulated continuously. In a short while the hilly moorland gave way to fields, but these very boggy, filled with tussocks veiled with dead, yellowy-white long grass. There were walls to negotiate, barbed wire, wide shallow streams running over deep, oozing mud... And, forced by the terrain, I strayed a bit to the right. I came to a sign on a gate which said “Danger: Quarry”. I climbed over it, to tentatively investigate. There was a dangerous looking quarry: I stayed well away from it. But there was also a solid path, well away from the edge. I followed the path until it petered out. To my left a bramble-choked ravine rose. There was a gate at the top. I struggled up through the brambles to the gate and looked over it. There was a familiar sign on the other side: “Danger: Quarry”. I climbed back over it, suitably chastened, and resumed the slog over the tussocks.

I finally reached the road. From then on route finding was easy. My only concern was that I'd lost time and ought to really keep moving over the next section to make it up. If I did, I could chill out on the summit and make my way back in a more leisurely fashion. I took a brief, standing break and drank some water.

Following the map, I stopped to open the gate that led up the drive to a farm (now mountaineering centre) calleed Gelli-Iago. A couple were standing by the gate. In fact I'd noticed them as I walked up the road. They looked lost.
“If you're going up Cnicht,” I said, helpfully, “I think this is the way”. Why did I say anything? Probably because I'd just been lost myself. If only I'd run into someone then...
“I think we've worked that out for ourselves now, thank you,” said the woman. Did I detect a note of tartness?
Oh, well.

The path round the farm-cum-centre went through several gates and stiles in quick succession. I pressed on. I noticed that George and Mildred stopped to have a major deliberation with the map before opening each one. Perhaps I ought not to tease them though, considering what I'd just been though myself.

Time was pressing. I was now faced with a steep ascent by the side of a stream. The best thing I decided was to get on with it -no dawdling- so I stomped off uphill at a steady pace. It was so much easier walking on a path, even one built of three-dimensional crazy paving. I soon reached Bwlch y Battel, a kind of high valley, the far side of which is the steep-sided ridge of Cnicht.

My aim was to climb up to the prominent notch in that ridge just South West of the summit. There's some great scrambling -or a spectacular walk- from there to the summit itself. The only problem was that I was now feeling pretty tired. I had expected to: as I said, having lost time, I wanted to push myself to get to the summit quite quickly. As the hill steepened the views got more and more spectacular – and my pace slowed to a crawl.

As usual, it was great to reach the ridge and suddenly be able to see what lies on the far side. The plunge down from the ridge into Cwm Croesor is one of the great things about Cnicht. Looking down at the green fields and buildings on the valley floor is spectacular, like looking over the edge of a balloon gondola. On the far side of the valley rose the bulk of Moelwyn Mawr.

From the notch one can either take the path or a choice of scrambles. I chose the path. I toyed with a scamble I'd descended on my last visit but, from the bottom, I couldn't see the way out at the top. Although the holds were easy and there were plenty of ledges, I didn't want to ascend the wrong line and be forced to descend it. I decided to avoid it and took the path – which is a bit of a scramble in itself, come to think about it. It's only a few minutes from there to the summit, and I hadn't gone far when a bird flew out from the rocks above me. A buzzard, perhaps, I thought, although I had a good look at a bird identification chart later and I'm almost convinced it was an eagle. They do stop off in the Welsh mountains apparently, on their way from Ireland to Scotland. I should definitely carry a bird-book with me. I carried on and was soon stretched out by the summit-rocks with my head on my rucksack, eating and drinking. Bliss. I could have stayed there a long time: the weather was ideal for what I was doing.”Goldilocks weather”: neither too hot nor too cold. Lots of clouds in the sky, but lots of sun too, and very little wind.

I descended back to the notch by way of another scramble. It's not quite Tryfan -a Mecca for scramblers among Welsh mountains- but it's certainly a great hill to climb if you like to get your hands on rock. I was enjoying myself now, I felt rested and had plenty of time to get back to Llyn Dinas.

I was soon back at the road and determined to find the correct footpath this time. I walked North for some way, turning left, opposite a house called Llwynyrhwch. This is where I should have emerged had I had the sense to pay more attention to the map earlier. The walk down to the lake from here is delightful and goes right past an even more remote house called Hafod Owen. I'll have to check my facts but I think it is the same Hafod Owen once inhabited by the climber, Menlove Edwards. He was famous both for the bold innovation of his routes and the fact that he was gay. I seem to think he spent his latter years at a Hafod Owen, struggling with his own mental health and struggling to write a book on psychiatry (during the week he was a psychiatrist). I might be wrong about the details - my memory is sketchy, but for anyone who is interested, an in-depth account of his life, Menlove, was written by Jim Perrin. I read it a long time ago. The only event in his life I think I can remember with some certainty is his ascent of the “Very Severe” rock climb Munich Climb on Tryfan. A group of Austrian mountaineers, fresh from the North Face of the Eiger, had come to Wales to climb and had just pioneered the route. In so doing, they had resorted to the then very un-English practice of inserting a piton (a metal peg) for added security on the hardest pitch. When the details became public, Edwards climbed the route alone and ropeless, removing the piton on the way. (I climbed the route once. Had I not been securely tied to a better climber than me I would have fallen off, and I had to be hauled up the section in question like a sack of potatoes).

I didn't get lost on the way down, but did pass one or two features which made me think this walk might have been designed by a demented map-reading instructor. Although the route is clear and well-trodden most of the time, going wrong on this walk is not difficult. Walking back through the woods I passed the place I'd turned off by mistake on my way up. It was a silly mistake to make, I thought, with the benefit of hindsight. On my way down, I'd considered going for a swim in the lake when I got back. However, when I came out of the woods and found myself on the lakeside I decided against it. I felt pleasantly tired: I'd done enough for one day.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Holiday Diary(5): RS Thomas, etc.

Borth y Gest, Thursday, 14th April

Travelled down the Llyn Peninsula to Aberdaron, where RS Thomas was vicar for many years. I borrowed Karen's camera to take some photos of his church (I've started using flickr to make slideshows you can embed in a blog - you can still click on individual shots to "blow them up"):

Earlier, on the way, we had stopped at yet another National Trust property, Plas yn Rhiw. This relatively modest-sized house was bought by the three Keating sisters in the thirties. It is said that there was a house on the site going back to Roman times and that the foundations include “Roman cement”. The sisters spent the rest of their lives buying up land around it in order to recreate the original grounds. They left it all to The National Trust, in memory of their parents, Constance and John Keating. They left a huge collection of books behind – including a first edition of Jane Eyre, with the pseudonym Currer Bell inscribed on the spine. I thought it was almost worth a visit to the place just to see this. The garden commands a view of Porth Neigwl, the bay known in English as Hell's Mouth. There is a bench in the garden –a recent addition- engraved with fish, animals and birds (try clicking on the photos to see them better). I don't know who made it, but it's beautifully done. The grounds are also famous for their two-seater privvy...

Why two-seater? I always thought twin seat arrangements were to allow people to dig two bore-holes for waste products, saving themselves the effort of moving the shed every time they filled a hole in. These, however, are built over a small ravine containing a stream which is culverted elsewhere in the garden. Perhaps the owners were simply great conversationalists.

We made for the bench in the woods instead, where we sat for a while, drinking coffee and eating the penultimate two slices of the excellent fruitcake my mum had baked us for the week.

Soundtrack for the day for me was I Sing The Body Electric, my favourite Weather Report album. The first track, Unknown Soldier, was inspired by keyboard player and composer Joe Zawinul's wartime experience as a child in Austria. He and a friend were out playing when they found the dead body of a soldier. It's less well known than it deserves to be, but if there is a list of pieces of music inspired by the Second World War out there this should definitely be on it.

Went for a run in the evening, up through the woods and back along the coast. Sat for ten minutes on the rocks at the edge of a calm, gently undulating sea, watching the clouds reflected in the water.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Holiday Diary (4): A Poem...

Borth y Gest: Wednesday, 13th April

On the Train

I have picked the pockets
of all my fellow passengers.
They are now incommunicative
while I have a shopping bag
full of mobile phones.

I intend to plant them
on a hillside – watch them grow
into a forest of telephone trees.

In Winter they'll
reach down with their electric roots
deep into the earth
searching for a current
to recharge their batteries.

In Spring they'll
put on an LED display
of digital foliage.

In Summer they'll
greet the sun
with a chorus of ringtones.

In the Autumn their leaves will fall
littering the forest floor
with unobtainable numbers.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Holiday Diary (3) : Peter Finch

On Tuesday, went to Ynys, a remote stretch of coastline overlooking Portmeirion. We ate our lunch there. The tide was out, leaving pools and shallow channels in the sand. Whenever we stop here I can't help but follow the horizon with my eye, naming the hills: Moel y Gest, Moel Hebog, Yr Wyddfa, Y Liwedd, Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach, Cnicht, Moelwyn Mawr, Moelwyn Bach...

In the afternoon we went round the coast to Llanbedrog, to the art gallery there. A stone sculpture in the garden made an impression on me, although I've not idea who made it or what it was called. A statue is a stone that looks at you...

In the shop I bought a book of Peter Finch's poetry, Zen Cymru. A great, arresting title that. There is quite a lot of his stuff on Youtube. I chose this, because it's in the book:

In the evening, we went out to to the Sima Tandoori in Porthmadog. One of the best meals of its kind I've ever eaten. The only one that came close was the one I ate the last time we went there.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Holiday Diary (2): Plas Newydd

Borth y Gest: Sunday, 10th April

Another beautiful day – clear sky (well, so far) and as still and warm out as in. Went out for a run while Karen was still in bed. Clambered to the top of a rock which is an island when the tide's in and just a rocky outcrop on the beach when it's out. Discovered a mess of broken mollusc shells: one of those places seabirds come to break them open and eat the contents. Slipped and grazed my leg (only slightly) on the way down.

Ran back to Borth y Gest along the beach, mostly. A short rock-climb took me up from the beach back to the street – it was just the way it should be: just outside my comfort-zone, but well inside the safe zone. It was only a few feet high and the holds were huge, sound and well-polished with regular use, so I was not the first.

Passed a gate on the coast path on the way back and concocted a haiku:


a sign on a gate:
soon the weeds will be so high
no-one will read it

After breakfast we set of to Plas Newydd on Anglsey. We joined the National Trust not long ago – members get to park at and get into National Trust properties for free, so we'd been poring over the blurb they sent us looking for good places to go in North Wales. Anything with a tea-shop went straight onto the shortlist. Since Plas Newydd has two tea-shops and a second-hand bookshop it beat all the others by a good margin.

When we first joined, I stuck my oak-leaf car sticker on the windscreen with a heavy heart. It made me feel ten years older – very “pipe and slippers”, as they say, I thought. Having been to a few places now, I realise I'd got the wrong end of the stick and my opinion has changed completely. I wish I'd joined years ago – especially when my children were small. The grounds of the National Trust's old buildings are awash with parents and small children. Toddlers pursue footballs almost as big as themselves around the lawns. Eight year olds run screaming in and out of the rhodedendrons, parents wander around, breathing in the fresh air, glad to be able to relax for an hour or two.

The tea-shop lived up to expectations, as did the second-hand bookshop. The books were interesting – and cheap. I bought a copy of the complete Father Brown stories and a collection of Maupassant's stories. (The latter includes the hilarious Madame Tellier's Establishment. I couldn't wait to get back to the house at Borth y Gest to read it). We didn't go into the “big house” itself today as the weather was so good – we thought we'd leave that for a more typical April afternoon later this week. Instead, we wandered round the grounds, which slope down straight into the Menai Straits. It's a wonderful, dreamy place. We left late in the afternoon and, reluctant to leave the island, drove East, through Beaumaris, to the more remote stretch of coast that overlooks The Great Orme. We sat there for some time, soaking it in and watching the cormorant that was sitting on a rock a few yards out from the shore. In the middle distance, flocks of birds were flying low up the Straits. Behind them the Carneddau mountains rose up. I regretted not bringing my shorts and towel with me. A swim there would have been quite something.

Soundtrack today -for me- has been Radiohead's new album, King of Limbs. My daughter bought it for me for my birthday. I had heard a few minutes of the music before and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. Were these good songs, or just recycled ideas from their previous albums? I have to say that anyone who knows those albums (particularly Kid A and Amnesiac - I can't speak for their last album, Rainbows, as I 've missed out on that so far) will hear echoes of them in this one: Thom Yorke performs his impersonation of a constipated elf over a monolith of rhythmic sound. That makes it sound like I don't like it: but in fact I like Yorke's ideosyncratic vocals and the more I get to know King of Limbs, the more impressive I find it. The lyrics are good, as rock lyrics go, which helps. I'm not sute about Thom Yorke's bowler-hatted dancing routine, but this -Lotus Flower- was my favourite track on the album.

Holiday Diary (1)

Seagull, Anglsey
We've just returned from a 10-day holiday in North Wales. We stayed in a holiday cottage at Borth y Gest, just outside Porthmadog. We didn't have an internet connection where we were staying, but I did keep a diary, with the intention of blogging it later. It's not just about what we did - mountain walking, music,  poetry (RS Thomas, Peter Finch) and photographs come into it as well. So, here's the first installment...


Borth y Gest

Went into Porthmadog and had a walk round. I went off to Cob Records, a brillaint second hand record shop opposite the Ffestiniog railway station. There are thousands upon thousands of old LPs there. On this occasion I don't think I intended to buy anything. Browsing around there is a bit like doing the same in a museum. It's nice to look at the old record sleeves of progressive rock albums that I have no desire to listen to but which take me back thirty-five years. Pure nostalgia, right down to the destinctive smell of the sleeves: a sort of mixture of student bedsits and dirty old leather jackets that have spent too long hanging around in pubs. I had no desire to listen to most of them then – on the whole, they belonged to people I hung around with at school. (I wonder what the Welsh word is for flaneur? Since the word is borrowed from French anyway, I think it's probably flaneur).What I was actually listening to, on Radio 3 via headphones, was the Brazilian musician, Raf Vilar:

It wasn't what I'd usually listen to - but that's what I like about Radio 3.  As well as it's core repertoire of classical music, it plays a surprising variety of other musics.  One thing it has over the internet is that it throws things at you randomly. When I discover music on the internet, it's at the end of a chain of associations: I've searched for terms or followed links that interest me. When I turn on the radio I simply get what I'm given.

I'm probably usually five years behind in the technology stakes: I've got a mobile phone now with a built in FM radio and use it more as a radio than I do as a phone. It has the great advantage over old Walkmans and similar devices that the battery stays in and just needs recharging. Having to get round to replacing batteries has always stood between me and a gadget habit.

I could whinge about how, come the analogue switch off, I'll have to replace this excellent device, but I won't. I'll save that for another day.

After the Brazilian stuff, a great jazz programme featuring the guitarist Mike Stern.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Station: Margaret Ashman

On Tuesday I found myself not having to work all day, so we went out for the afternoon. First, we visited Reeth, a village at the junction of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale, in search of a safe home for some hedgehogs, a good distance from the main road. If I were a tourist, of all the villages I know in the Dales, Reeth is the one I'd enjoy visiting the most. It's in the valley, but raised up slightly which, combined with its location at the junction of two Dales, means that the views from its paths and roads -not to mention its graveyard- are spectacular. There is an unusally high density of pubs and teashops, too, without it feeling unduly commercial.

From Reeth, we drove to Richmond and paid a visit to The Station. Richmond's disused railway station has been converted into a cinema-cum-café-cum-art gallery. There's a handful of trendy shops tucked away in it, too. We went to see the exhibition that's on there at the moment: Press Freedom: A Celebration of Printmaking. (I dislike the way people these days use words like celebration -and festival- when what they're really talking about are marketting opportunities - but enough of that).

First we stopped off at the café: 15 minutes sat reading The Guardian, drinking coffee in a condusive atmosphere, thinking, when not reading, that I ought to do this more often. Then on, to the exhibition. If you've not far to travel it's well worth going to see it. This isn't a reflection on the other artists, it's merely a reflection of how receptive I was feeling on the day, but for me one artist stood out and made a deep impression on me. There are a handful of prints by Margaret Ashman, from her flowers and birds and her signdance series. I spent a long time just stood looking at her Sweet Song. (Do click on the link and have a look for yourself). I'm not sure how to put it, but in some uncanny way she creates the impression that she can portray the interior as well as the exterior of her subject.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

That's Life

For a while now my head's been too full of musical stuff to think of stringing words together: somehow it's always one or the other, not both at the same time. However, this morning I found myself forced to endure an hour or so of idleness: just me, a comfy chair, a room, a laptop, an internet connection. Can't complain...

I'd not taken a ride on the Poetry Bus for ages. I decided I'd try hopping on. Prompt this week from Titus. What I've written goes back to 2006 when we went to Maryport to see a dolphin that had swum into the harbour there.

That's Life

I once saw a dolphin
swimming round a harbour
confused perhaps
by the smooth stone sides

for some reason
it stayed there
it never swam back
out to sea

thousands came
to have a look. "look",
they'd say to their children,
pointing, "it's over there!"

and their children
went home and
drew pictures of dolphins

later I heard
it died soon after

Friday, 1 April 2011

Nightmare Alley (3)

The last episode, I think. I dreamt it the night before last. I remember nothing from last night. The dreams have got less and less lurid: were it not for the previous dreams (see the previous two posts) I don't think I would have taken much notice of this one. What began with a bang has faded to a whimper. (In case anyone is worried for me, I should point out that the idea of going to a hospital is purely a dream-creation) :

I was sat on the top deck of an old London bus with a friend. I said I'd get off as I thought we were close to the hospital. I ran down the stairs and jumped off the rear platform as the bus slowed down.
When I got to the hospital I found it was largely deserted. I was going there to see a psychiatrist but it was the wrong day for the clinic I needed to attend. I walked round the corridors lined with empty chairs thinking I should try to get it together and come on the right day, with all the paperwork the doctor had given me.
I left the hospital and walked home. At home, the landing window had become a kiosk. I was stood there talking to a man who said he could only sort out my benefits if I had the right paperwork. 
I found myself looking out of a window. It began to snow, then hail. There was thunder and lightening. The hail turned to heavy rain.