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Archive for the ‘poetical sketches’ Category

slaidburn nov 2014

Dark Midnight of the soul awakes to weary dawn,
Pale lightbulb of a miserable morn illuminates the new,
While six-thirty fingers to the nadir point, and state,
Get up, you fool, you’re going to be late!

The house glows feeble in a tired beige,
Stunned by this outrageous wrench from rest,
Smells of mould, old breath, and bread.
Levered gently upright now we test,
Our limbs, joints, feet, for steadiness,
Then pee out our first long whimpering complaint,
And fart.

Breakfast ritual, drinking down the news,
Between heaped spoons of porridge,
Sweetened against habitual morning blues.
Yes, yes the news.
Finger flicking through brevatious blatherings,
Picking at sores until they bloom raw,
Yet festering of an incoherence vast,
So each day borrows vagueness of delineation,
From the last.

Same old, same old then,
We begin.

Thin half-light and a grey car glitters in a cold cocoon of dew,
Air stung by smoke of autumn burning wood,
Wipe the shivering glass to a lesser opaqueness,
Blow away the mist, with roaring fan,
Then drive.

The house shuts back its eyes at the parting gate,
Reverts to sleep, and mellow moldiness.
It remembers not,
Nor waits.

Thus I, into black face of morning, stare,
Continuing a slow meander,
Into the dreaming, wakeful blur,
A place,
That is not truly awake,
More these days a soft cushion occasionally spiked,
With the shards of old longing,
Rendered docile now across the years,
Like lost boys.

Dawn deepens to the soporific rumble of the road,
Leading more into delusions of the day’s crass light,
From which we turn our thoughts,
And pray haste our treasured teatime tryst to keep,
That therein we might once more escape,
This melancholic life of sleep.

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Our vessel crossed an ocean far from land,
Black velvet waters wide that made no sound,
No ripples burst nor sparkling foam,
Nor wake of waters churned.

An old man at the tiller held our course,
A woman in the bows to scent the wind,
A glance aside was all she’d give,
To guide the old man’s hand.

The sky was clouded thick to gift no stars,
Nor yet a hanging moon to light our way,
No charts had we, nor almanac,
Nor compass rose to play.

Our only sail was raised and lightly taut,
A swollen dart it sped us on with ease,
Yet no wind nor motion did we feel,
Nor time to count the leagues.

All form and all dimension fell away,
All progress measured only in the mind,
Imagination for my eyes,
The dark to bring alive.

I fancied islands dotted all around
And leaping dolphins arcing from the sea,
But there was just the silent night,
My two crew mates, and me.

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waughEdwin (Ned) Waugh was born in Rochdale, Lancashire, in 1817, the son of a shoemaker. He worked first as an errand boy, then became indentured to the Rochdale bookseller and printer, Thomas Holden. He was self educated, picking up whatever learning he could from the books his father kept at home. As a young man he became a journeyman printer, his travels taking him all over the country. A rags to riches story? Not quite. By the age of thirty, he was back in Rochdale, his health shot to bits by addiction to alcohol and snuff. He was also broke, and his marriage was on the rocks.

After a promising start, his life was in ruins. Many in this position would not have made forty, but Ned began to write, and through his writing discovered not only solace and healing, but succeeded also in turning his life around. He kept a personal diary, also dabbled in prose and poetry, submitting pieces to the Manchester press. He met with only modest success at first, but in1856, he published a poem written in the Lancashire dialect, called: “Come whoam to thi childer an’ me”:

Aw’ve just mended th’fire wi a cob;
Owd Swaddle has brought thi new shoon;
There’s some nice bacon-collops o’th hob,
An’ a quart o’ ale posset i’th oon;
Aw’ve brought thi top-cwot, doesto know,
For th’ rain’s comin’ deawn very dree;
An th’hastone’s as white as new snow;-
Come whoam to thi Childer and me.

And so it goes on – a loving housewife’s lament, trying to entice her husband away from the pub and the company of friends, back to hearth and home where she and the children are missing him. And his eventual, equally loving reply:

“God bless tho’, my lass; aw’ll go whoam,
An’ aw’ll kiss thee and th’childer o’ round;
Thae knows, that wherever aw roam,
Aw’m fain to get back to th’owd ground;
Aw can do wi a crack oe’r a glass;
Aw can do wi a bit of a spree;
But aw’ve no gradely comfort, my lass,
Except wi yon childer and thee.

The poem was an instant success, and Waugh was suddenly making a tidy living as a man of letters.

Dialect does not always travel well beyond those regions in which it was written. The only dialect poet of any wide renown is the Scot, Robert Burns, who, like Waugh, wrote verse in the language as it was actually spoken in his day. Dialect is more than just a funny way of speaking – it possesses a quality that conveys the spirit, the individuality, and the character of a people, far more than is possible with standard English. To be English is one thing, to be from Lancashire is quite another.

I was introduced to Waugh by chance some thirty years ago, when rambling along the Rossendale Way, east of Edenfield – an area known as Scout Moor. This is a wild and windy spot, its shaggy, treeless hills scarred by old quarries and mine-workings. Atop the moor, close by the levelled ruins of Foe Edge Farm, there’s an impressive memorial. This is Waugh’s Well, dedicated in 1866. It’s an evocative spot, a place he’d come to write his verses, then test them for their lyrical quality by reciting them to the accompaniment of his fiddle.

When I first visited these moors I was impressed by their exhilarating outlook and their grand isolation, but things are rather different on Scout Moor today, the last decade having seen the area transformed by the erection of some twenty six giant wind generators. These awesome beasts now dominate where once there was only the wide open sky, and instead of the imagined strains of Ned’s violin we have the steady mechanical chop-chop chopping of blades wrestling energy from the wind.

Whatever the arguments for or against such things, they are symbolic of a changing world and a reminder nothing is immune to progress. Even the words we use, and the way we say them are subject to change. As populations become more mobile, our regional accents become diluted, and our dialects, our unique regional variation on the language itself, is lost, left only to a handful of revivalist entertainers in their quaintly parodic costumes of clogs, waistcoats and flat caps.

When I was a kid, the older generation spoke the dialect fluently, spoke it in the pubs, the workplace, in the streets and at the football grounds, but I don’t hear it spoken at all now. I’m losing what bit of it I had too. When I first read Come Whoam, I struggled with it.

The thing with dialect is it’s an oral tradition and doesn’t always translate well to text. Dialect poetry in particular harks back to an era when folk would turn out on a wet weekday night to attend public readings of poetry. Reading Waugh now stirs the ancestral memory, it loosens the frigid grip of standard English, it restores a sense of regional connection, but sadly mine is the last generation for whom spoken dialect will have any relevance at all as a living thing.

For me Waugh’s story is first of all a reminder of the healing power of creative expression. But it also reminds us the working man is not the ignorant, page three gazing buffoon popular culture would have us believe. Given an equal chance – or even sometimes denied it – anyone is capable of finding a means of expression that touches others, be it through writing prose or poetry, painting or music. It will not always bring riches, but it always adds immeasurably to the richness of life itself.

I leave the last word to Waugh:

“If a man was a pair of steam-looms, how carefully would he be oiled, and tended, and mended, and made to do all that a pair of looms could do.  What a loom, full of miraculous faculties, is he compared to these—the master-piece of nature for creative power and for wonderful variety of excellent capabilities!  Yet, with what a profuse neglect he is cast away, like the cheapest rubbish on the earth!”

Ned Waugh died at New Brighton on the Whirral in 1890, aged 73.

For the full version of “Come Whoam”, and a handy translation of those tricky words: click here.

For more on Waugh’s writing: click here.

Reet then. That’s me done.
Aw’ll be seein’ thi.

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man writingImagine a man who lives on a tiny island no one has heard of. He has a small pension from a lifetime of labour in the mills, but now spends his time in a little house, writing poems. When they are finished, he writes each poem out one last time in his best handwriting, on sheets of cream coloured Basildon Bond paper. Then he rolls them up, seals each in a beer-bottle and casts them into the sea. He does not put his name to his poems.

Old age catches up and the man eventually dies.  His notes, his books, are thrown out with the rubbish, his house re-let. No one even knew he was a poet.

Now, imagine another man who lives in the thick of the city. He’s worked at a long line of minimum wage type jobs by day, and by night he writes poems. When they are finished, he sends them off to literary magazines. All are rejected. None are published. He perseveres in the hope his name will eventually appear in print, but it never does. He does this not so much to court fame – poetry is hardly the best way of doing that – but rather because he feels seeing his name in a literary magazine would be to validate the legitimacy of his thoughts, his feelings, his way of seeing the world.

Eventually, like the other guy, he dies. His notes, his books are thrown out with the rubbish, his house re-let. No one even knew he was a poet.

Both of these are romantic stories, all the more for their ending in apparent failure – neither man’s name ever becoming known, each remaining obscure, their life’s labours amounting to nothing.

But let’s think about it for a moment.

Of the two, the first man, the islander, seems least concerned by obscurity. That he offers his finest to the sea has the feel of a spiritual act, an act that betrays a greater level of transcendence than the second man who seeks validation all his life, and never finds it. So whose is the greater failure? Can either be said to have failed at all? Can anyone actually fail at life?

So, the first man seems further along on the journey of self discovery than the second. The second man’s life is a journey of self discovery just the same, but one hampered by the mistaken belief that such a self can only be “discovered” in the approval of someone else – an editor, a publisher, a literary type.

The first man is not an undiscovered literary genius. He’s actually a less talented poet, technically, than the second. His poems are laboured and over-long. Had he sent them to the magazines they would most likely not have merited a second glance anyway. But, as anyone picking up one of his anonymous little bottles will tell you, his work was sincere. He asked questions of the universe, made attempts at answering. Sometimes the answers came, and he felt a tingle of revelation. Sometimes not.

It was the same for the other guy.

This is how most of us write. It’s a lonely business, but no different to anyone else. Everyone, writer or not, poet or not, artist or not, famous or not, is caught up in the riddle of their own obscurity, in the apparent meaninglessness of their lives – even the famous are unknown to all but themselves. How we solve the riddle is the secret to making peace with life. And writing.

When we write then, the ideas we work with must pass the test of satisfying first a need within ourselves. Our work is a question we pose, and for which no one else has an answer that’s going to mean anything to us. The answer must come of itself, through us, either literally as a revelation, or more subtly as a shift in consciousness, like a gate opening, allowing us to pass through to pastures new.

Of course some of us, by fluke, luck, unstinting application, or literary contacts, will have our work published, but it’s important to realise this does not alter the fact of our absolute obscurity, and no amount of successful work or books under our belt will ever satisfy the very human pining for self vindication. Between 1995 and 2005 I published twenty short fictions in Ireland, and they’ve made not a jot of difference to anything. I’ve published nothing since, and that hasn’t made a difference to anything either.

For the famous writer, what the reader will come to know of him is not the truth, only the pseudonymic myth. For the famous writer, obscurity is all the more galling then for there being any number of people who think they know you, when they don’t know you at all.

One’s life’s adventure can only ever be a personal journey, shared by none, known by none, not even from the journals we keep. Loneliness, emptiness – these are things banished only by the company we seek – friends, family, even the animals we care for. But the inner self, the self that has us write, is separated from something more than human. And it seeks reunion. It seeks the source.

The man who tosses his poems into the sea is not belittled by obscurity. He lives the imaginative life to the full and is kept company by it for as long as he lives, and writes. That is his meaning, his purpose, his journey. The second guy’s life is heroic, persevering in the face of rejection. It is the archetypal story of the writer’s life. But the second guy must take care not to lose sight of what he’s writing for. He must take care to avoid his craft descending to the level of a war against rejection and obscurity, because that’s a futile task, a lost cause, one that risks blocking access to the source. This too is his story, and though not a failure, it is a less than noble outcome to a life’s labours.

Without the imaginative life to support him, the writer risks having little worthwhile writing about.

 

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IMG_1982Clocks and watches, wind-up ones, are a hobby of mine. I’ve collected a lot of them over the years. As a mechanical engineer they fascinate me and serve also as a reminder of the skill of past generations. Out of my collection, I’m favouring a Roamer Anfibio at the moment, a retro gents dress style in gold plate, manufactured around 1967. I picked it up off Ebay for twenty quid. The winder is a little worn and the stem doesn’t hold position when you need to adjust the time any more, but it has a quality movement that keeps faultless time. Not bad for a watch that’s been ticking for fifty years. I also think it’s rather smart.

But here’s the thing: it was something my son said in passing while I peered at the innards of an old and ailing clock. Why this fascination for the machines of time? I gave a vague answer, regurgitating something I’ve explored before, something about the watch or clock face being a mandala, symbol of the self, and an invitation to explore the meaning of my life in relation to time. This is one answer, certainly, though perhaps a little over-clever. But my son came back with a much simpler, more accurate one:

The clock or the watch projects an unsettling influence, but one to which I am addicted. Meditative teachings try to anchor us in the present moment, have us observe it, and bathe ourselves in the feeling of being one with it, one with timelessness. This is the right place to be. But the function of the timepiece is to disrupt this stillness and propel us into the future, to remind us of the time “now” but only in relation to the time remaining before some event for which we must not be late, or by which time we must have begun or completed a course of action. To consult the watch or the clock is like lobbing a stone into the still waters of the present moment.

Day to day, we live by the clock. Its fingers close down on one deadline after the other. We have no choice in this. The world we have built is a machine in which we each play our part – our actions, our presence, all timed by the clock; it determines the mechanistic efficiency with which we perform. In particular, those of us still caught up with a day-job have no choice because faulty timing in this respect will get us fired. But I’ve noticed even those souls now safely retired, and for whom life has the potential to return to the eternal blissful, timeless present, will invent artificial deadlines that they might still live by the clock, still live permanently with their minds fixed always, and anxiously, on some point in the future – be it ten minutes, or ten hours or ten days from now. Perhaps then it’s more accurate to say it is the future that’s our addiction. We simply can’t get enough of it.

In my own life presence, though much sought after, is rare. It is enjoyed occasionally, and usually out of doors where traces of man and his machinery are scant. Such moments are cherished, but easily lost. All I have to do is look at my watch, and I am at once transported into the future which really isn’t a place our heads should be caught up in for very long at all. In the search for stillness then I have unwittingly surrounded myself with enemies, these machines of time.

So to finish,…

A little poem about time:
Stop the clock

I would grasp the moment as it circles,
Carried on the fingers of the clock.
Hours,
Minutes,
Seconds from now.
Anticipate its coming,
Split the second,
And again,…

Too late.
Missed.
The moment passes,
Slips between my fingers,
Fades into the past,
Is gone.
Never in fact,
Existed,
At all.

But if I half-close my eyes, and breathe,…
I find
The moment
All around.
And in such presence,
I might even glimpse
The essence
Of an eternal self.

To hold such a moment,
Is not to anticipate,
Nor is it to grasp
At the sweep of time.
It is,…

To stop the clock,
To remove the fingers,
One by one,
Leaving only the circle,
Of their former sweep,
By which to enter,
Stillness.

fingerless watch

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grumpy approaching kirkstoneI’d like to start this year by thanking those who follow and comment on my blog: Simon, Tom, Lee, Rati, Jim, Bottledworder, Walk2Write, Paul – to name but a few; your comments and likes are a constant encouragement, as are the “likes” of others, followers or not, who drop by and read my stuff. Thanks to all, and a Happy New Year.

The Rivendale Review is hardly what one would call an “influential” blog, but has far exceeded my expectations when I set out in 2008, and has become an integral part of my writing life. 2016 will see the same eclectic mix of stuff, things that catch my eye, things that make me think, things I find joyful in life: travels, books, absurdities, curiosities, and funny stories. I shall also write about writing.

So,…

The year begins as it ended, with rain. It’s been raining since October. The rattle of it against the glass is a familiar companion now. The garden is sodden and squelchy, my outdoor coat is permanently airing on a hanger in the back porch. We have come through flood and sickness unscathed, but philosophical. And there is now a sadness too at a parting of the ways.

My car, my long familiar commuter mule, Old Grumpy is to be traded on Tuesday for another vehicle with less miles on the clock. Right now I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or if I should have kept Grumpy a little longer. As for the new car, a ’12 plate Focus, I’m wondering if it will be any less troublesome than Grumpy has been over the long years of our acquaintance.

To the cosmopolitan gent, the car is becoming superfluous, even derided for its environmentally unfriendly habits. And to drive is to be milked as a cash cow for tax, insurance, repairs, and roadside assistance, to the extent one is wise to think twice about taking to the road at all. But for those of us living outside the city limits, in places where trains and buses are infrequent and rarely link up anyway with the places you want to go, the car remains an essential part of everyday life.

All the eras of my life, since late teens, are defined by the car I was driving at the time. A memory surfaces, say from 1978 – and I remember the plucky little Honda rustbucket I drove back then. In ’82 it was the Blue Mk4 Cortina, in which I began to explore the Lakes and Scotland. In ’86 it was the first in a long line of 3 series Volvos. Those eras were short, three or four years at a time. Then marriage and family life stretched the finances, so the car eras became longer – seven or eight years. In ’94 it was the Rover 216, in ’02 the first Astra, then the last Astra, old Grumpy in ’08.

The Grumpy era was marked immediately by a severe downturn, a period of grinding economic austerity, of rocketing energy and petrol prices. Grumpy saw petrol rise to £1.50 a litre. The Grumpy era has been a choppy one, an era of breakdowns, expensive repairs, and a general fragility of affairs that has sapped confidence and led to a contracting world view, rather than one that expands to encompass new horizons. The old Cortina took me to far away places, places I had never been before. Sometimes it feels as if old Grumpy has taken me nowhere but rather kept me on a narrow circular holding pattern. Holding for what, I don’t know. On the up-side, the grumpy era has been one of the most creatively productive. And whatever the ups and downs of it I’ll be sad to see him go.

A recent rain poem (2014) from the Grumpy years:

Crystal Teardrops

The day dissolves to a silver mist,
Lighter than air,
Drifting,
Settling softly
Among bare branches,
Where minuscule spheroids swell,
Coalescing to a smug fatness.
Teardrops of crystal,
Transparent berries among the black thorns,
Rich yield of cold nourishment,
Hanging motionless in a mist,
Still drifting,
Thin as ghosts,
Aimless as smoke,
From dying embers.

A lone leaf falls.

_______________________

And finally, an older rain poem (1990), the Volvo years:

Hawkshead

I hear the gentle sound of rain,
So soft, so fine, against the pane,
And I am in Hawkshead once more,
Remembering the time before,
When you and I first passed this way,
One shy and clumsy Autumn day.
First heartfelt kiss, first tender word,
In growing shades of dusk I heard.
A walk, a talk, from shackles free,
Snug from the world, just you and me.
It seems so long ago and yet,
The moment I cannot not forget.
For here it was that first I knew,
Without a doubt, how I loved you.

 

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catrigg foss waterfallI chose Langcliffe for the start of the walk because the parking was free. Well, it was not exactly free; there is a donation box and I did donate, but the money I saved by not parking in Settle would pay for coffee later. This is austerity in personal terms, and rather petty I admit. Those truly struggling under austerity, and there are many now, would not have driven to the Dales in the first place because £20 worth of petrol goes a long way towards groceries.

It struck me recently we’ve been under the cosh of austerity since 2008. This tells me two things. One, it’s been a long time. And two, the ideology that’s driving it has either self evidently failed, or it’s driving us in another direction, that in fact it has not failed at all but succeeded in bringing about a state of political and social affairs that has basically reordered society into one that is less equal.

What this means in practical terms is penny pinching on a scale so grand our ears are filled daily with the sound of gears grinding as our machine runs down. There is a shrinking back to the Gradgrind-glory years of the Victorian era, an age when we sent little orphan boys up chimneys and down the mines to work the narrow seams, because they were cheap and expendable. We did not value life. We are being taught again only to value our own, that a person drowned in the Med is not a person, but something less than that.

Anyway, Langcliffe. This is a walk I’ve done before, many times: Catrigg force, the Attermire Scars and the Warrendale Knots. I wrote about it here. My return was on account of a free day and insufficient time to plan anything new. But with a familiar route, freed from the responsibility of navigation, the mind can turn to other things. The weather was promising, the morning peeling open after overnight rains to a mixture of sunshine and humidity.

Someone tried to get my email logins by phishing. I was sufficiently webwise not to succumb. Meanwhile the BBC tells me of a woman who was targeted by phone scammers, tricked into thinking her bank account was under attack and so sought to transfer funds to safety. She lost it all to the scammers. This leaves a sour taste.

This and Austerity. But are the two things not the same?

2008.

A long time.

Hitler was defeated in five.

This economic crisis is taking longer.

Unless it is not a crisis,

But a change of paradigm.

 

Some have grown fat from austerity, but most have grown lean. Then some have sought to join the ranks of the fat by foul and ingenious means, by preying on the poor and the lean and the hungry, because like in Victorian times the poor are once more cheap and expendable, and easily vilified into a thing less than human. Into perhaps a scrounger? Nobody cares about the poor.

But the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales managed to work a little of its magic on my soul. At Catrigg though, I felt unwell, my vision whiting out as I descended the shady sylvan dell, after strong sunshine on the open moor above. I don’t know what this was about but I didn’t panic. Were I to have expired alone at Catrigg, I can think of no finer setting.

He was at peace, they said.

As it was I sat only a while with a sandwich and fruit and quiet thoughts as the water roared through the narrow slit. Then, feeling better, I carried on.

It’s possible something has happened this summer. Many feel the way I do; fearful; alarmed by an ideology that seems unshakable in its grip, and which has razed the familiar ground, so there is no path now for my children to follow. Instead, they must follow the directions of the suited man with his slick coiffure and oily smile, and take their place in the minimum wage economy, regardless of whether they have a university educations or not.

It may fizzle out in a few weeks time, this thing, or it may lead on to a kind of rebellion. Not just here, but across the West and wherever the suited man sits fat. Men are appearing, dishevelled, articulate. Yesterday’s men, the suits tell us, but then they would. The dishevelled men fill assembly halls and football stadiums. They speak a language that is nostalgic to the old, yet new to the young. It will collapse of course, but not before it brings about a change in the other direction – I hope.

The walk is more up and down than I remember, more of a pull on the leg muscles, though I comfort myself this is probably on account of the stretching I did at Kung Fu the night before. In April you will find the early Purple Orchid sprouting in profusion along the base of the Attermire Scars. Today I found the delicate Hare bell, and other blooms so small one would need a glass to see them properly.

It was cold on the tops, a cold wind icifying the sweat on my back whenever I stopped, so I kept moving, munching a Kit-kat as I went. Dark chocolate and bright white limestone. The world could be going to hell in a handcart, quite possibly is so far as I can tell, but so long as I get my Kit-Kat of a morning, I can find it within me to remain magnanimous.

In the pastures by the Warrendale knots there were long haired cattle, reddish brown. Calves sat easy, nudged udders. One cow stood aside, silent and serene in expectation, as wide as she was tall, her calf still basking in the warm hinterland of the womb. A lone white bull moved among them. The path took me through the herd. I made delicate adjustments, startled none. A hundred tons of beef, but not aggressive. Had they the intelligence to be cognisant of their fate, would they have been so easy in my company? Had we been cognisant of ours in 2008, would we have been so easy too?

I return to Langcliffe, hill-achy and bone tingling tired. The church is having a sale of books and CD’s. I am searching for a copy of Belladonna. Stevie Nicks. 1981-ish. I could buy it online for about a fiver, but am holding off, thinking to discover it in a charity shop for £2.00. I have been searching for years.

Why so selective? I spend £20 on petrol for a walk in the Dales, but I won’t spend a fiver on an old CD that I tell myself I really want. Or is it that I resist the siren call of Stevie Nicks. Stevie is nostalgia.

My moods are mysterious.

I did not go into the church. I peeled my boots off, sat a while, let my feet cool, changed my shirt, then dropped the top and took the car across the moor to Malham.

There are moments of happiness. They come suddenly. Unexpected. It’s a rough old road to Malham from Lancliffe – quite a climb up the zigzags into a lonely wonderland of limestone country. The car’s done 80,000 now, still drives like new and with a punch on the climbs that delights and surprises. And then there are these moments, when we’re rattling along, I swear the tyres dissolve and we’re flying, and the land is not the land at all but clouds on which the scenery has been painted. Then the heart opens and I am smiling at the lightness of my being.

I stop for coffee at Malham, having joined some dots on the map. But it’s a strange country opening before us now. And 2008 is a very long time ago.

Anyway, let’s keep that drive

in mind.

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