Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Tuesday 6 May 2008 - Long Distance Walkers and Orion Marches

Daryl May finished his JOGLE walk at the end of April. This true gentleman contacted me immediately to let me know and thank me for taking the trouble to seek him out. It was my pleasure, Daryl. Alan Sloman did likewise, was treated likewise, and has recorded his feelings here. I completely agree with Alan’s thoughts.

Also ‘on the road’ at present are Gayle and Mick, heading north on their LEJOG. For a bit of daily entertainment I recommend Gayle’s humorous entries. They are doing well, already having reached the Offa’s Dyke path.

Thomas, another American acquaintance, called me from York last week. It was good to hear from him (I still have to report on our travels together last year). By now he should be progressing smoothly along the West Highland Way in his inimitable septuagenarian fashion. Good on you Thomas, I hope the sun is shining and you are making lots of new friends.

That brings me to ‘Orion Marches’. That Michael Roberts’ book of poetry referred to in my blog of 30 November.
Jim Perrin’s article in June’s TGO magazine brought it back to me. The lines he quotes from ‘The Green Lake’ are favourites of mine:

The mountain lake mirrors the hills, and the white clouds
Move in a blue depth, the hut stands empty:
No one appears all day, nothing disturbs
The symphony of ice and yellow rock and the blue shadow.
And at dusk the familiar sequence: the light
Lingering on the peak; and near the horizon
Apricot-coloured skies, then purple; and the first stars;
An hour of bustle in the hut, and then silence.

But Jim is trying to relate the poem to the remote bothies found in the UK. Like me, he would often prefer to camp outside rather than endure the dark, hovel-like interiors. But the poem is not about those sorts of places. It’s about Alpine Huts, with guardians, where climbers rise early and return late; where it’s too rocky and icy to camp outside. These are great places of companionship, with huge ‘mountain meals’ prepared by the guardian and his family.
Great places.
I met Thomas at one of them – Lagazuoi – in the Dolomites. The character is often provided by the people who run them; that’s why we stay there, we are made to feel welcome. Unlike the hovels that masquerade as bothies in the UK. I don’t like them (how did you guess), but some hostels in the UK are wonderful. You need go no further than Gerry’s, in Achnashellach, to discover this fact.
As for Alpine refuges, it’s not quite the type Michael Roberts wrote about in ‘The Green Lake’, but the Marialles Refuge below Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees is one of many that hold wonderful memories – five of us staying, speaking three different languages, but with common interests and goals. The evening featured a wonderful stew from the lady guardian, who then embarked on a reading from a book about a Buddhist priest in Thailand. “Très philosophique” she said!

Today’s postcard is the early morning view from that Refuge prior to our ascent of Canigou the following day (13 September 2004).

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Friday 14 December 2007 - Showell Styles (Part 2)

I referred to Showell Styles in my brief entry on 4 October when I was (like today but worse) playing catch-up with the blog. This is the man whose book ‘Backpacking in the Alps and Pyrenees’ inspired our trips to the Alps in the early 1980s before the days of step by step guides of the ‘Cicerone genre’. When we followed in Showell’s steps (his precise route was a bit vague) we enjoyed a daily reading from his book covering the area we had walked. It was great entertainment. Showell Styles died at the age of 96 in 2005. He was a prolific author and amongst his writings is this enduring ballad:

THE BALLAD OF IDWAL SLABS

by Showell Styles

I'll tell you the tale of a climber; a drama of love on the crags;
A story to pluck at your heartstrings. And tear your emotions to rags.
He was tall, he was fair, he was handsome;
John Christopher Brown was his name;
The Very Severes nearly bored him to tears ------
and he felt about girls much the same.

Till one day, while climbing at Ogwen, he fell (just a figure of speech)
For the president's beautiful daughter, named Mary Jane Smith---What a peach!
Her figure was slim as Napes Needle;
Her lips were as red as Red Wall;
A regular tiger, she'd been up the Eiger...
North Wall, with no pitons at all!

Now Mary had several suitors, but never a one would she take,
Though it seemed that she favoured one fellow, a villain named Reginald Hake;
This Hake was a cad who used pitons,
And wore a long silken moustarsh,
Which he used, so they say, as an extra belay----
But perhaps we're being too harsh.

John took Mary climbing on Lliwedd, and proposed while on Mallory's Slab;
It took him three pitches to do it, for he hadn't much gift of the gab.
He said: "Just belay for a moment---
There's a little spike by your knee-
And tell me, fair maid, when you're properly belayed,
Would you care to hitch up with me?"

Said Mary, "It's only a toss-up between you and Reginald Hake,
And the man I am going to marry must perform some great deed for my sake.
I will marry whichever bold climber shall excel at the following feat
Climb headfirst down Hope, with no rubbers or rope,
At our very next climbing club meet!"

Now when Mary told the committee, she had little occasion to plead,
For she was fair as a jug-handle hold at the top of a hundred foot lead.
The club ratified her proposal,
And the President had to agree;
He was fond of his daughter, but felt that she oughter
Get married, between you and me.

There was quite a big crowd for the contest, lined up at the foot of the slabs;
The Mobs came from Bangor in Buses, and the Nobs came from Capel in Cabs.
There were Fell and rock, climbers', and rucksack,
And the pinnacle club (in new hats)
And a sight to remember!... an Alpine club member,
in very large crampons and spats.

The weather was fine for a wonder; the rocks were as dry as a bone.
Hake arrived with a crowd of his backers, but John Brown strode up quite alone;
A rousing cheer greeted the rivals;
A coin was produced, and they tossed.
"Have I won?" cried John Brown as the penny came down.
"No you fool!" hissed his rival, "You've lost!"

So Hake had first go at the contest; he went up by the Ordinary Route.
And only the closest observer would have noticed a bulge in each boot.
Head first he came down the top pitches,
Applying his moustache as a brake;
He didn't relax till he'd passed the twin cracks,
And the crowd shouted "Attaboy Hake!"

At the foot of the Slabs Hake stood sneering, and draining a bottle of Scotch;
" Your time was ten seconds," the President said, consulting the Treasurer's watch.
Now Brown. if you'd win, you have to beat that.
" Our Hero's Sang Froid was sublime;
He took one look at Mary, and light as a fairy,
Ran up to the top of the climb.

Now though Hake had made such good going, John wasn't discouraged a bit,
For he was the speedier climber Even Hake would have had to admit.
So smiling as if for a snapshot,
Not a hair of his head out of place,
Our Hero John Brown started wriggling down...
But Look! What a change on his face!

Prepare for a shock, gentle ladies; gentlemen, check the blasphemous word;
For the villainy I am to speak of is such as you never have heard!
Reg Hake had cut holes in the toes of his boots,
And filled up each boot with soft soap!
As he slid down the climb, he had covered
With slime every handhold and foothold on Hope!

Conceive (if you can) the terror that gripped the vast concourse below,
When they saw Mary's lover slip downwards, like an arrow that's shot from a bow!
" He's done for!" gasped twenty score voices.
"Stand from under!" Roared John from above.
As he shot down the slope, he was steering down Hope...
Still fighting for life and for love!

Like lightning he flew past the traverse... in a flash he had reached the Twin Cracks
The friction was something terrific---there was smoke coming out of his slacks
He bounced off the shelf at the top of pitch two,
And bounded clean over it's edge!
A shout of "He's gone!" came from all... except one;
And that one of course, was our Reg.

But it's not the expected that happens, in this sort of story at least;
And just as John thought he was finished, he found that his motion had ceased!
His braces (Pre-War and elastic)
Had caught on a small rocky knob,
And so... safe and sound, he came gently to ground,
'Mid the deafening cheers of the Mob!

"Your time was five seconds!" the President cried. "She's yours, my boy...
take her, You win!"
" My hero!" breathed Mary, and kissed him; while Hake gulped a bottle of Gin,
And tugged at his moustache and whispered,
"Aha! My advances you spurn!"
Curse a chap that wins races by using his braces!"
And he slunk away ne'er to return.

They were wed at the Church of St. Gabbro; And the Vicar, quite carried away,
Did a hand-traverse into his pulpit, and shouted out "let us belay"
John put the ring on Mary's finger
A snap-link it was, made of steel,
And they walked to the taxis
'Neath an arch of ice axes,
While all the bells started to peal.

The morals we draw from this story, are several, I'm happy to say:
It's virtue that wins in the long run; long silken moustaches don't pay;
Keep the head uppermost when you're climbing;
If you must slither, be on a rope;
Steer clear of the places that sell you cheap braces---
And the fellow that uses soft soap!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Sunday 25 November 2007 - Orion Marches

The trip to Jordan has inspired me to get hold of TE Lawrence’s ‘Pillars of Wisdom’. Spending time in this part of the world that has been so troubled by wars and unrest (sadly not unlike many parts of the world I suppose) reminded me of another book in my possession, ‘Orion Marches’ a collection of poems by Michael Roberts. Many of the poems, published in 1939, have deeply emotive wartime themes, such as ‘Victory’ and ‘Defeat’. Roberts was a highly skilled wordsmith, his essay ‘The Poetry and Humour of Mountaineering’ being a supremely rich piece of writing. He was clearly an Alpine enthusiast and a skilled climber as well as a deep thinker. Many of his poems have a mountaineering theme. I can’t say I’m a fan of Alpine starts, but this poem is so evocative that the Dishy Pharmacist and I chose an extract from it for the Reading at our wedding. Picture yourself at a mountain hut high in the Alps on a summer’s day:

The Green Lake

Eloquent are the hills: their power speaks
In ice, rock and falling stone;
The voices of croziered fern, wood-sorrel, gentian, edelweiss,
Lead upward to the summit or the high col.

The mountain lake mirrors the hills, and the white clouds
Move in a blue depth, the hut stands empty:
No one appears all day, nothing disturbs
The symphony of ice and yellow rock and the blue shadow.

And at dusk the familiar sequence: the light
Lingering on the peak; and near the horizon
Apricot-coloured skies, then purple; and the first stars;
An hour of bustle in the hut, and then silence.

Only at two in the morning men stir in the bunks,
Look out of the windows, put on their boots,
Exchange a word with the guardian, curse the cold,
And move with a force beyond their own to the high peaks.

Be still for once. Do not sing,
Let the blood beat its symphony unanswered;
Remain here by the lake for a whole day
With the sky clear and the rocks asking to be climbed.

There is music in movement, in the song, the dance,
The swing of the accordion in the crowded hut,
The swing of the axe in the icefall; but be still.
Listen. There is another voice that speaks.

Footnote: The battered state of this book, when I acquired it, bore evidence of its 60 year vintage. However, until then it had never been read! A sharp kitchen knife was required to separate the pages and render them readable. I hope others will appreciate them in the future…
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