A.J. Walker

writerer

The Caravanette

Well when I started doing ReadMeSpeakMe at the back end of 2020 I never expected to be reading my own poems on here. And of course then it is the rest of the RMSM regulars reading your words out loud. It is an interesting experience and I'm thankful for Meg coming up with this - and for asking me to send a poem in.

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Cheeses picked up at Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes

The poem chosen was 'The Caravanette' which I wrote when I was doing an Open University course a few years back. It's not a brilliant poem but I like it because it completely true and evocative of a holiday gone wrong. Be it down to inclement weather or, in this case, unrealistic expectations. It was nothing to do with the destination of Dent, which is in a lovely spot.

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Monument to the geologist, Adam Sedgwick in Dent. He knew his graptolites!


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The Dent Carpark

As I'd been camping this week in North Yorkshire, in Hawes, Wensleydale, I had to take the opportunity to drive to Dent so that I could read the poem in the very carpark that we ended up staying overnight - in that wee sad vehicle. After a quick pitstop into Wensleydale Creameries for some Wenselydale Cheese (and others) then I headed to Dentdale. Here is my reading of the poem, 'The Caravanette.' Enjoy.







As I've been looking at all the tweets about this poem this week, and listening to Soundcloud retellings and YouTube videos of it, I am now getting a mountain of camper van adverts when I'm on Instagram and YouTube. I've yet to see a photo of anything like what we were in though.

Thanks to everybody who got involved this week. Every one is appreciated. And I've got to give a special mention to
Swarn Gill who not only read a great version of it, he also recorded his YouTube video along with a beer and a bit of a chinwag before the poem akin to a certain somebody. Kudos! It made me smile a lot.

And lastly, but never leastly, it was great to see Sal record it too. Her first go on ReadMeSpeakMe (I've no idea, it could be the last too) and I thank her for the Special Guest appearance.

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Twitter:
@megwaff
@ReadMeSpeakMe

Website:

www.megwaffling.wordpress.com
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Wensleydale Camping Trip

Hawes and Semer Walk Walk

A couple of weeks ago a suggestion was made to go camping somewhere. As per usual there’s a fair group of us going to Bishop’s Castle in early July (usually the week of the Real Ale Festival). But the idea of going away to the countryside for two nights was an attractive one. After a little discussion we settled for a site at a farm on the edge of Hawes (Gayle).

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Four of us went up in two separate vehicles around Tuesday lunchtime. We all arrived within a few minutes of each at around 2pm. The forecast for the the two days was grey but no rain. But there was more than enough blue sky and the sun was pretty damn warm. We’d have taken grey of course, as long as it’s not wet when you’re putting up the tent we’re happy.





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It was a simple site. Just a small undulating field next to the farm entrance with a little footbridge to access it. So unlike Bishop’s Castle there’s no rucking up and planting your tent right next to your vehicle. The toilet block/shower was a one person only affair - with one female and one male. The water was hot. Decent enough. At £7 a night it was a bargain. It was just ten minutes or so to walk into the town of Hawes, which has several good pubs, and shops and a decent chippy. Between Hawes and Gayle (which to all intents could be considered the same town) is the Wensleydale Creamery, where the spirit of Wallace & Gromit permanently resides.

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After pitching our tents up I barely had time to pour my traditional tent erection beer before we left on a walk over the other side of town, across the river and up to Hardraw for a pint or four in the Green Dragon. Other than Tony continually declaring he knew the way, but constantly proving otherwise, it was an uneventful but lovely walk in the sunshine with much of the walk on footpaths through farmland with sheep, cattle, and even free range hens.

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The Green Dragon was lovely. We started in the back garden when the sun was half in us and we were in constant conversations with a local robin redbreast along with his juvenile compadre and several inquisitive sparrows. We moved to a table outside the front door, by the Hippies Use The Backdoor sign as the sun disappeared from the back. My drink of choice was predominantly ‘Semer Water’ from Wensleydale Brewery. We would have all liked a few more drinks but were conscious of the 45 minute walk back before eating: Jeanette had kindly sorted out a chilli the day before. We got back all happy from the beer and the pretty much constant sunshine. Whoever had posted the weather forecast was a fraud! But in a good way.

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The chilli was lovely, though it had needed to be tamed for Stevie, who struggles to deal with spices. But it was good anyway. A couple of beers whilst chatting and listening to music via Spotify (yes, there was phone signal in this part of the Dales) made it a really nice night.



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We hadn't made any plans in advance of the trip (unless Jeanette making a chilli counts as planning). So it was the following morning before we decided on where to go. In the end we drove a few miles to the next town of Bainbridge and parked up there before walking up north a little to Askrigg, it was virtually all footpaths rather than roads - which is of course the plan. We stopped in Askrigg for a coffee (and the other three had scones) in a cafe called Bake Well. After recharging our batteries there we turned around south and headed back across the river, passing over large stepping stones on the River Ure - the stones were marked on the footpath signs as a bridge, which is questionable. The water was crystal clear and seemed to be running slowly and relatively low. I wondered how much rain it takes to cover the stones or at least make them more slippy.

Walking up past a farm we crossed the road to head for a row of trees. passing through a field of sheep: as we were doing almost constantly for our time here. There wasn't really a clear path marked through the field and we simply headed up to the far corner of the field in a diagonal trajectory, where we could eventually see a gate through the stone wall. The other thing we saw was a large group of bullocks all crowded together. They seemed to stare at us for a while, then began to walk towards us as we continued on our path. And then we noticed they were speeding up to a trot then a canter (or whatever the bullock equivalent of cantering is). Having just had a conversation earlier in the morning when we'd gone through a field of cows and a bull about how it wasn't uncommon for people to get killed by cows crowding in on them, the view of a crowd of bullocks beginning to run after us was not a sight we wanted to see. I am not ashamed at all of beginning to run a little myself (as did Jeanette) with the main thought in my mind being I didn't need to be the first away from them, I just needed to be the last. It was a moment of fear and hilarity. The bullocks ran after the four of us, whilst Tony shouted 'Don't Run!' at us: knowing how many times Tony has ended up in hospitals around the world after various incidents I was not minded to take on the shouted advice as gospel.

Long story short: the bullocks sped up as they bounded towards us and then as they ran down a little slope they suddenly veered right and away from us. I can only guess what caused them to do this. I'm thinking there was a particularly vicious sheep in the corner we were getting to. Whatever it was it was a relief.

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Hey, you don’t need to know everything do you? We climbed out through the gate, up a scree/dry water bed to beyond the tree line before taking the flat path west back towards Bainbridge. There were no more incidents with animals. The biggest danger as in fact the walls, or more precisely the narrow gaps in them. These ‘squeeze stiles’ were dangerous. Generally the safest way was to take your bag off and try and push one leg through at a time. It was impossible to turn your foot once you’d started through, which was dangerous if you’d picked a less than ideal way through: you often wouldn’t know you’d selected the wrong foot forward until you were half way through and then faced with either a trip hazard or a big drop on the other side. In theory the squeeze stiles are designed to stop livestock (other than bullocks) from getting from one field to another. In reality they must cause a lot of injuries to people too. We were lucky that it was dry, as slipping when half way through a stile could be a disaster. I only bashed one knee once, and got my foot a bit stuck once too. But there but for the grace of god and all that. It must also be a severe problem for people of the larger persuasion - if you were to start a keep fit regime by going walking in an area full of livestock and stonewalls... beware the issue of stiles.



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We walked downhill back toward Bainbridge for a short while before hanging left through a particularly narrow stile. We all got through it - eventually - before heading up hill. We were now on the path toward Semer Water (we’d been drinking the beer the day before at the Green Dragon after all). We were not beside the river to begin with as the path follows the top of the hill above it and there is no access along the river. Steve manfully managed it with only a couple of stops as he is only really getting into walking a bit now and this is mostly on the flat; truth be told I was happy he stopped too (I know Tony would happily just plough on otherwise). Tony declared he had qualified as a Team Leader for outdoor pursuits back in the day. But given he’d volunteered that he had THREE maps of the area with him, but had left each and every one back at the campsite I think he may need to resit whatever non-examination was involved to class him as a Leader. Luckily I’d brought my map with me. There were enough roads and landmarks around to not require a compass; it was not orienteering, just basic map reading. We didn’t got lost for even a few metres (although there was a small panic around the whole bullock ‘almost’ incident).

Once at the top it was downhill all the way towards Semer. Steve was a little alarmed when I pointed out we had to do the same walk in reverse to get back to the car. Team Leader was disbelieving and wanted to take another route. There wasn’t one without largely walking along roads, which to me kind of defeats the object of walking in the countryside. We got to the lake, had a brief rest and then walked back. Steve managed the slope even better than on the way and it went off without incident. It had got a little cloudy, but never threatened rain. In any case the clouds, together with a nice breeze, took the edge of the sun. The weather forecast had proclaimed it was going to be grey for three days solid. As it was we each caught the sun a lot over these first two days.

Back in Bainbridge it was a Wensleydale and Ham baguette with a coffee at the Corn Mill cafe (which TL declared was known as Mrs Miggins). I know; a long walk and not a pub to end it. Who’d have thunk it?

The afternoon ended up at the campsite with a race to see who could post their photos on Instagram and (in my case) Twitter first. The TL went for a sleep in his tent - and everyone knows that the one who snoozes loses.

The night finally ended in the pub (The Fountain) after a visit to an excellent chip shop in Hawes. A few pints of Buttertubs capped a lovely day. At the campsite we quickly decamped back to our tents for a relatively early night to see how we could sleep after a few of us hadn’t got much sleep on the Tuesday night.

The final day was a short one. Breakfast was a sausage and bacon, cooked and sorted by TL and Jeanette, and a cup of coffee. The local sausages were lovely. The only plan for the day was to go to the Wensleydale Creamery to pick up some cheese and then go home. We each bought a lot of cheese: both Wallace and Gromit would have been proud and jealous. Then we got off.

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I was travelling on my tod and had decided I really had to get over to Dent to record myself reading the poem which was this week’s ReadMeSpeakMe. It needed to be uploaded by Friday and I thought it would be quite cool to read it in the very car park we’d ended up in with the infamous caravanette. See the last blog...


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Poetry Rules

Nine years or so ago I did an Open University course in Creative Writing. I’d had years of writing and reviewing technical reports for environmental consultancies (and before that my degree in Geology) and this meant a large number of words had been unavailable to me inside this world. In reports like this many words are absolute and description is always blandly factual; adverbs and adjectives were to not so much frowned upon as outlawed - to be fair any repors could end up in dispute or court so ‘quite blue’ or ‘very contaminated’ has to be a no-no.

Anyway I’d written some song/poem/descriptive extracts back in the early 1990s when I was strumming some songs in a band of brothers (and a cousin). But as a whole I wasn’t doing much in the way of writing outside of work. By 2010 or so I longed to get into away from technical reports. When I took the opportunity to do the OU course it was mainly to extend my writing and to take me a little outside my comfort zone. It was just one course which could have become part of an MA degree if I’d wanted to go that route and do a couple more courses, but I’d never even considered making a degree out of it - I really just wanted to give myself a bit of a nod and a nudge before taking myself off the leash with the adjectives. Honestly, that was very much the point.

At that time I hadn’t been involved in any writing groups. But once I got to the end of the course I had the confidence to join a writing group (The Poised Pen) and from there I went on to get stories published in anthologies and the like - and also find myself to be involved in the fabulous Flash Dogs.

But hang on, I’ve missed something out here: a stepping stone - Poetry. Shush! Keep this quiet.

The OU course involved a range of writing requirements, one of which was poetry. When I signed up for the course poetry was the part I was looking forward to the least. At my crappy Secondary School in Southport we’d done a cursory nod at Keats and a few other bits and bobs, but ‘Ode to a Greek Urn’ and ‘Ode to Autumn,’ whilst interesting, and indeed lovely, were not something I was wanting to build on myself.

As it transpired the poetry part of the OU Course turned out to be enjoyable. I think partly because of my love of songs, of word games and of quizzes. Writing to fit into a required number of lines or a rhythm is very much different to just writing a sentence that works to convey information. Poetry often requires every word to become part of a solution... hopefully.

So it was that I had to write poetry for the first time for an absolute age: and for a purpose (points towards the Course). One of these poems was called ‘The Caravanette’ and I’ll talk more about this at the end of the week. But needless to say it is both bizarre and cool that it has made it beyond the OU course, and my immediate family, to Twitter and the World Wide Web via the wonderful #ReadMeSpeakMe. It is going to be well weird to hear other people reading my words out loud as part of this Twitter phenomena. Get involved if you like the idea. And I’ll tell you about the poem later in the week.

But the link between the poetry and my writing as it is now? Well, before I joined The Poised Pen and then getting confidence and getting published; I used to go to watch lots of the poets at The Dead Good Poets at Blackburne House - one of the organisers of the Dead Good Poets was my local OU contacts (Sarah McLellan) - and then after several weeks observing I went up and read some of my poetry in front of everyone. That was always one of the hardest things I’ve done - there’s something about reading your own poetry which is so much more exposing than reading prose. Anyway if the poetry thing hadn’t happened, and then the confidence from reading at Dead Good Poets hadn’t then maybe I would not have moved on to write my silly stories and be confident enough to put them out there.

In summary: Poetry Rules. Or at the very least it has its place.
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England and Strange Goings On

Was talking to several people about camping yesterday, which inevitably brought the conversation around to Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire. It is a camping destination for a few of us every year: usually associated with the Real Ale Festival that the village has but I also go outside of that weekend from time to time.

It reminded me of the time I went on my own for a weekend in June one year. It was a combination of walking, reading, taking it easy and some beers in the multiple lovely pubs in the village. And it was great.


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The Walk From Foxholes Campsite to Bishop's Castle

But going down for a breakfast on the beautiful sunny Sunday I found I’d walked into the set of something akin to The Wicker Man. Knowing nothing about it in advance it is pretty much the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It wasn't a set by the way, it was real life.

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Just Walking Into Town - As You Do

I’d walked down from the Foxholes campsite through the Shropshire fields into the village and almost the first thing I saw was a man leaving a house with a strange bright costume and a blacked up face.

He walked ahead of me down towards the centre of the village. As I walked down several more similarly dressed men came into view. A mix of young and middle aged. I kind of shrugged it off despite being perplexed by it. What could it be? It’s only a small place and I was soon sat in the sunshine with a cup of coffee and my Kindle awaiting a bacon sandwich.

And then it got weird. Not the sandwich: the day.


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Breakfast And A Kindle - Normalcy Amongst The Strangeness

Some music started. And now I can’t remember anything about that because what I saw became the focus of my tortured brain. A parade began to walk up the street towards and then past me. It was led by a religious group led by a man in a long white robe carrying a cross high in the air. Behind him were his three subordinates in blue and further cohorts in white behind them. At this point it looked like it was straight out of church - but that didn't last.

Behind the men the religious section of the parade came the women. Thankfully they weren’t wearing the black make up sported by the men, but were dressed in nice simple yellow dresses with green jackets and mixed green and yellow tights. As they danced to the tune through the village they waved their white handkerchiefs in the air to the drum. So far so normal…


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The Religious Part Of The Parade

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The Relatively Normal Part of The Parade (ie the women)

Not far behind were the blacked up men. Some in their multicoloured, multilayered shirts, some sporting white shirts and sashes. They all circled and dancing to a beat. Several turned to face me, smiling or pulling faces. There was even a character dressed as a woman in the style of a Monty Python sketch. The entire event was getting beyond surreal.

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I can’t tell you how long the whole thing took. However long it was I’d been transported into some parallel universe or backwards through time. I never found if there was Wicker Man equivalent or where it was, but was glad not to have been chosen to be their sacrifice as the stranger in the village. The strange mix of religiosity, blacked up faces, bizarre costumes and relatively “normal” dancing women had been made all the stranger by me not knowing anything about it in advance and the wide range of people involved in it: it wasn’t a simple Morris Dancing troupe. It was a lot of people.

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Who You Looking At? - Note the full on Monty Python character in the yellow…

Apparently the parade moves on to another couple of villages after Bishop’s Castle and it is something to do with celebrating the longest day of the year. The mind boggles. I wonder how many other strange local customs happen around the county that we (or at least I) don’t know about? There’s definitely a story or two in this. But maybe they're best left untold.
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Kudos

For the first time in an age I submitted a story somewhere. I’d started writing it for a previously mooted anthology which later passed away, as so much has in the last year or so. I was late seeing the call for this anthology but I thought the story I’d started may be an appropriate fit and would therefore save me writing something from scratch. I did a little work on it, but not much, and sent it off. I’m not anticipating an acceptance but it was good to finally submit something I’d written again. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other opportunities over the coming months.

One of the positives that has come out of it already is that a recent acquaintance volunteered to read and comment on it. He’s got a book published himself and has worked on screenplays and the like - and also has another book out for review at the moment. His review of my piece would be too late to impact on the submission but it was a lovely offer and he has now fed back comments to me. I’m not going to name him as a) I haven’t asked him if I can, and b) I don’t want him to be inundated with other works - as I may want to use his time again!

His feedback was great: asking a few questions and making some suggestions; including extending the story from the current ‘short’ (5k words) to a Novella length piece. I certainly think the story would be much better with more depth and some extension of the ideas within it. So at some point I think I will indeed extend the story. I’ll let you know if and when I do. In the meantime I think I will re-edit the first two or three chapters of my current novel (
The Wobbly Odyssey) and see what my lovely new reviewer thinks of it. The story he’s read was a horror short so seeing how the comic novel compares will be interesting. The reviewer himself deserves my grateful thank yous (and many of them). One day I may name the gent. Kudos!
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Long Long Covid and All That

As we aim to get out of this virus nightmare and we see things trying to get back to some sort of normality it leaves us in a strange position of being cognisant of the risks whilst continuing with life. As someone who along with a third of the population or so who is ‘double jabbed’ up (a member of the AZ Club) it is strange. I mean this protection has been afforded to us yet we must continue to wear masks and sit in smaller groups – and not hug uncarefully.

I am happy to do this. I bought more masks this very week (and will have to get more as the ones I got were shit) and am going to wear them everywhere that I should i.e. in enclosed environments when walking around and on public transport etc. And don't get me started on the
Covidiots and Plandemic people.

When you are out and about, especially on public transport, it is clear that many people - particularly the young - do not wear masks at any time and are not attempting any kind of distancing: be it outside or on the train or bus. Of course these are the people who are almost entirely unvaccinated at the moment. There are multiple reasons for this attitude and allowances that are made, but now of course as schools are back and there is a more virulent variant of the virus (and whatever ones are coming next) it should not be presumed that these young people around us are free to catch the virus if they want, or they don’t care. There definitely is complacency in a variety of groups of people.

We should be trying to protect everyone not just the old, who are more likely to suffer dire consequences of catching it, but the young too. The catch all term of ‘
Long Covid’ is an unfortunately bland and almost meaningless name. Of course it is early days and it is impossible to know what the myriad range of issues Long Covid may leave on people: both young and old. If a youngster gets the disease now and may not even know they have it, then they could pass it on to someone who very much does get impacted, but they themselves could end up suffering consequences not now but in the years to come. These unknowns should not be shrugged off. We owe it to the children, indeed everyone, for their well being - but also what will be the long term costs of dealing with these unknowns for the NHS? It is impossible to know.

The more virulent Indian/
Delta Variant currently doing the rounds and winning in all the big statistics leagues may or may not be of genuine concern but who’s to say the next variant wont be worse still. Complacency can only make the potential impacts on us worse.

My feeling is that while there has to be a ‘life goes on’ reality that doesn’t mean that it goes on without consideration of what we do to reduce the risks for one and all; we don’t light cigarettes up on a petrol forecourt and we dont smash up asbestos cement sheets in our homes. Everybody needs to be vaccinated as soon as it can be done - and that is the one and only thing we seem to doing okay at in the UK - but it’s not a matter of clicking our fingers and it happens, and in the meantime risks can continue to be mitigated. Clearly the main issues are not the cleaning surfaces rigmarole: there is next to no evidence of anyone picking up
Covid19 from a contaminated surface. It is an airborne pathogen and mitigation is through ventilation, masks and distancing. So please continue to wear your masks, open the windows & doors, and keep up with the distancing. AND get vaccinated as soon as you can, both for you and your fellow humans.

Things ARE getting better but that should not mean you are free to get complacent. Stay safe and don’t be stupid, people.
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Password Protected

I don’t have Sky Sports these days but for the nightmare year of the football season lockdown combo I’ve had BT Sports so I could at least watch Liverpool in Europe whilst everywhere where was closed. I then stooped to NOW TV on my phone for a while with a Sky Sports Pass so I could watch a couple of league games on my phone - you can’t stream to an iPad or a telly and only watch on your wee phone screen but it’s a lot cheaper than having Sky on the telly.

Season over and they’ve both been cancelled. Whilst going through the process online the
BT Sports website warned me that my account had been compromised - along with many others - and that I should change my password. Not sure I ever got me an email informing me about this compromise - and I have no idea when it occurred. Needless to say as well as saving money cancelling these two things I no longer need then I had to change several website login details.

It is inevitable as night follows day that I will forget these new logins (I’m already not entirely sure). I really need to develop my own clever/silly password generation protocol to stop me having to repeatedly go through the ‘F
orgotten Password’ rigmarole. Thinking about it now... it will be pure genius. If I can remember where I’ve hidden my genius.

I dare say if I do find my missing genius it will be password protected.
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