Sunday, 2 December 2018

An Arising from the Settee of Suffering

I've spent a lot of time reclining lately, mainly because sitting upright is too agonising. When I hobble round to the surgery, my GP wonders if it could be fibromyalgia that is causing this widespread pain, as well as the increasingly well documented arthritis. Am I under a lot of stress at the moment? 

I wonder if he's come up with this by himself or whether he's swayed by the notes from the physiotherapist. It seems to me that fibromyalgia is treated much the same way as depression was in the 1970s - something women get, and just keep necking the valium, love. And anyhow, I don't really care what they call it; all I care about is that it hurts. 

Maybe, I concede.

I decide my strategy of resting up and only going out when I have to - which is most days anyway - isn't working. Alice Oswald is appearing at the Bristol Poetry Institute and I've missed hearing top poets read their work in Bristol since the demise of the poetry festival. Moreover, the last time we heard her, she was astounding. That evening remains the best reading I've ever been to.

Alice's latest book is 'Nobody', ostensibly about a bit-part player in the Odyssey: the poet who was charged with guarding Clytemnestra by Agamemnon, and subsequently marooned on a rocky island in the middle of the Mediterranean by the queen's lover, Aegisthus. Really it's a paean to the ocean, and as Alice recites it by heart in darkness, I find myself drowning in it. There's not so much as a cough to break the spell. Not a shuffle or a shifting, and when, after an hour, we can finally move, I find I can't. I can barely walk back to the car. Perhaps I should try swimming.

Saturday it's off to the Floating Market on the Kennet and Avon canal at Bradford-on-Avon with Hazel Hammond. I'm delighted to see that despite the manky weather, Dru Marland is doing a roaring trade in art on the tow path. She squeezes in a quick coffee with us between sales, and we repair to the pub for lunch with a haul of thirteen 2019 calendars of boating life between us. Twenty per cent of the profits go to the Floaty Boat Fund, which helps boaters keep their homes afloat when hit by unexpected problems.  You can get yours here.

As we leave the canal, a pair of ravens croak overhead. Hazel hasn't been inside the tithe barn so we drift through its cavernousness in almost darkness.

Back up on the tow path there's a lot of shantying going on, and the lights of the market seem to float through the twilight. 

Twenty days till the year turns and it starts getting lighter again. Not long to go. 

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Words for the Wild and a poem about a young, headstrong starling

Well, let's hope the the starling that flew into our patio doors was headstrong; it did fly off once it had recovered. 

Here's a link to my poem about it, now up on the wonderful Words for the Wild website.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Armistice Day 1918

Armistice Day saw the end of the Great War and the beginning of my grandparents' marriage.  To mark the 100th anniversary of both, and also the 121st birthday on 18th November of my lovely, free-spirited grandmother, Hilda Florence Mary Hill,  I'm posting an extract from 'Nanny  1897 – 1991  An Uncommon Woman', which my uncle, Noel Hill, wrote for her friends, her ten surviving children, and their children and grandchildren after her death. 


Hilda Florence Mary Drewett, aged about 13 

Nanny worked for several employers, but latterly and mostly for a Professor Dobson of the University of Bristol.  Her earlier employers were hard and inconsiderate.  Her first job entailed dawn-to-dusk working for two shillings and sixpence (12½ pence) per week.  Even Nanny's lifetime habit of singing whilst she worked brought trouble onto her head.  The lady of the house was herself taking singing lessons, and hearing Nanny singing as she scrubbed the nursery stairs, declared 'How dare you sing one of my songs, I have paid good money to learn that!'

It wasn't only her employers' songs that Nanny borrowed.  Frequently raiding their libraries, she was and remained an avid reader, anxious to improve herself, often reading far into the night by candlelight.  She was also a great correspondent, writing letters to all and sundry in a good, plain, round hand, in lucid and graphic style.  In her apron pocket Nanny invariably carried a few scraps of paper and a pencil, and would note down her thoughts and observations on life in verse.  Copied out in exercise books, they were her most treasured possessions and survived her death to speak to us of her concern for all around her.

Nanny's second job was at Weston-Super-Mare, some twenty miles from the parental home, but when her mother heard that a regiment of Australian soldiers was about to be billeted there, she attempted to recall Hilda to Bristol, where a better eye might be kept upon her.  This endeavour appears to have had little success for despite the constraints of a living-in job, Nanny seems to have surmounted them quite literally by climbing in and out of her bedroom window, sometimes wearing her mistress's clothes.  Her great friend and cousin-in-law Kate often spoke of the Saturday evening during the Great War when she encountered a haughty-looking Hilda, wrapped in a magnificent fox fur cape, sweeping past on the arm of an army officer and being greeted with a well-articulated 'Good evening, Kate, and how are you?'  'And she without a stitch of her own clothes on her back!' Kate would declare.

William John Hill

There was a young pilot, a tall Australian soldier and a magnificent Scotsman, photographed for her in his kilt.  But most of all there was the quiet, dark dispatch rider in the Gloucester regiment, William John (Jack) Hill.  Not that he had everything his own way.  After one rejection and in an effort to meet the competition, Jack came home on leave resplendent with a brand new moustache, to be told that if he went home immediately and shaved off that awful thing above his mouth, Nanny would consider walking out with him again!  Shortly after they were engaged, and then Nanny heard from the Scotsman.  We can gather that the removal of his moustache was not the only close shave Jack Hill had when we read the little verse Nanny wrote at the time.

          'I could have loved you a long time ago
          And could have said it
          But you went away – a long way away.
          When you came back it was too late –
          And love was a forgotten word

Jack and Hilda were married by special licence at St Michael and All Angels in Bishopston two days before Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918.  Their brief honeymoon was spent at The Royal Oak, Clevedon, a pub owned by one of Jack's uncles, who was also a fisherman.  The newlyweds' first breakfast consisted of a huge skate which Uncle Joe had caught and which he declared to be very good for fertility.  In later years, Uncle Joe undertook to buy each of Jack's children a pair of shoes at Christmas, and as the numbers grew and his bill for shoes increased, Uncle Joe would suck deeply on his pipe and mutter that if he had had any sense at all he would have thrown that bloody skate back in the Severn!

My grandmother with her triplets, 1939

The Hill family, 1940

Friday, 2 November 2018

All Saints Day at Westonbirt

It's quite expensive to get into Westonbirt Arboretum, so I only go there about once every 25 years. 


And the Northerner had never been there at all.

But the weather was interesting and it was All Saints Day, which is as good a day as any, I suppose, to see fiery foliage, so off we went. 

I think I can safely let the photos do the talking.