Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A Poem for World Poetry Day 2018

Spring is a time of renewal, so here's a poem on that subject from my collection, Breadcrumbs. It has an epigraph from a letter written by John Keats to his brother and sister-in-law, George and Georgiana Keats, in which he says 'We are like the relict garments of a Saint: the same and not the same: for the careful Monks patch it and patch it: till there's not a thread of the original garment left, and still they show it for St Anthony's shirt'. 

‘We are like the relict garments of a Saint: the same and not the same’
                                                                                              John Keats

Her mouth forgets him first, her tongue
sloughing his aftertaste hours after their parting

Next, her skin divests itself. Within a month
there isn’t an inch that remembers his touch

Her quickening blood scours love’s taint,
the shadows darkening her heart retreat, grow faint

Three years and the hair he preferred cropped
falls past her shoulders in torrents, never the same river twice

and although she still feels him in her bones
it won’t be much longer before he’s gone

and she’ll be herself, the same yet different,
the relict garment of a saint,

a patchwork sail on the leafing mast
of Theseus’s ship

©Deborah Harvey 2016

Breadcrumbs is available to buy from Indigo Dreams Publishing and the usual outlets.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Project Boast, and a poem for International Women's Day 2018

'These poems disturb the peace with a loudness hard won from centuries of humility'

If you're into poetry, you're usually spoilt for choice for readings on International Women's Day. Last night I went to the launch in Bristol of Project Boast, which was dreamed up by Doctors Rachel Bentham and Alyson Hallett, inspired by the Victorian engineer and inventor, Sarah Guppy. 

Amongst other things, Sarah, who lived in Bristol, came up with a samovar that made tea, cooked eggs and kept toast warm; a method for preventing barnacles from clinging to a ship’s hull; and an exercise bed for women to use at home (since exercising in public was deemed inappropriate for them). Her patented design for making safe piling for bridges was used by Thomas Telford (free of charge), and as a friend of the Brunel family, she was involved in the Great Western Railway project. However, there are no statues erected to Sarah Guppy, and her achievements have been all but dismissed. She herself once said 'It is unpleasant to speak of oneself – it may seem boastful particularly in a woman.' 

It was this quote that prompted the good doctors mentioned above to 'seek out contemporary women poets who are speaking out and who are making a fresh mark, registering the straitacket they have had to wear and celebrating the emerging possibility of real change'. And this, in turn, led to the book, the proceeds of which will go to the Malala Fund.

Last night women of all ages travelled from all over the West Country to read at the celebratory launch ...

... with Penelope Shuttle headlining  a packed venue.  

One of my poems included in the anthology was written especially for it. It's a period piece (of sorts), which takes as its starting point assertions by Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia on the subject of menstruation: namely, if a menstruating woman walks barefoot through fields at sunrise, with her hair dishevelled and her girdle loose, the crop will wither and dry up. Her glance at this time will dim the brightness of mirrors and dull the edge of steel.


Then let’s blind this tyranny of mirrors
blunt the blades of our bright pink plastic razors

Let’s not be neat, compact, discreet
hide who we are in the palms of our hands or up our sleeves

We’ll smear our foreheads, noses, cheeks
not with the blood of hunted creatures, stain of killing sprees

but with our blood, this ferrous musk
fecund, nurturing, the russet of red fox

vixen-masked, in long soot gloves
we’ll blaze our clamorous ways through scrub

burn ash paths through suburbs, towns
singe the edge of meadows, commons, forests, downs

scratching sparks from burnt-out stars
chasing flames that leap from heart to heart

©Deborah Harvey 2018 

Project Boast is available to buy from the Triarchy website and usual outlets. A Kindle version will be available from April. It is hoped to raise enough money via crowdfunding to equip every school in Bristol - or the West Country - or the entire country - with a copy.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Doggo in Snow

Everyone knows what snow looks like. But we don't get the chance to do this very often

No singing thicket today. I wonder where the starlings and spadgers are lurking.

Not to mention all the other dog walkers.

Oh well, says Ted. Sometimes you gotta roll with it.

Bloody monkeys. Snuggled up on the settee drinking hot milky chocolate when we could be outside again.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Fourteen Locks on the Crumlin Arm

In what is becoming the season of defunct canals, Son the Younger and I decided to continue our dog walk along the Crumlin Arm of the Monmouthshire Canal, from where we left off last time, just above Fourteen Locks (the Cefn Flight).  

With us, Lucy Pupper and Grumpy Uncle Ted. 

Fourteen Locks/the Cefn Flight, which was completed in 1799, raises the water level 160 feet in 800 yards, and this makes it one of the steepest rises in the country. 

Some restoration of the top five locks has been carried out. 

We walked down the hill until we reached the underpass beneath the M4. 

It got a lot noisier from this point onwards, but it was still interesting.


As we'd already covered over four miles, we stopped once we reached the outskirts of Newport and headed back up the locks. 

The dogs enjoyed watching the ducks, who were ostensibly readying themselves for the forthcoming mating season. 

No kingfishers to be seen this time, but as we were nearing the car, the late afternoon sun came out and turned everything a soft gold and green which reminded us that despite the forecasted cold snap, spring is on its way. 

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

A eulogy to my father

Lionel Raymond Harvey
12th March 1922 - 21st January 2018

Lionel Raymond Harvey was born on March 11th 1922 at 41 Cobourg Road, Montpelier, Bristol, the second son of Graham, a railwayman and veteran of the Somme, and Ida. His elder brother, also Graham, had died the previous year at a few weeks old; his sister, Audrey, was born 18 months after him.

Before long the family moved to Herbert Street in Totterdown, and then, in 1926, to the new council estate in upper Horfield. One of Dad’s earliest memories was of moving day. His father, riding on the van, assumed he was with his mother; his mum, busy with baby Audrey, was certain he was with his father, and four-year-old Lionel was left behind at the old house, to be taken in by neighbours until his parents realised and re-crossed the city to retrieve him.

Life wasn’t always easy in Macaulay Road; in particular, money was in short supply. Dad remembered his mother hiding a jar of Shippams fish paste behind the skirting board to avoid a confrontation with his father, and he vowed at a young age never to argue about money with his future wife. Once married, he duly handed over his pay packet to my mother every Friday.

On his seventh birthday Dad was given a football, and instantly he was the most popular lad on the street. He became an agile player with swift reactions; aged 13, while working at his first job in a shoe shop down the Gloucester Road, he trapped a rat under his foot and held it there until the shop cat could be found. He and his father regularly watched Bristol Rovers play at Eastville, and his mother could work out the score by looking at their faces as they turned into Macaulay Road on their way home.

When war broke out, Lionel was working at the BAC in Filton, and although this was a reserved occupation, he enlisted in the RAF as soon as he was old enough, seeing action in Palestine, Egypt, Tripolitania and Italy.

Like many veterans, Dad didn’t talk much about his war service. He mentioned getting the  bumps in the Western Desert on his 21st birthday, and how hard it was to play football on sand dunes, but kept most of what he went through to himself. The friendships he forged during this time were renewed decades later in the 1990s, when my parents attended RAF reunions in Stratford-upon-Avon, and these gave Dad the chance to talk with people who had been there with him, the men he called his brothers, and he valued this.

Once demobbed in 1946, Lionel embarked upon a series of jobs, which included office work at Maggs department store, a spell as a Co-op insurance man, and a return to the world of aviation, working as a section leader at Rolls-Royce, responsible for ordering and despatching engine parts for Concorde.

During his free time, Dad continued to play football, as well as cricket, tennis and badminton, mainly at Eden Grove; and it was here, in 1949, that he met a sporty young woman, six years his junior, from a large family in Bishopston. My godmother, Betty Daveridge, remarked how she knew something was going on between my father and her best friend, Sylvia Hill, because as he drove their group of friends home at the end of get-togethers, he started dropping my mother off last, even though this made his route rather more scenic than necessary. My mother adds that once they became engaged, Dad sold his car. I suppose it had served its purpose, and anyhow, he had to pay for the ring.

Dad was still a huge football fan. In 1946 he’d gone AWOL from RAF St Athan to watch a derby match between Rovers and City, incurring a fortnight’s ‘jankers’ when his absence was discovered. (Sadly for Dad, the match was a nil-nil draw.) And Mum recalls that upon his return from the 1953 FA Cup Final at Wembley, he woke her at 3am to describe Stanley Matthews’ legendary cross from the right wing that resulted in the winning goal, and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as he was.

But of course, Mum was into rugby really, and after meeting her three older brothers who all played, Dad decided it might be wise to show an interest in their sport too. Thus began his allegiance to Bristol Rugby Club. Both Mum and Dad held season tickets until Dad was well into his 90s, and after they’d called it a day, he’d listen avidly to radio coverage of each fixture, and enjoyed trips to Ken and Hilary’s apartment to watch televised matches on Sky.

Dad also loved singing. He was a founder member of Filton Glee Club, which later became Filton Male Voice Choir, and an enthusiastic participant in the many exchange visits with the men's choir in Witzenhausen, Filton's twin town. During his final years he sang with the Filtones, last attending choir practice, here in this church, the Wednesday before his death.

Germany aside, Dad didn’t do much long distance travelling after he left the RAF, though he was often to be found with his nose in an atlas. His skill with the compass, and innate sense of direction, stood him in good stead for when he and Mum did their coast-to-coast walk, from St Bees Head to Robin Hood’s Bay, with their friends, Charles and Kathleen, whom they’d met years earlier on the beach at Shaldon in South Devon.

Dad had first discovered Shaldon, with my mother and elder sister Linda, in 1960. He would describe how he’d walked onto the beach, looked across the river Teign, and felt a strong sense of coming home. This was confirmed 35 years later when a chance sighting of some family history revealed that Dad’s great-great-grandfather, a boatman from Weston, had lived and worked in Teignmouth during the 1830s, marrying a woman from St Marychurch during his stay.

Both Linda and I recall how we were marshalled onto the beach every morning on holiday, and there we would stay until dusk, whatever the weather. That is, apart from the obligatory trip to Dartmoor – always the same route, Haytor, to Widecombe, to Dartmeet, with a detour to Princetown, before heading for Postbridge, where Dad would stand on the clapper bridge and look up the East Dart in contemplation.

‘He could be an irascible old bugger, though, couldn’t he?’ said his great friend Georges, just after his death, and yes, Dad wasn’t always easy to be around. He was a stickler for right and wrong as he saw it, refusing, for instance, to accept any corporate hospitality or even claim his expenses when he was a parish, and later district councillor, and he expected all those around him to adopt the same high standards.

Yet he wasn’t above a bit of vandalism. He could never walk past a patch of wet concrete without inscribing his and his companions’ initials in it. Linda reports that the letters LH and DH from a walk my father and I took along the sea wall at Holcombe in 1987 have survived all intervening storms, at least until her most recent inspection last summer. And whilst the Beatles were all ‘scruffy individuals’, Dad himself kept his hair long on top, earning himself the nickname ‘Curly’ and many return trips to the RAF barber on the orders of his sergeant major.  

Curly was also the name his seven grandchildren knew him by, as his magnificent black and white mane gradually turned silver before thinning away altogether. He enjoyed their visits, and was latterly a devoted dog-sitter while I was at work.

Dad was well looked after by Mum for 66 years, from the day of their wedding in 1951 to his death. We are thankful he was spared a long decline and that when it came, his dying was quick and apparently painless. My enduring late memory will be of him sitting up in bed as the on-call nurse checked his temperature and blood pressure the Friday before he died. He felt horrible, he said, but nevertheless, there he was, taking his medals out of the tin he kept on the bedhead and telling her the details of each one, while she tried valiantly to sound his chest.

Occasionally Dad and I would talk about death, and I’d like to finish with a short poem by the great American poet Langston Hughes which gives beautiful shape to our conclusions:

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing—
Never to kill—
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same—
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

Friday, 16 February 2018

#MeToo - an Anthology of Poems

Back in October 2017, when the #MeToo movement took off and women started to share publicly their stories of sexual assault and harassment, poet and editor Deborah Alma had the idea of bringing poems on the subject together into a anthology which has now been published by Fair Acre Press

Here it is, the #MeToo anthology, which includes poems by Dorianne Laux, Pascale Petit, Helen Mort, Helen Ivory, Jacqueline Saphra and a host of other women, including me.  

You can buy a copy of this beautiful, powerful book, the proceeds of which are going to Women's Aid, from the usual outlets, including the Fair Acre Press website (and Amazon, although please be aware that buying it from here will reduce the amount of money going to charity). 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Jaunt to Nursery Rhyme Land

February is a rather exacting month for church-hopping, what with the cold and the dark and the general deathliness of it all, but there I was in north-east Somerset with a few hours to kill (ahem) so that's what I ended up doing. 

First stop, Leigh-on-Mendip, at the eastern, less familiar end of the Mendip Hills. The church there, St Giles, was originally a Chapel of Ease for nearby Mells and was completed around 1350. 

Its dimensions are narrow and high, but it also feels cosy and intimate, even on a drizzly grey day. 

I loved the scraps of mediaeval glass in the windows (this the Great West) ... 

... and the original, late 14th century bench ends ... 

... and oh! that magnificent tie-beam roof, with its beautiful carvings.  

This was my favourite thing, though. 

Leaving Leigh-on-Mendip, I headed four and a half miles up the road to what was perhaps the main attraction of my morning's itinerary, Holcombe Old Church.

Because how could I resist visiting an ancient church, far from any village, with the sobriquet The Plague Church? 

Though actually there would be no going inside, as I didn't have time to seek out one of the several keys being held in the rather distant village of Holcombe.  

But it didn't matter. I was interested in the story of the old village which was buried and abandoned in the 1660s when the Great Plague arrived.
It's under these humps here, apparently. 

There are assertions online that Holcombe is where the nursery rhyme 'Ring a ring o' roses' originated. 

Hmmm. My book of the origins of folk rhymes has debunked the debunking of the song as having anything to do with plague - there are pneumonic forms too, you know - but it would be good to have even a shred of evidence linking the rhyme to the village.

Maybe, thought I, the villagers claim this because the nearby village of Mells is supposed to have a connection with the rhyme Little Jack Horner. Anything they can do. Yes, that must be it. 

The Norman arch and worn steps of the porch

Upsidedown? Back-to-front? Partially Greek?   graffiti with serifs in the doorway

This is the grave of Widow Joan ? who was buried in April 1666. I wonder if she died of the plague.

Grave of Bessie Pole, aged 10; Clifford Pole, aged 8; Thomas Pole, aged 7; Eveline Long, aged 11 and Ewart Long, aged 8, who were drowned in a pond in this parish 'by the insecurity of the ice, Dec 20 1899' ...

... also of Harcourt Morely Long, who was drowned at Kilmersdon Common, July 27 1894 aged 14 months, and was buried in this churchyard. 

It was raining quite hard by now, so I gave up my attempt to find the family grave of Robert Falcon Scott and headed instead for the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Kilmersdon ... 

... which boasts a lych gate by Sir Edwin Lutyens. And very lovely it is too. 

Unfortunately the man who'd been doing in something in the church was leaving just as I arrived, so I didn't get to look inside. 
No matter. I'd spotted something interesting set into a nearby wall ... 

Blimey! Another nursery rhyme!

So, the story here is that in 1697 a local unmarried woman (Jill) fell pregnant. Shortly afterwards, the presumed father (Jack) was hit by a stone from Badstone Quarry (Very Badstone for him) and died. Jill had her baby but naturally she died not long afterwards too, the harlot, and the child was raised by villagers. It's said this is where the common local surname Gilson comes from. 

Being short of both time and vinegar and brown paper, I decided not to climb the hill. That can wait for another day.