About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
My fourth poetry collection, The Shadow Factory, was published in 2019 by Indigo Dreams. I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy. https://theleapingword.com

Saturday, 19 September 2020

A bit of out and aboutery (while we cannery)

My dog, Ted, got me over my complete lack of confidence when it came to driving, by insisting in the early days that we went out at least once a week to visit new places, so I've decided to keep trying to get out as often as I can in his honour, even though it's hard right now, not just for reasons of grief but also Covid-19. 

Arnos Vale is somewhere I wanted to get to before it closes again. The IsamBards did a poetry walk there in early spring and we had another planned for Midsummer's Day but ... well, you know the rest. 

I missed wandering there through the summer, and now it's definitely autumn. 

It's also a bit more overgrown than usual. It took Will and I a while to find my grandparents' and infant great-uncles' grave, even though I'd committed its whereabouts to memory. More or less. 

Must get over there with some shears, we said, even though the grave is sinking between the roots of an ash tree. 

In some places the cemetery's like a painting by  Henri Rousseau.

Tyger! Tyger! 

I love this wild patch in the heart of Bristol. 

I also love Clevedon, so we popped down there too. First stop was Clevedon Craft Centre, which I last visited 12 years ago.

Then on to the beach, where we sat in the sand and scrabbled for sea glass, which was mostly too new and sharp-edged to be worth collecting. 

It was a lovely interlude, though ... 

... on a windless day. 

Out on the pier, I could see Church Hill, St Andrew's and Wain Hill, where we'd been on our last jaunt with Ted, when all had seemed well. Impossible to think that visit had been less than two weeks earlier.

There's somewhere else I've needed to go badly all year and that's Dartmoor. I didn't want to risk letting a whole year go by without setting foot on it. 

I didn't want to go without Ted either. 

In the end the Northerner and I decided to have a short walk and film my three Dartmoor-based poems from The Shadow Factory, as it doesn't look like we'll be having a proper, in-person launch any time soon. 

Except that when we arrived it was clear the conditions were against us.

And walking up steep Cox Tor in the teeth of the wind was attrition.
I staggered as far as the first outcrop of rock on its summit and howled and howled for my dog.

But I still had to get to the cairn with its trig point, a short distance that looked as wide as an ocean, 
rippled with waves from the Ice Age

It was so windy, even the landscape seemed to be coming unhinged. 

We made it as far as the big cairn to the north. 
There were amazing views in all directions, here over to Brent Tor, with West Devon beyond.

There were some very steep sections on our descent to the car.

Coming in the opposite direction was a man, accompanied by two border collies. One had classic black and white markings, just like Ted; the other was as dark as a shadow. There's no way of knowing what went through their collie minds, but the dark one headed for Colin and the other for me, and they licked our hands, and then swapped about and they were just beautiful and so gentle. 

It was a slightly strange and very special moment. If there's a message there, it's a loving one. 


Friday, 11 September 2020

An ancient tree, a long man and two flaming churches

 A thousand years ago, when I still had a dog, I went with my sons to visit my daughter, Jenny, who lives in Sussex. We didn’t want to leave it any longer in view of the increasing Covid-19 infections and the possibility of future lockdowns. 

Here are some photos of that day, which was 2nd September.

The first place we visited was the Church of St Mary and St Peter in Wilmington, which has in its churchyard another of Sussex's ancient yew trees.  

This one has been scientifically dated as 1,600 years old, and is a possible indicator of pagan worship in the area. It's held together by chains, and relies on many props to hold it steady. 

We had a picnic in the churchyard. From high above in the yew a raven scolded us.

Under the tree were several blackly iridescent corvid feathers.

Headstone from 1766

Like so many of the old buildings in Sussex, the 12th century church is built of flint. It used to be joined to the neighbouring priory by a cloister.

Now in the north chancel but formerly outside is the 'Wilmington Madonna', another intimation of pagan worship on this site. 

Jacobean pulpit with sounding board

14th century font

The north transept was very badly damaged by fire in 2002, and a window featuring butterflies and bees destroyed. This window by Paul San Casciani, which also incorporates a phoenix and St Peter, was commissioned to replace it. 

Also by San Casciani, and much more pleasing to my eye, is this Tree of Life window based on the churchyard yew and incorporating a quote from the Book of St Thomas from the Apocrypha: 'Raise the Stone and thou shalt find Me; Cleave the Wood and I am there.' 

One of my favourite things about the church was the graffiti with serifs carved into the door ... 

... including this example which includes a day and a month. 

April 26th 1747 was a Wednesday. 

Just up the road from the church and the neighbouring priory is the other reason why we wanted to visit Wilmington, and that is the famous Long Man.

He's 226 metres high and his pose, with two staves, is very similar to that found on some Roman coins, though no one knows for sure how old he is. He could be an Early Modern folly, or from the Iron or even Bronze Age. 

He's said to be in proportion when you look at him from below, but actually those arms would reach to his knees. 

I think he's great ... though not quite as great as the Giant at Cerne Abbas, obviously. 

Our last stop was in nearby Lullington, to visit what purports to be the smallest church in the country, namely, The Church of the Good Shepherd. 

We accessed it by a chalk footpath over fields.

Not a chalk horse

The church is pleasing to the eye and rather quaint, being only 16 feet square .

It's actually the remains of the chancel of a church that was supposedly damaged by a fire caused by Cromwell's soldiers during the Civil Wars.  

I think that fact might disbar it from the smallest church competition. (I'm on the side of lovely Culbone Church on Exmoor.)

12th century square font