Sunday, 24 October 2010

Poorly dog ...


I nearly lost my dog the day before yesterday. Not escaping from the park lost, or running away to sea, but lost in the sense of dead. One minute he was his normal, bouncy, demanding self; the next – well, within ten minutes, anyhow – he was frothing at the mouth, losing fluid from his rear, and lying under a bush in the garden, whimpering. Another ten minutes and he was flat out on the floor of our local vets, being worked on by three of the team while an anaesthetised rabbit languished, abandoned on the operating slab.


Three years ago I nearly lost my daughter. She was two weeks into her university career and two hundred-odd miles from home when she went to bed one night and slipped into a diabetic coma. By chance, she’d arranged to go out with a friend from Bristol the following evening and when she failed to meet him or answer her mobile phone, he had the presence of mind to go to her halls of residence and get one of the members of staff to break into her room. As horrible as it was to see my boy sprawled on the tiles on Friday, so suddenly and shockingly close to death, it didn’t compare with seeing one’s offspring stuck full of needles and tubes in intensive care. Nevertheless, it's not something I'm anxious to repeat in a hurry.

Ted is the first dog I’ve had. Until the day I picked him up from the farm at nine weeks, the most onerous pets I’d cared for were rabbits and cats. As a result, I’d never quite understood the bond between owner and dog – in fact, when childless women gushed that their Yorkie or their dachshund was their baby, I’d inwardly roll my eyes. But sitting in the back of my neighbour’s car with a tiny, frightened Ted next to me in a plastic crate, I felt a bonding as fierce as any I’d experienced with my newborns. And as fond as I’d been of the parade of rabbits over the years - Jimmy, Ziggy Stardust, Spike, Drusilla, Bramble and Plum – and our acquired felines, Eric and Polly, now long departed, this was a far more powerful attachment.

Ted pulled through. At midnight I had a call from the all-night vets on the other side of town, where I’d driven him at 6pm because our local practice was closing for the night. Could I please come and pick Ted up, as he was whining and howling and refusing to settle. I duly relieved them of their charge, leaving them scratching their collective heads as to how a dog so full of morphine could be so intractable.

Ted is pretty much back to his normal self today, apart from shaved patches on his chest and legs from blood tests and two intravenous drips because he pulled the first one out. We’re taking it easy, however, until the results of his tests come back. The consensus at the moment is that he either had an attack of acute pancreatitis or a severe allergic reaction to something he ate. The vets do not believe he was poisoned, and for this I am profoundly grateful as he’d been given treats by both my fruit and veg man and the postman just before he fell ill. Having drifted through the first 48 years of my life on a tide of rose-pink ignorance and wishful thinking, all the reading I've done recently on the subject of psychopathy had me thinking the worst, especially as the postman had taken a photo of Ted with his mobile phone after he’d given him his treat. Nevertheless, from now on I shall keep a tub of gravy bones by the front door and any callers who want to can give him one of those.

I love my dog. He’s handsome and faithful and he enjoys walking with me in the country. He doesn’t mind if I write a poem instead of doing the ironing. Above all, he loves me back. I’m so grateful  he’s curled at my feet as I post this.



Monday, 18 October 2010

As I Walked Out One Autumn Morning

Friday being overcast but dry, it was off on a literary jaunt with two of my writing friends, Kate and Kathy, and Ted. Our destination was Slad, just north of Stroud, the home village and last resting place of the writer and poet, Laurie Lee.


First stop, the Church of the Holy Trinity, a pleasing simple Victorian edifice opposite the Woolpack pub, both of which were very familiar to Slad’s most famous son – indeed, he’s buried between the two.

The Woolpack, Slad









I re-read ‘Cider with Rosie’, Lee’s account of his rural childhood between the wars, over the summer and enjoyed it as much as when I was a teenager, although this time around I was more shocked by the hardship and sporadic brutality of the lives described.  


Also by how touching his depiction of his dreamy mother is – her thwarted passions and her unending struggle to do her best for her children and step-children in the face of their father’s defection to suburbia.


'Her flowers and songs, her unshaken fidelities, her attempts at order, her relapses into squalor, her near madness, her crying for light, her almost daily weeping for her dead child-daughter, her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man, her hysterical rages, her justice towards each of us children - all these rode my Mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves.


Laurie Lee's homeThis is the house in which Lee and the rest of the family lived. Aficionados will remember that they occupied the down-stroke of the T, the cross-stroke being inhabited by Granny Trill and Granny Wallon, who were perpetually at war and who died within days of each other.


So wonderful to see where it all happened, not so very long ago but a world away.

Laurie Lee's grave
‘Meanwhile the old people just dropped away - the white-whiskered, gaitered, booted and bonneted, ancient-tongued last of their world, who thee'd and thou’d both man and beast, called young girls 'damsels', young boys 'squires', old men 'masters', the Squire himself 'He', and who remembered the Birdlip stagecoach, Kicker Harris the old coachman...’

After exploring the village, we went for what should have been a five and a half mile wander through the wooded valley; however, the footpath petered out part way through and we ended up scrambling a lot further than that. No matter, we figured Laurie never stuck to the paths either, and Ted enjoyed intimidating the numerous pheasants we encountered.

There were glimpsed grey and green views, constellations of fungi, leaf-littered droves, oranges, Kathy's sinisterly dark treacle gingerbread, and cliffs of golden Cotswold limestone ...

Lovely!


Kathy and Kate at Slad






Thursday, 14 October 2010

A Visit to Wells Festival of Literature 2010

So, Saturday it was off to the beautiful Somerset city of Wells, at the invitation of the Festival of Literature Committee, for a prize-giving, luncheon in the Bishop’s Palace, and a talk on writing by the novelist Sarah Duncan. With me my writing teacher and friend, Kate Dunn, whom I was delighted to invite by way of a thank you for her support and guidance.

As luck would have it, morning dawned fair and our journey passed uneventfully. Having arrived with time to spare, we took a wander around the town. The trees have some way to go before their autumn colouration gains its full intensity, but they were still very beautiful, and given the lovely, slightly misty quality to the light, I was vexed that I’d carefully stowed my camera in the wrong handbag.

After we'd perambulated the moat, we made our way to the main entrance of the Palace and on to the light, high-ceilinged room where the prizes for the Short Story and Poetry Competition were to be given. I was expecting to feel nervous, but didn’t, partly because an actor was reading out the winning poems rather than the poets themselves, but also because it’s the poem that’s being honoured on these occasions, not the person who was fortunate enough to find it and pin it on the page. Still, it was a pleasure to accept the first prize cheque for £500 on behalf of said poem, ‘Coleridge Changes His Library Books’, along with a certificate and a charming terracotta tile depicting the Cathedral fashioned from books.

Lunch was handsome – roast pork and vegetables, followed by syrup pudding with clotted cream – and the company serendipitous. Kate and I sat with the poet who won second prize in the competition, the generous and indefatigable Sue Boyle who runs the Bath Poetry Café, her husband Jim, the actor Dennis Harkness, who won the Silver Wyvern prize for his short story and who tours with a one-man show about Coleridge (how’s that for synchronicity?), and his wife, the very talented artist Juliet Harkness. We were also joined by one of the committee members, who told us there had been 479 entries in the poetry competition this year.

After lunch we attended the talk about writing, and Sue kindly invited me to read at the November Poetry Café. Then, we left the Palace and made our way to the Cathedral, but not before we’d located the bell the swans ring when they want to be fed! Unfortunately part of the south aisle, the transept and everything to the east was closed to visitors as there was a choir practice in full flow, but even so, it was wonderful to drift along the stone avenues, dislocated from time. And that's another reason to go back soon.

Wells Festival of Literature


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Blood for the Ghosts

I went to see the lovely Michael Wood again last week. He was in Bristol giving a talk on his latest television series about the village of Kibworth in Leicestershire. At one point he quoted the historian Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who wrote that we must 'pour our own blood into the ghosts of the past to make them alive', and in an instant he gave me the inspiration to complete lines that have languished for two and a half years.

Sedgemoor is an important place in my personal landscape. My ancestors are from Somerset and Devon, and I grew up hearing stories about the Pitchfork Rebellion of 1685 and the malevolence of the Hanging Judge. I spent a magical day there in February 2008, the highlight of which was watching a barn owl hunting as dusk fell. Now Mr Wood has shown me the connection and I have the poem I wanted to write, I think ...

Sedgemoor Ghost 7





Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Poem for National Poetry Day 2010

As it's National Poetry Day, I'm posting a poem about a poet. I was fortunate enough to win the 2010 Wells Poetry Competition with it, and it will be published in my first collection, 'Communion', next year. I hope to report back on the festival next week.



Coleridge Changes His Library Books


All this altering year you’ve called me

from the hills above Nether Stowey,
in the shifting of fossils and siltstones
that clutter Kilve’s wilderness shore. In Porlock
I glimpsed you through watered windows
at the hearth of the mariners’ inn
with jugfuls of cider, potted laver,
a communion of friends.

I saw your whole world imaged at Wyndcliff,
a moss-softened step for each day
that I gazed upon a Xanadu made real,
from the mazy ramblings of the Wye
down to a sunless Severn Sea.
Even the swift, sleek-whiskered river,
baptising the churchtown of your birth,
floated a dream of you

in a nutshell with paper sails,
walking your poems down droves and causeways,
lugging your library books forty miles,
till Bristol lights its tide of stars
and I see you
brimming with words and stories
all along the Hotwells Road,
as high as the swifts that scream over our city.



14th October 2009




Deborah Harvey © 2009, 2010