Sunday, 18 November 2012

A Riot of Biblical Proportions


It was our annual family murmuration yesterday, a time to catch up on news from various far-flung outposts in a non-funereal context.  And there was some good gossip on offer, like my cousin Hayley delivering her own grandchild because the midwife insisted the baby (a little girl called Millie, 8lbs 6oz, since you ask) wouldn't be born till morning.  But there was something more unusual from my cousin Pam, who'd been helping her mother sort through papers following my Uncle Meric's death. 



My photos are rather hurried - my cousin was en route to Bristol's newest museum, the M Shed, where the pages will now be housed - but the pages (from 2 Kings Chapter 11, it would seem) are inscribed with the following in copperplate handwriting:

This was part of a bible which was plundered from the dwelling houses in Queen Square, Bristol, on the ever memorable Sunday the 30th day of October when the dreadful Riot and burning of that place was perpetrated by an infuriate and lawless mob.  



Which poses all sorts of questions.  How did my great-grandmother (for it was she who gave it to my uncle) come by such a thing?  What on earth was a rioter doing looting a bible?  Was the bible the then equivalent of a flat-screen TV as far as entertainment was concerned?   And perhaps most pressingly of all, where's the d from the end of infuriate?


Monday, 12 November 2012

Remembering: Gloucester Part II

Can't possibly leave Gloucester Cathedral without exploring a few more places and sighing over the artefacts therein, like the Lancaut Font in the Lady Chapel.  

I have a soft spot for the remote, ruined church at Lancaut on the banks of the Wye.  I first saw it from the Welsh side of the river years ago and longed to get a closer look.  Then, newly single and in possession of a car, I discovered a walk in a book, the route of which took me and Ted right past it.  Inside there was a grave slab with a heart etched on it.  

So it was especially lovely to see the font from the old church here. It is made of lead and dates from c1120-40.  Can't help wondering how many children have been baptised in it, and what were their lives like.



Also, in deference to my father, I must needs mention the fan vaulting, which is spectacular and not just in the Cloisters.  

Also seen here is some rather lovely turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts stained glass by Christopher Whall.  

And, of course, the stupendous Great East Window which boasts the second largest expanse of mediaeval glass in the country and which completely defeated my feeble skill with the camera, so here's a photo I pinched from gloucestercathedral.org.uk.

And lest we forget, the usual soaring vistas of butter-coloured stone which do so much to lighten wintry spirits.
 Wooden parclose screen and Tower



Struts supporting the arches which support the Tower


The Romanesque nave built in the final years of the 11th century


Stained glass stone ... 


The 15th century Tower and South Transept


The South Porch built at the beginning of the 15th century


As the Treasury is closed on Sundays and the Tower and Crypt were closed for winter, I reluctantly left, squeezing my way past men in khaki and women in black who were filing in for the next Remembrance Service.  The City Museum and Folk Museum were also closed, so I hobbled down to the docks on my poorly feet to make the most of the sun on water.

















Taking a short cut back to the Leisure Centre to wait for Son the Elder, I found myself trundling down a road that looked disquietingly familiar, given that I barely know Gloucester at all.  Then the penny dropped: I was walking down Cromwell Street.  Where so many women were murdered, there is now a tarmac walk way with a sign post pointing to the city centre.  I would defy anyone to wander down that street without feeling a sense of foreboding, athough of course it's impossible for anyone old enough to remember those terrible discoveries in 1994 to be at all objective.  

May those victims be remembered too. 




Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Box of Delights: Gloucester Part I

And so to Gloucester for the next round of Roamin' Robots, at the behest of Son the Elder.  I suppose I could have returned to Bristol after dropping him at the GL1 Leisure Centre, as it's only 30 miles away, but it was a beautifully clear and sunny day and anyway, why run the risk of having to do some housework when you can jaunt?

The last time I'd been to Gloucester, as opposed to through it, was as a small child on the bus with my mother and sister.  My mum told me off for reading a book on the way because I'd get sick but I didn't.  We went to the Cathedral - my father had explained to me what fan vaulting was in advance - and the livestock market where the pigs were bleeding from having holes punched in their ears.  I came back with a model animal for my farm, which was my favourite toy.


I decided, therefore, that a return visit to the Cathedral was almost certainly long overdue, but before I even got there, there was an amuse-bouche positively smothered in childhood and tied up with a big pink bow of literary interest.  Look, the Tailor of Gloucester's House!  

Through the arch was the Cathedral, and after the dark brick of Chester, how lovely it was to set eyes on buttery West Country stone.  The main morning service was still in progress when I arrived, so I took a wander around the Cloisters.  


Now, you might well recognise these and so you should because great tranches of the Harry Potter films were shot here.  I remembered how when I was teaching a class of German high school students during my year abroad, they had scoffed to see Gloucester Cathedral described in their textbook as world-famous.  Well, it is now.  

I was particularly pleased to spot this late Morris and Co window, c1920, and the watery-themed Victorian stained glass in the lavatorium.  
Oh, but the stone!  I wonder if the monks, copying scriptures with numb fingers, took solace in the staggering beauty of it, or did they become inured? 

After a coffee in the Cathedral café, the Remembrance Day service was over and the godless could roam.  And what a box of delights was in store.   There was more glorious glass for a start, these windows having been installed in the South Ambulatory Chapel in 1989 to mark the 900th anniversary celebrations of the current building on this site. 




And this lovely work of art was installed in the Lady Chapel in 1992 to commemorate the Gloucestershire composer of English Church Music, Herbert Howells.  


In fact, Gloucester Cathedral is as good at commemorating the dead as Chester is at wood carving.  Here's a few of my favourite tombs and memorials.  


The tomb of Thomas Machen and his wife, Christian, who died in 1614 and 1615 respectively and who both look pretty intimidating.  They had seven sons and six daughters, and their Latin inscription reads 'It comes down to this: we die.  Death is the final boundary of things'.  


Their near neighbours and contemporaries, John Bower (d 1615) and  Anne (d 1613) had nine sons and seven daughters, so there ...   



... whilst poor Elizabeth Williams died in childbirth in 1622 at the age of 17.  Her sister, Margery Clent, fared little better, dying the following year, also in childbirth, aged 21. Both women were daughters of Miles Smith, the then Bishop of Gloucester and one of the translators of the 1611 King James Bible. 

This is Abraham Blackleech lying next to his wife, Gertrude, who erected their monument in 1639.  We know that he was a gentleman and benefactor, and also that he had smelly feet.  How?  Look at the expression on the face of that bird of prey as it realises that it's stuck there propping them up for all eternity. 



Going back further in time, there are tombs of sundry Abbots, the Cathedral having been a Benedictine Monastery up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a 15th century effigy of Osric who founded the first religious house on that site in 679, and this rather dashing figure in painted bog oak of  Robert Shortstockings, the rebellious eldest son of William the Conqueror who seems to have been the butt of many practical jokes and who never did manage to claim the English throne. 

This is perhaps the most beautiful and famous of ancient tombs in the Cathedral, however - namely, that of King Edward II who was murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327.  The guide book cites suffocation as cause of death.  I hope it was rather than the more horrific method traditionally given. 
An interesting bit of graffiti with serifs carved onto the tomb makes mention of Pearce Gaviston and Spencer [sic]. 
Two more modern memorials I loved were those of Douglas Tinling and Ivor Gurney, both in the Arts and Crafts idiom, although the latter's is a good deal later than Tinling's, who was a Canon of the Cathedral and died in 1897.    Poor Ivor, composer and poet of the Severn and the Somme, who never recovered from his experiences during the Great War.  It's fitting to remember him today, a casualty of war as much as any soldier fallen at the Somme.  


More about my jaunt to Gloucester anon.  










Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Poem for Remembrance Day 2012


Tobruk

for LRH

Silence,
not for two minutes
but sixty years.

Only then does he start to talk, 
not to his family but his brothers,
those soldiers in slippers,
with cemetery teeth,
their medals saucepan lids
pinned to punctured chests,
their stories shrapnel
lodged in matter
from a distant land called War.

Later, I gather rusted splinters,
their gist a desert expedition:
mirage of wire,
signs in barbed Gothic script,
hot metal surfacing
through oceanic sand, in front, behind. I panic,
turn to trace his steps,
a trail of breadcrumbs
swallowed up by circling dunes;

not knowing how this terror ends,
if my father will survive
to speak its name.




                       © Deborah Harvey 2011



This poem is from my collection, Communion, published by Indigo Dreams.  If you like, you can read some more here.




Sunday, 4 November 2012

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty ...


Jonny by Ben Hughes

Having spent all week poorlified, I was a bit apprehensive about yesterday, which comprised a day of poetry workshops led by Sue Boyle and Sara-Jane Arbury, a reading, and an evening event of poems and art as part of the Faces {Bath} collaboration with poets from the Bath Poetry Cafe.   Plus the drive to Bath and back.   I'd been looking forward to it for ages and really didn't want to miss it.  But would I be able to snuffle and cough my way through a whole thirteen and a half hours away from Settee of Sickness?  I needn't have worried.  The poetic spirit is always willing, it seems, even when the flesh is weak.

And what a day it was.  Something clicked in the workshops and I emerged with enough material for several new poems.  I had a lovely lunch with Pameli Benham and the afternoon reading was convivial.  As for the evening, it ran beautifully smoothly to a packed Elwin Room in the BRLSI.  Such a privilege for my words to share a space with such talented artists and poets.  



It's a funny thing responding to a portrait of a person you've never met.  It feels very intrusive to imagine a whole new life for them.  Take, for instance, the two depictions of a student by R Scott Fraser.  As the eye focusses first on the earring(s), so did my poem.  I imagined it a family heirloom, which led to the family being in exile from a distant hot homeland.  So I had to laugh when I mentioned the earring to Scott and he replied 'Oh, that was just cheap rubbish. I had to work really hard to make it look that good.' Then the coup de grâce.  'She's just a girl working down the pub, you know.'




Portrait in Spring by R Scott Fraser

Of course, no one's ever 'just a girl working down a pub', but I take his point.  Hooray for art, beauty and the imagination.   



Thursday, 1 November 2012

Like the Swiftest Arrow Whizzing from a Bow ...



Photograph: FogStock/Alamy

Good news from my publisher, Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams.  My novel, Dart, which is due out in January, is to be published under their imprint, Tamar Books, which publishes books the subject matter of which specifically concerns the South West. 

Plus, he and his partner, Dawn Bauling, have been in talks with the owner of Bossiney Books, who will pass on any contacts he receives that are not suitable for Bossiney, ie anything not specifically to do with walks.  


PLUS, Tamar Books are also going to be using Bossiney's distributor, which means that Dart will get much wider coverage in its home region than would otherwise have been the case.  Which in turn means I might well get to do more readings and therefore more jaunts with more nights in the biscuit tin by the sea!  Ted is going to have to learn how to sit still during readings and/or pass himself off as a guide dog. And Dart's lovely cover by Dru Marland will have the names of two magical rivers on it instead of just the one.