Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Coggeshall Grange Barn

The other must-visit building in Coggeshall is Coggeshall Grange Barn, if only to give thanks for it still being there at all.  As late as the 1970s, after decades of neglect and, latterly, wanton destruction at the hands of its owner who deemed it unsuitable for modern day farming practices, the barn was in a ruinous state and on the brink of being demolished.

Which, when you consider that it had stood on ground formerly belonging to Coggeshall Abbey since possibly the 12th century, and certainly the 13th, is nothing less than disrespectful.  

Enter local concern, who, affronted by the potential loss of such an important local building, formed the Grange Barn Trust.  Subsequently the barn was compulsorily purchased by the local council and the two-year restoration began.  As many of the original timbers as possible were used, and where new were needed, they are clearly visible.


The Barn was transferred to the National Trust in 1989, thus securing its future in perpetuity. 

It's a bit of a cliché to describe these ancient mediaeval barns as cathedrals, but they are stunning in much the same way as soaring Norman naves can be.  However, Coggeshall Grange Barn has its picturesque moments also.

The only slight disappointment for me was the decision to weatherboard and tile it, as originally it would have had a wattle and daub infill and a thatched roof.  I'm not sure of the reasons why this was done - financial, perhaps?  Anyhow, clapboard is very much in the local vernacular, so I shouldn't really complain.  (Could have been breeze blocks ... )

Day Jobs Of The Poets

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Me and Leonard Cohen Get It Together at the Bristol Poetry Festival

The Bristol Spring Poetry Festival is over for another year. Thank goodness there's an autumn one also.

Highlights for me included a sparkling set apiece from Jo Bell and Bohdan Piasecki at Bristol Acoustic Night, getting to do a filmed interview the engaging and hilarious Ian McMillan, watching my friend Pat Simmons take her place alongside Deryn Rees-Jones, Kapka Kassabova and Penelope Shuttle and hold her own, seeing the uplifting film We Are Poets and the thought-provoking and moving spoken word performance that is Three Men Talking About Things They Kind Of Know About, Polly Moyer's workshop at Maitreya Social in Easton ...erm ... and that's just about all of it really.

Lowlights - well, only that without my amulet of poetry, my cold has turned to bronchitis and overrun my defences. Off to the doctor tomorrow, cough cough cough.

But so as not to end on a downer, my poetry festival joy was complete on purchasing from the Arnolfini bookshop my copy of Heart Shoots, the latest anthology published by Indigo Dreams in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, only to discover that the lovely Ronnie Goodyer was true to his word and my poem, Plainsong, appears on the very next page after Leonard Cohen. Only a sheet of paper separating us ... plus a ton of talent, in Leonard's case, of course, but who cares, in this small place in the Universe we're all but cheek-to-cheek between the covers ... 

Cover photo by Dru Marland

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Poetry Please Competition 2013

One local poetry competition close to my heart is the Poetry Please Competition 2013, which forms part of the annual Chipping Sodbury Festival (or, as my bus driver grandfather whose terminus it was nigh on half a century before the ring road was built called it, Sodding Chipbury).   

Having won first prize in 2011 with my poem about Sarah Ann Henley who tried to commit suicide by jumping from Clifton Suspension Bridge, and come second last year, the compassionate organiser, Mr Stuart Nunn, realised that the only way to break my plummeting trajectory would be to ask me to judge it, so I gratefully agreed. 

Anyhow, the closing date is fast approaching but there's still time to enter.  A first prize of £60 will be awarded to the writer of the best poem submitted.  Additional prizes of £20 and £10 may be awarded at the judge's discretion.  If the quality of entries warrants it, there will be a prize of £20 for the best poem submitted from a BS37 postcode.    

Here's a summary of the rules:

1. The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.

2. Poems must be original, unpublished, not currently submitted elsewhere nor have won any other prize.

3. Poems should be typed or neatly handwritten and must not exceed 80 lines. Poems must be in English.

4. Entries should not identify the author in any way.

5.  No entry form is required, but on a separate sheet of paper give your name, address, email address, and telephone number, with the titles of the poems submitted, mentioning where you heard about the competition.

6. Receipt of your entry to this competition will be acknowledged only if you supply a stamped self- addressed envelope marked ‘Receipt’ enclosed with the entry.

7. Do not send the original writing – only send a copy of your poem(s); as we cannot return poems after the competition nor can we be held responsible for any loss of your poems.

8. A list of winners will be displayed on the Festival website.

9. The entry fee (sterling only) is £3 per poem or £10 for five poems. Make cheque's payable to  Stuart Nunn and write your name and address on the back or pay using PayPal.

10. Email entries are welcome. Please state in the body of your email your name, address, email address, names of the poems entered, transaction number of your PayPal payment. Please put your poem or poems into a single word file and attach them to your email. Ensure that there is no identifying name on your attachment or poems.

11. Closing date is 3rd May 2013, and prize winners will be notified by the 31st May 2013.  Copyright remains with the authors, but the organisers reserve the right to publish the winning poems and a selection from the short list in print form or on the website.

12. We regret that we are unable to amend poems or return them after entry.

13. Winner and runners-up will be invited to read their poems at the Poetry Please event in Chipping Sodbury Town Hall on Friday 14th June 2013 .

14. Entrants will be deemed to have accepted these conditions of entry on submission of their poems.

15. The judges will announce their decision in the press and to the winners. We cannot call everyone to report the judges’ decision.

16. The decision of the adjudicator shall be final and binding upon the participants entering this competition.

To pay via Paypal, go to the official poetry competition page on the Festival website, or post a cheque payable to Stuart Nunn, together with your entry and covering page, to Stuart Nunn, 3 Virginia Close, Chipping Sodbury, Bristol BS37 6HN.  

And even if you don't enter, it would be great to see you at the Town Hall on 14th June for an evening of poems and conviviality.  Don't forget to bring some along to read!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Tale of Paycocke's (after 'Black Beauty' by Anna Sewell)

So, back to Essex, and it would be a crime, whilst in Coggeshall, not to visit their most celebrated buildings.  So, first stop was Paycocke's, built circa 1500 for Thomas Paycocke, who had made his fortune manufacturing woollen cloth.  

Paycocke is old English for peacock, and the grandeur of Thomas's house does show off his fine feathers.  (So this really is A Peacock's Tail.) 

In the late 16th century, ownership of Paycocke's passed to the Buxton family, until 1746 when it was sold to its tenant, one Robert Ludgater.

As Coggeshall's industry declined, so did the fortunes of the house, which had been divided into three small cottages by the end of the 19th century.  (This is beginning to sound a bit like Black Beauty - I think we're at the point where Beauty has become a cab horse called Jack in the care of Jerry Barker.)  

In 1885 treasure hunters threatened to strip the house of its carvings and use them to adorn a distant mansion (enter Mr Nicholas Skinner, the brutal owner of several shabby cabs who works his horses to death) but this plan was thwarted by protesters and a buyer called Mr Pudney, a self-employed removal man who continued to use the house as domestic and business premises, before selling it back, in a much altered state, to members of the Buxton family.  ('It must be 'Black Beauty'! Beauty! Beauty! do you know me? - little Joe Green that almost killed you!')  

Lord Noel Buxton, a direct descendant of the earlier owners of Paycocke's, embarked upon a 20 year project to restore Paycocke's to what the National Trust rather snootily describe as 'what he believed was its original state', taking down partition walls, uncovering carvings, demolishing outbuildings and patting and patting [me] as if he were quite overjoyed. 
In 1923, the famous composer Gustav Holst spent a summer at Paycocke's with his family, and his daughter, Imogen, said 'I shall certainly write to Mrs. Gordon, and tell her that her favourite house has come to us. How pleased she will be!' 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Beth Orton at St.George's, Bristol, Monday 15th April 2013

Here's a review I wrote this morning for our local rag (with some assistance, it has to be said, from my escort on the night):

I didn’t much feel like going to a gig, being thick with a cold and arthritic, but the lure of St George’s – surely one of the finest concert venues in the country – and Beth Orton, who is returning to touring after a decade in which she got married and started a family, proved too much to resist. 

Having first come to prominence through her collaborations with William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers and then her own ambient 90s folktronica, these days there’s a somewhat more traditional feel to Beth Orton’s music. What hasn’t changed, however, is the sense of longing that pervades so many of her songs, a feeling or yearning for a better way of being, now lost, or of being haunted by the memory or dream of a time and a place where life was clearer and more whole. 

This feeling moves gracefully through her new album Sugaring Season, a beautiful suite of songs, which, like all good albums, seems to sound better each time you hear it. She played several of its songs at St George’s, including Call Me The Breeze, Something More Beautiful, Magpie, and Poison Tree, a particularly compelling take on the poem by William Blake from Songs of Innocence and Experience.

For die-hard fans, there were earlier songs too: She Cries Your Name, Someone’s Daughter, Central Reservation, Feel To Believe, Stolen Car to name a few.

Whether it was the rosy gold warmth of the venue’s decor or the transcendent music, I felt cocooned in a mellifluous beauty that negated even the hardness of the pews in the Gallery.  Rather more effective than huddling on the settee with a Lemsip, I feel.  

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Made In Essex

I lived in Essex for a time 20-odd years ago and I hated it.  There are all sorts of reasons for this, but the fact that it was in Romford and I didn't have a car probably contributed to my antipathy.  Anyhow, further north towards the Suffolk border, it's actually very nice.  

On Sunday I happened to find myself in Coggeshall, which is just east of Colchester.  One of my colleagues who is from those parts told me that the phrase 'a Coggeshall job' means any poor or pointless bit of work, after the reputed stupidity of the villagers.  This seems a bit harsh. 

One of the things I like most about it is the vernacular style of building, so different from anywhere you will find in the South West. Clapboarding, for example.  We just don't do this. 

Another style they employ and we, for the most part, don't is pargeting, of which Coggeshall has some modest but very pleasing examples.

The 15th century Woolpack Inn (see, over the window?) was bought by the Rev T Lowrey after he was ejected from the Church of England following the Restoration, and was subsequently licensed as a place of worship for some years.     

Finally, there were some splendid crumbling brick walls, which could have been anywhere, I suppose, but I did like them.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Love is Metaphysical Gravity

And so to the lovely Somerset town of Frome to deliver leaflets for the fast-approaching Bristol Spring Poetry Festival.  But first a stop off at Mells, for a  spot of obeisance at the Edwin Lutyens-designed bus stop and the tomb of poet Siegfried Sassoon.  The Burne Jones embroidery which was away being restored the last time I visited the Church of St Andrew was back in situ and looking resplendent.  

Amongst the beautiful and achingly tasteful headstones of various Horners (of Little Jack fame), Asquiths and Bonham-Carters, I noticed for the first time a couple belonging to the O'nions family.  Couldn't help smiling.  I'd much rather be earthy, multi-layered and really rather pungent Mrs Onions any day.  

In the Walled Garden there was poetic delight in this quote from a poem by Pablo Neruda: I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees

Next, a quick tour of Frome, taking in the Merlin theatre and then the town centre - always a delight, but even more so on a beautiful sunny day when disseminating news of the forthcoming poetic feast just up the road in Bristol.

Finally, a leisurely lunch in  the George Inn at Norton St Philips. Nice work if you can get it. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Into the Valley

Our plan was to criss-cross Dartmoor, scattering maps of three hares churches and cards in our wake (Dru) and chatting to passing book traders in the hope of getting a couple of readings (me).  But Dru found she didn't have sufficient three hares cards to make it worthwhile, so we postponed our trip south and west and headed back to Wales instead.  

It was still snowy. Look, up above is the Sugar Loaf looking like ... well, a loaf of sugar.
And here's Abergavenny, the spit of Salzburg.  Sort of. 

And at Clydach Gorge, I saw what I suspect might be my Best Thing of 2013. Already.  

The former mining village of Six Bells was our destination, in part because I am currently writing a poem inspired by the picture at Big Pit of the women waiting for news at the pithead following an underground explosion on 28th June 1960 and felt the need to go there, but also because there is now a 20 metre high monument, the Guardian of the Valleys, to the 45 men and boys who lost their lives that day.  
On our way Dru coaxed the Morris Traveller up a very steep hill to the Church of Saint Illtyd at Brynithel.  Unfortunately the door - carved with hearts and initials - was locked but we braved the sharp-toothed wind to have a fossick around the hummocky, circular (and thus pre-Christian) churchyard with its ancient yew stumps, out of which new saplings are growing.  

Then it was down down down to Six Bells to see the statue known as The Guardian Of The Valleys.  It's been dubbed South Wales' Angel of the North, and there does seem to be a sense of each figure watching over its landscape and offering protection.  But the respective styles and purposes are very different.  

One of the most ingenious aspects of the Guardian is the method of its construction, from over 20,000 strips of cor-ten steel.  Viewed from a distance, the figure seems almost gauzy, there and not there yet solidifying as you approach it.

The sculptor, Sebastien Boysen, describes the impetus behind his work thus: 'I just had this thought, this image of this man - almost stripped bare. Maybe he's one of the helpers or maybe one of the survivors who has managed to come out from the pit.  This man is conveying the sense of loss.  A sense of something that's almost impossible to understand.'  

And there is a feeling of irredeemable loss at Six Bells.  The loss of the valley's pastoral tranquility when the mine opened.  The loss of light, health and life working underground.  The loss of work and community pride when the mine closed with  nothing to replace it.  But at the reclaimed site of the former pit, there is peace, reconciliation and remembrance too.  

After Six Bells we again braved wind and residual pockets of snow to picnic in grand style on Marland Mountain - otherwise known as Hafod Fach - where for a time Dru's family used to farm.  


We then headed for Newport Cathedral, which is dedicated to St Woolos the Warrior (or Bearded), whose name is a corrupted, anglicised version of the original, St Gwynllyw.  Apparently he was a King and Confessor, who, like St Illtyd whose church we saw earlier, had a somewhat nefarious career  before he found God and founded the city of Newport.  At one point he even abducted the beautiful Gwladys, daughter of neighbouring King Brychan, who had refused to allow him to marry her, taking 300 men with him to do so.  Only the intervention of King Arthur stopped the ensuing pitched battle.  

Gwladys soon had a son, we are told, who later became St Cadoc the Wise and whose birth Gwynllyw celebrated by going on a cattle raid.  Presumably he indulged in some heavy-duty repentance later.  

The greatest treasure of St Woolos' Cathedral is the Norman arch with its Roman columns stolen, apparently, from the fortress at Caerleon and carved with images that might represent either Noah's flood or the baptism of Christ. Through it, at the East end of the Cathedral, you can see the distinctive wheel window in stained glass designed by John Piper.  

The best journeys end with the sea, or if not quite attaining that, rivers and on a bitterly cold but brilliantly lit April day, the Usk and the Severn both rose to the challenge.  Here is the Transporter Bridge at Newport.  I fancy I'll be back for a ride maybe, on a warmer day, whenever such a dawn might come.