Saturday, 22 June 2013

Life, Death, and Bread and Jam at Sandham Memorial Chapel

And so to London to see Leonard Cohen at the O2, but first a stop en route to see Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere in Hampshire - a return trip for me, having paid homage there a few Octobers ago, but a first visit for my companion.

Sandham is a 1920s Grade 1-listed chapel built as a memorial to Lieutenant Henry Willoughby Sandham, who died in 1919 from malaria contracted during the Macedonian campaign of the First World War.  It houses a
series of paintings by Stanley Spencer, inspired by his own war experiences as an orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps, in Beaufort Hospital in Bristol and in Macedonia.  It's forbidden to photograph the paintings because the low light levels in the Chapel would require flash photography, but no matter, I've pinched a few of the National Trust's photos off t'internet.

This is a view of The Resurrection of the Soldiers behind the altar, in which dozens of soldiers  bring their white wooden crosses to a Christ in white sat in the middle distance of the picture.  I especially like this scene because as well as men, it shows animals as part of the resurrection - specifically, mules - quite a controversial  viewpoint at the time of its painting.  

I also love the altar cloth which is woven with the words 'I am the Resurrection and the Life' horizontally and 'We are Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On' vertically.

There are quite a few heart motifs in the paintings and my favourite is in the picture Tea in the Hospital Ward (look at the plate in the foreground).  Spencer's favourite food was bread and jam.

Another favourite thing of Spencer's at Beaufort Hospital was to hide between the huge baths 'to escape tiresome duties or simply to work alone and undisturbed'. 

The paintings are full of allusions - orderlies who resemble angels, one with buckets for wings, patients in Christ-like poses, mosquito nets like chrysalises.  

I feel a bit of a connection with Sandham, in part because my grandmother, Hilda Hill, worked as a volunteer at Beaufort Hospital during WWI.  I didn't realise until years after her death that Spencer had been posted there also, so I don't know if they coincided, but I do believe that if they did, they would have known each other.  Like Spencer hiding between the baths, Hilda was a free spirit - for instance, she once smuggled apples in her apron for the wounded soldiers and had to hide behind a curtain when the sister came into the ward, only to drop the apples and send them rolling over the floor.  I like to imagine them having a laugh as they went about their respective tasks.  

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Ravens over the Grwyne Fawr Valley

A visit to Partishow back at the turn of the year has proved particularly fruitful, spawning a poem in three parts entitled Speaking Raven and now this picture by Dru Marland, for a possible poetry anthology project in the future.  Vive les jaunts!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Cheap and Quite Tiring Entertainment For Your Offspring Over Summer

As a lover of Dartmoor - nah, who am I kidding, a Dartmoor obsessive, more like - I'd like to (re)introduce you to my novel, 'Dart', about a family living in Hexworthy in 1349, as the Black Death creeps across the moor from Tavistock. Drama and tension with a big dollop of Dartmoor folklore and legend included!

To make things more fun for readers who know Dartmoor well, I used versions of the 14th century place names - although there is a glossary at the back. And I walked my poor children miles across the moor to check the hero's journeys (with the promise always of a pub 'just around the corner'). If you are looking for something (cheap and quite tiring) to do with your own offspring on Dartmoor over the summer, this could be it. 

Julie Hearn - author of historic novels for young adults - says " 'Dart' will whirl you away to a time and place distant yet familiar " 

It is available to buy from my publishers, Indigo Dreams, all good independent bookshops, and Amazon too, of course, priced ₤7.99 or less.  It is also available on Kindle.  

Please click this link for more information and pictures, or go to Amazon and Goodreads for reviews ...

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Paying Homage to Ted Hughes in Sweat and Mud

Being a poet, my walking companion wanted to pay homage at Ted Hughes' memorial stone on Dartmoor.  Being a poet with a biscuit tin by the sea, I'd already been there and done that, but it's an easy lope out to the spot near Taw Head through the valley of the East Okement, so I agreed to repeat the experience. Though to make it a little more interesting, I chose the village of Belstone as our starting point over Okehampton Camp.

Our previous two walks of the holiday had taken place under high clear skies (I forgot to put the memory card back in my camera for the second, so will post an account when I work out to get the pictures off my new phone), but this trek looked like it was going to be far more moody and atmospheric, with Yes Tor and High Willhays dipping in and out of cloud. As much as I like not getting wet when out walking, interesting skies are preferable to the banality of blue. Also, the streaming wind means that Dartmoor walks are seldom uniformly grey - there will usually be gaps in the cloud and patches of sun to fire last year's grass and the imagination. 

Looking towards Oke and Steeperton Tors

On High Dartmoor 'roads' can be a bit of a misnomer - OK for military vehicles, for which they were designed, but a bit tough on arthritic joints.  Still, even the roughest of tracks is easier to negotiate than tussocks and bog, and so we made reasonable headway towards our goal of Taw Head ... 

... that is, until we got to Deep Ford, which was, and we had to boulder our way across.  

As we shared an orange by the ford, we spotted evidence of previous wayfarers with a less poetic purpose.

Dartmoor painting itself in the style of J M W Turner

A stand-off with a rather large sheep

Looking back towards Yes Tor

Looking north from near Taw Head

After a challenging stretch of bog-hopping and tussock-jumping, we finally reached Ted Hughes' memorial stone, prompting an outburst of 'You stupid Yorkshire bastard!' from my companion, himself from those same Northern climes.  Then we sat and ate oranges while it hailed, and communed about moorland and poetry.  Well, the poets did; Ted the dog was still sniffing out sheep.  

At Ted Hughes' stone, looking towards Taw Head

Since my other companion, Arthur Itis, had been pretty quiet on the way out, I decided to forgo the comparative comfort of tarmac for the return journey, taking instead the rough road to the ford at Knack Mine.  This is the view up to Steeperton Tor ...

... and this to Belstone Tor and beyond.

As at Deep Ford, the ford below Okement Hill was too deep to use, and once across via boulders, a lot of puddle-dodging was required.

The ford at Knack Mine was just about passable, however. 

Looking down the Taw towards Steeperton Gorge

Climbing up and away from Knack Mine

Steeperton Gorge

Then it was up and over Oke Tor ...
... and on past Belstone Tor to the village. My hips and knees were beginning to protest a little now, not to mention both big toes, but I was really pleased at how my newish walking boots, which have some support for my insteps, are helping me to cover longer distances without doing my joints in completely.  

And anyway, what's a little pain in return for days like these?