Thursday, 30 January 2014

Happy Birthday, Ted!




Dru has written a poem for Ted, who is five today:

To Ted on his birthday

I hope your birthday brings you
A cowpat nice and wet:
Some extra smelly fox poo;
No visit to the vet;
Much illicit snaffling
Of someone else's dinner;
Not too much that's baffling
For a hairy piebald sinner.

Dru Marland


Ted really likes it apart from the sinner bit.   And the waiting around to sample the cake.



Hurry up!


It's my birthday, not his!


If I stare long enough, it will gravitate into my mouth ... 

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Carping the Diem in Lullington

So, in the spirit of seizing the fish, when I found myself on the Wiltshire/Somerset border this afternoon, with an hour to spare between dropping Son the Elder off in Dilton Marsh and being due at potter Jan Lane's house to help her with some technolologickal stuff, I decided to return to Lullington - top of my list of places, some of which I absolutely finally need to get to round to visiting this year - in the hope of getting into the church.  

The Church of All Saints, Lullington, dates from the 12th century and is famed for its Norman carvings.  You might call these grotesques 'gargoyles', but in Somerset a distinction is made between carvings that serve a purpose and those that are purely decorative, hence they are 'hunky punks'.  


Externally, however, this is the gem - the spectacular North Door.  


Here it is in context ... 


... topped by a niche containing a sculpture of Christ in Majesty.  


All this I had seen before. With luck today I would have time to find the keyholder and get inside.  


Gentle reader, I didn't even have to do that.  There was a car parked just outside the church, the door was open and a prospective bride and groom were being shown around by one of the parishioners. I slipped inside, rejoicing, to find this wonderfully wonky arch of Norman stonework which, at some point, metamorphosed into Gothickery.  

And see how beautifully lit it is ... from light into the darkness of Choir into the light of the Chancel. 


Here's a closer look at the crossing capitals, featuring two wyvern-type creatures with human heads and a green man ...


 ... and something I've seen described as an ox with two bodies and one head, though they appear to me to have rather leonine feet and tails, and a pair of birds, perhaps, preening each other.


More very well-preserved carvings ...

... including a head reputed to be that of King Edward I ... 


... and glorious stained glass light.


I loved this rather more modern Arts and Crafts memorial.


I adored the painted organ pipes.


Oh but the best thing of all, inside and out, is the deservedly famous font - early Norman (c11th century), with interlinked arches under a frieze of flowers, and inscribed with the motto 'Hoc Fontis Sacro Peveunt Delicta Lavacro' - 'in this holy font sins perish and are washed away'.  (Still not sure how a baby can be said to have sinned, but there you go.)  


Above the inscription is another frieze of 'green cats', which, it is believed, were supposed to be lions but which were carved by stonemasons who'd never seen the real thing - a bit like the Elephant and Castle in Chester Cathedral.   


And finally some snowdrops to cheer me on my way. Forget winter ... spring is coming.  













Friday, 24 January 2014

A Resolution from the Settee of Sickness

Holed up on the Settee of Sickness, thinking about the frailty of human body and spirit and all the places I can't get to right now reminds me of the litany of towns, beaches, hills, churches, museums and islands I've claimed I really really must see soon that remain unvisited.  

Some of my wanderlust must stay unsated for financial reasons.  Australia and India are out of reach.  Holidaying with my cousin in New Jersey will have to wait indefinitely.  Even 'exploring Scotland properly' and 'reading Seamus Heaney on the Blasket Islands' are too pricey, at least until I pay off the National Debt. 

But there are plenty of places closer to home I still haven't got around to seeing.  Here's a top ten:


1. Lullington Church, Somerset, famed for its Norman stonework.  I tried to visit it once before but drove over a she-pheasant en route, arriving traumatised (even though it wasn't my fault, the silly creature dashed out of a hedge inches in front of the car, made a right angled turn  and proceeded to run up the road. It was only a matter of time (about an eighth of a second) before there was a sickeningly soft thud under the front right wheel).  Upon said arrival, I found the church was locked.  As I had to be elsewhere in half an hour, I didn't have time to drive back past the bleeding corpse of my victim to locate the key holder, so made do with exploring the outside.  Which was lovely, but not enough and I still had pass the grieving male pheasant standing aimlessly on the grass verge on the way back.  Hopefully four years on he's no longer there.  

2. Zennor, Cornwall - specifically to see the mermaid carved on a bench end in St Senara's Church, but also to have a wander around the coast there.


3 a.  Crosby Beach, near Liverpool, to see Antony Gormley's sculpture, 'Another Place'.  In the meantime, here's one of his figures in the flooded crypt of Winchester Cathedral.  

3b.  Oh and I want to see the Angel of the North too.


4.  For a long time, I've said I need to get to know Dorset better.  Seeing the Cerne Abbas giant last year was a delight, after many years of yearning.  Now to visit Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door; Dorchester; Thomas Hardy's cottage at Higher Bockhampton and St Michael's Church, Stinsford; Fleet (where J Meade Falkner's novel 'Moonfleet' is set) and Burton Bradstock to collect fossils and driftwood.  I think I'll need more than one day. 

5.  St Cadoc's at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan was just another little old Welsh church until 2008 when a thin line of red paint was unconcovered on one of the walls.  Since then, twenty layers of limewash have been removed to reveal images of  the seven deadly sins, Death and the Gallant, and an enormous St George and the Dragon.  I shall combine my visit with a trip to Ogmore-by-Sea and/or St Illtyd's, the mediaeval church in Llantwit Major.  


6.  While we're in Wales, it's the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas this year. I need to go to Laugharne, and whilst I'm there, St David's too. I may be some time.  

7.  Lundy. I have never been to Lundy Island. How much longer?

8.  Mother Shipton's Cave. My daughter says I'll love it.  When next I'm up north.  


9.  My friend Jan and I have long been intending to make a pilgrimage to all the Wiltshire Chalk Horses.  So far I have only ticked off the Westbury White Horse.  

Then there's the Uffington White Horse which isn't in Wiltshire and which I have visited but which I need to revisit, on foot, along with Wayland Smithy.   This is a separate day out all by itself.  


10.  Radstock Museum.  Many of my ancestors on both parents' sides are from North Somerset.  It's just down the road yet I know little about their way of life.  Time to put that right.  

Probably a bit too ambitious to try to do all of these over the next 11 and a bit months.  But I'll aim to tick off at least four.   

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

'Grwyne Fawr' - Another Poem from Inking Bitterns

This is me reading the first part of my three-part poem, 'Speaking Raven'. It was inspired by a visit to Patrishow in the Black Mountains last January, when my fellow-travellers and I saw two ravens flying high overhead.  Their conversation carried all the way down to us on the still, cold air.    



'Grwyne Fawr' was recently published in Dru Marland's illustrated anthology, 'Inking Bitterns' - a book of poems and pictures for wild places, published in association with Poetry Can, and available from Gert Macky books and good independent bookshops, price £5.  It will also appear with its constituent parts in my forthcoming collection, 'Map Reading for Beginners', which is due to be published by Indigo Dreams later this year.  




Illustration of Patrishow by Dru Marland








Sunday, 19 January 2014

Beauty and the Beast

Rain. We've had a lot over Bristol lately, falling  in frequent, heavy showers.  

One advantage are the beautiful, painterly skies.  If they were as rare as eclipses, even God would stop to watch.  




The following photos were taken on Purdown on Friday:





And these were taken on the Downs today:


The disadvantage of so much rain is mud, and Ted mistaking himself for a hippopotamus.


'Whaaaaaat?'  















Saturday, 18 January 2014

To Hetty Pegler's Tump and Selsley

Dru was off to release a few Inking Bitterns into the wilds of Gloucestershire and did I want to come too? I said I could spare a morning (with Ted in tow) and she agreed that was all it would take, so off we went.




First stop Thornbury, where Dru snapped up a copy of 'Biggles Gets His Men' in a charity shop, then Berkeley (where, it turns out, there are no bookshops but a soon to close newsagents and a pharmacy in the former pub), followed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge.
    
We also hoped to pop into the church with its graceful spire but it was locked.  The churchyard was interesting, though,  if swampy. In contrast to the elegance of the architecture, there were some very thuggish cherubs.  I suspect they are bouncers at the Pearly Gates.
Then it was off to Hetty Pegler's Tump, the Neolithic Long Barrow at Uley, just outside Dursley.  The mound is named after Hester, wife of the the 17th century owner of the field, who died in 1694.  

We took the scenic route to the tump, which led past a quarry in the wood.  
It was pretty rainy and the ground was sodden and slippy, but the colour and geometry of rock and trees made up for that.  
Back up on the road we found ourselves in cloud, but the skies were clearing from the west and by the time we reached the tump, the day was brightening.
Is it my imagination or is there an oval, Paul Klee-esque face staring out of the stone lintel?
The entrance being much smaller than the one at Stoney Littleton - or me possibly being rather fatter - I didn't attempt to squeeze through it, but this is what it looks like inside.  
View across to the River Severn
En route to Nailsworth to drop off some books in the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, we saw a sign for Selsley, a small village outside Stroud with a remarkable Arts and Crafts Church, and as Dru had yet to visit it, we made a brief detour.  



















Look, isn't it stunning, seen through the Lych Gate with attendant jackdaws?








The last of the great Cotswold wool churches. 


Selsey's chief treasure is its windows, which date from 1862 and are the only complete set designed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.  
This is one of my favourites - another Ascension, like the mediaeval window at Fairford and the stone carving in Wells Cathedral.  
And this is the beautiful West window.
There were lots of lovely Arts and Crafts touches - the delicately carved screen around the Lady Chapel, the capitals on the (rather ugly marble) columns, the altarcloth and pulpit hanging, but I'm sticking with the windows for now. 
In the churchyard, some of the more modern headstones were reminiscent of those at Mells and Partrishow.  This one is engraved with a few lines from 'Parting' by Jorge Luis Borges.
Back at the car, Ted was twiddling his paws so we let him drive us home via Nailsworth and Wotton-under-Edge (whose bookshop, unfortunately, was closed), returning somewhat later than planned ... but what a cracking day out.