About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Sweary Alan Bennett

I just had a bit of a panic because I couldn't remember the title of my very favourite Alan Bennett clip and I spent ages hunting for it, so now I've found it, I'm saving it here. (The sound is a bit crap.)

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A Trip Down - ooh, wossit called again? - Memory Lane

Winterbourne.  A stream that flows only in winter.  And a pleasing village not far from Bristol. 

'I remember when all this was fields,' I told an unimpressed Ted as we drove along the Danzig corridor, with what is now the new town of Bradley Stoke on one side and a massively extended Stoke Gifford on the other. 'I'm easily old enough to say that now.'

I missed the first turning for the parish church, having been distracted by the brick chimney on Beacon Lane, which was demolished years ago, so we drove on up into the village to the other end of Church Lane and turned back down the hill.  Curiously, the Church of St Michael is quite low-lying, and at some remove from the homes of its congregation. It's believed that when it was first built, over 800 years ago, the then village was situated at the bottom of the hill rather than on top of it.        

Having parked, it was through the squeeze-belly stile ... 

 ... into the church yard, which has one of the largest collections of 18th century gravestones I've ever seen. Cherubs galore! ... 
... cherubs, in fact, which can only be described as böse because I'm still looking for the perfect translation from the German ...  

and a pair of beautiful, much more modern angels. (This a composite image.) 
And lo, after a long, dreary winter of death and decay, there were snowdrops, celandines and primroses, and crocuses tumbling picaresquely in front of another stone stile.  
And burgeoning daffodils ... 
... some of which Ted was thoughtful enough to water. 
Meanwhile, the door of the church, which had been locked when we arrived, was now open.  As I'm not always sure how one of God's creatures will be received in God's House by one of His Representatives on Earth (especially one with a hoover in one hand and a bottle of Harpic in the other), I popped Ted back into the car and sneaked inside for a quick poke about.   

And it was a treat, because there were 14th century effigies of persons tentatively identified, among them (maybe) Sir Thomas Bradeston and his wife, Agnes ...

... and another unknown knight with a pet lion ... 

... and a brass dating from about 1370 of the aforementioned Agnes ... 

... and oh! wall paintings! ... 

... except it was also half a torment because the church wasn't really open for visiting and the person who'd unlocked it to drop aforementioned accoutrements off was womanfully giving me a guided tour which was not on her list of jobs to do that lunchtime.  In fact, her dinner was probably spoiling in the oven. Gah. Will have to go back on Doors Open Day or something. 

Back in the churchyard, the effigies had put me in mind of Larkin's poem, 'An Arundel Tomb'. There's a sadness to these vague identifications and headstones weathered beyond legibility, where literally all that's left is love.  

So, feeling a bit melancholy, I made my way to Winterbourne Down, where for a couple of years when I was a teenager, I'd go riding at a cut-price, rather down-at-heel stables.  And astonishingly it was exactly as I'd remembered. The village duckpond at the junction of Flaxpits Lane and Hicks Common Road, with Huckford Viaduct in the background ... 

... the view across the Frome valley ... 

... and horses. Of course there were horses.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Going Home : May 1945

It's towards the end of the war, just after VE day but before VJ day. My father is in Italy, stationed at Foggia on the Adriatic.  He's ground crew and they’ve been removing bomb racks from planes and putting in benches for the transportation of prisoners of war.  One of the pilots tells him and his mate that if he gets a chance to go back to Blighty, he’ll take them with him. At this point my father has been away for 3 years and 8 months and has been told he will be off to Karachi shortly. In the event, this doesn’t happen because of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but for now he has no prospect of seeing home for months or even years.  When the pilot’s gone, his friend, who is equally desperate, says ‘I shouldn’t bank on it if I were you’.

 But a week later the pilot tells them he is about to fly a proof run and will take Dad and his mate back to England.  As the plane – a Liberator – starts taxiing down the runway, Dad climbs up into the cupola of the plane, which was for navigating by the stars.  They cross Italy to a base on the Tyrrhenian coast, and then the pilot flies over France and straight up the Champs-Élysées  and over L’Arc de Triomphe.  As they descend over Hampshire, my father thinks he has never seen anything as green as the English countryside.  They land at RAF Stoney Cross near Lyndhurst in the New Forest and as he disembarks, Dad kisses the ground.  He is 23 years old.  Then he and his mate start edging towards the gate.

‘Where are you going?’ asks the pilot.

‘Home, sir,’ says Dad.

‘Sorry, there’s no time for that,’ comes the response. ‘We have to be off at 8am tomorrow morning. But I will get you a pass to go off base.’

So they hitch to Bournemouth instead and have a meal in Bobby’s, the department store.  Everyone’s looking at them because they are in khaki summer uniform but with their RAF stripes – ‘an eagle flying backwards’.  They find a bed and breakfast and are back at base for 8am the next day.

As the plane starts to taxi, a lorry drives up. The pilot stops the plane and talks to the driver. There’s bad weather over France and they’ll have to delay their return by a day.

This time there’s no stopping Dad.  He hitches as far as Bath – it’s easy to get lifts because he’s in uniform.  Then he catches a train to Temple Meads and gets a bus up the Gloucester Road to Horfield.  As he walks up Macauley Road, the woman who lives opposite calls out ‘Oh, hello, Lionel! When are you going back?’

In the garden his father, a veteran of the Somme, is budding roses.  He looks up at my father without a flicker of emotion.  ‘Oh,’ he says. ‘I’d better go in and tell your mother.’

His mother is, of course, thrilled, over-joyed, overcome at seeing her boy after so long away and so much danger.  They stay up talking till midnight, and Dad is up and off at 6am the next morning to get back to Lyndhurst by 8.  But whilst on the train, he discovers that it won’t take him all the way to the base so he has to hitch the last few miles. Time is tight and as he hurries around the perimeter of the airfield, he sees the plane getting ready to take off.  He asks a passing lorry driver to take him over to it, which he does, and he gets on in the nick of time.

A day or two later he apologises to the pilot for being so late and nearly missing the plane.

‘That’s quite all right,’ says the pilot. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

On Not Entering the Kingdom of God on Earth

Often it's those places just up the road from you that you never get round to visiting. Such a place is St Saviours Church in Coalpit Heath, designed in the Gothic Revival style by William Butterfield and consecrated in 1845.  I must have driven past it hundreds of times and each time I've thought 'Gah, still haven't been in there.'  Well today - whilst on the road with the dog, whittling away a February half term while electricians rewire the tinder box that is my house - I resolved to put this oversight right. 

First, though, much admiration for the crocuses spreading over the churchyard ... 

... and the snowdrops bursting from graves in wintry sun. 

O glories, glories. And once inside the build-

- but no. Alas, it wasn't open. And after I'd looked on the website too, to check whether it was ever locked. No mention in the porch of whether there was a key-holder nearby either.  Boo. 

Disconsolate, I headed for the church in the neighbouring village of Frampton Cotterell.  St Peter's is a rather splendid Victorian re-build of a much smaller mediaeval church, with a tower dating from 1315.  I'd heard the stained glass was good, so I decided to have a look, but not before I'd had a fossick in the churchyard. 

At first I was a little surprised at the grandeur of this tomb, inhabited by William Tillett, Parish Quarryman, but of course he'd have had access to much stone and mates who could work it for him, and so it is entirely unsurprising after all.  

Much of this magnificent headstone is illegible but the first part reads:

Sacred to the memory of MARY Dau of JOHN & RACHEL TOVEY of this Parish who died 29 Jan 1802 Aged 15 Years 

The incumbent of this grave has clearly sublet part of it. 

When I went to go into the church for a bit of a poke about (and for Ted to spend some time in quiet reflection), I was stopped by the sight of four scooters in the porch and the sound of muffled yet still piping voices emanating from inside. Half term. Still, at least the building was in use and not locked against allcomers.  And I'm going to have to come back another time anyway. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Cold As The Grave

Finding ourselves at a loose end in North-East Somerset for an hour or so, Ted (the dog) and I took ourselves off to the picturesque village of Newton St Loe. 

With the tail of Storm Imogen still twitching, we headed for the shelter of the Church of the Holy Trinity.  But first a couple of idiosyncracies ... 

... namely, a house with an unfeasibly large ammonite incorporated into its pediment ... 

... and the ornate canopy over the porch of the former village school, which was established in 1698 and closed in 1972.  

As soon as we got into the churchyard, I spotted some quite spectacular 18th century graves which I photographed them while Ted tried to roll in something fragrant (presumably) that only he could smell.  
'Here lyeth the bodys of James and William, sones of James and Mary Smith of y pish [this parish] James died 26. March 1749 Aged 3Ms  Will died 15 Januar 1757 Aged 7 Yrs 6 Ms

In memory of Martha, Wife of Daniel Deverill who died 6 March 1768 Aged 66. Also ye said Daniel Deverill died 20 Octr 1770 Aged 80  And of John Deverill their son who died [illegible]

Here lyeth the body of JOHN, the Son of JOHN and CHRISTIAN SELWAY who Died 21 Dec 17--  Aged 9 Years ... [illegible]

Under the gaze of gargoyles and a rather splendid weathercock, past the one-handed clock ...
... and into the darkness of the 14th century church.  Usual stuff - headstones re-used as paving stones, monuments to local nobs, two priests appointed in the Year of Our Lord 1349, a squint, a little mediaeval glass ... 
... and painted organ pipes.
Outside, though, something new - two scratch sundials, so the priest would know when to hold Mass. 
And what do you know, I looked at the house with the ammonite again and it too had a sun dial.  Now all we need is some sun.