About Me

My photo
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.

Monday, 31 August 2020

On Poetry, Hot-Air Balloons and Getting Up Horribly Early

Up betimes yesterday morning to record a poem for the upcoming anthology 'Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation in Verse'. 

My poem is about the death of my grandmother, Hilda Hill, during the 1991 Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Which is relevant because I saw hot-air balloons rising over the city the evening before she died, something I found beautiful and strangely comforting. 

Somehow this memory became conflated in my head with another summer evening spent watching balloons from the vantage point of Horfield Common as they drifted over the northern suburbs of the city - something which doesn't happen too frequently, as the Festival is held at Ashton Court to the south of the city, and often the balloons float off over Somerset. Judging by the then age of my children, I think this particular occasion must have happened a year, maybe two, after my grandmother died, but poems are timeless things, and anyhow it was another quarter of a century later before I wrote it.

I decided that if I was going to produce of recording of me reading a poem so closely tied to its location, it would have to be recorded on the Common itself, rather than at home, sitting in front of the obligatory bookcase. This presented problems, as it's a popular place for joggers, dog-walkers, and children, with several busy roads marking its boundaries. Hence the horribly early Sunday morning start. 

The recording went well. We did four takes, and upon my return home, I steeled myself to do battle with Dropbox and/or Google Drive or whatever I would have to use to get the file sent, only to find that we should have recorded it in landscape format rather than portrait. Which meant another early rising this morning to repeat the whole process.

It was a beautiful dawn - dew-soaked, and more autumnal than yesterday's. We stood on the tump, which was originally raised for archery practice, so that there would be a good view of the city behind me. And surprisingly - almost miraculously, in fact, since the pandemic prevented this year's Balloon Fiesta from taking place - hot-air balloons were drifting up the Frome valley in the misty distance. Which, since we are poets, is Clearly A Sign. 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Poets Walking

The summer holidays are almost over, and apart from two road trips to Nottingham to see my mother (and nothing else) (though she is quite enough), I haven't been anywhere at all. This is partially down to coronavirus and partly because there's been a lot to do close to home. So as yesterday dawned fair, the Northerner and I set aside a few hours for a trip to Clevedon, and a wander along Poets Walk, the historical background to which is here.

When something is actually called 'Poets ... ', I'd like to think that's who it's intended for. Back when poetry groups happened in real life, not just via email, I'd always feel a bit aggrieved when I got home from our poetry groups suitably early on a Friday (Poets Day) to find the parking space outside my house had been taken by someone who'd also Pissed Off Early because Tomorrow's Saturday but who probably hadn't written so much as a verse since they were in primary school. 

Obviously I don't really think Poets Walk should be reserved for poets, but it was busier yesterday than I'd seen it before, with all those other stay at homers.

By no means crowded but cliff paths aren't great for social distancing. 

We found a little more space for ourselves and Ted by walking along the edge of the iron-age hill fort on Wain's Hill, with its wonderful views down to Sand Point, Brean Down, Steep Holm and Flat Holm ... 

... before dropping back down to the path above Clevedon Pill, where my great-uncle Joe used to keep his flotilla of boats for hiring out to tourists a century ago. 

Then a quick visit to the World War II pillbox pimpling the face of the far older fortification. 

It's a good place for a look-out, across the estuary to Cardiff ... 

... and back up it.

Poor female blackbird

We wandered around the edge of the Glebe to visit the churchyard.

St Andrew's Church was closed ... 

... but we paid our respects to its resident sheela-na-gig, green man and chough corbels.

... before repairing to a bench to watch a rabbit foraging among the graves ... 

... and a massive car transporter make its way up the channel to Avonmouth.

We rejoined Poets Walk for a short distance ...

... before deviating to skirt Church Hill.

A last view of St Andrew's nestled between the two hills ...

... and an olfactory interrogation on Ted's part of the last two remaining 'Tennyson posts' that constitute the 'Darkened Heart' sculpture erected in 1994 with lines from In Memoriam.  

Then down the hill through the woods to the car park ...

... and home in time for a socially distanced cream tea with the IsamBards, courtesy of David and Alex. 

When shall we three meet again ... ? 

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Leaving home

Emptying the parental home is a tough job. While my sister and her husband managed to pack up almost all the goods and chattels in a few days of Herculean effort, it seems to have taken me the entire summer to re-home the last few pieces of furniture. 

I'm quite pleased, though, that out of all the things in the house, only one settee too old to comply with current fire regulations and one elderly bed had to be broken up and taken to the tip.

(The wood will be recycled into a composting bin.)

My parents bought the house in 1965, when I was two and a half years old. I can remember the six months it was in their possession before we moved in quite clearly, as my sister and I were taken over there often while they worked in the garden. 

There's very little of the house from that time that remains unchanged. Two or three original windows ... 

... the tiles in the porch ...

... and the original bathroom tiles, here with later tiles below them and the early 60s lemon bathroom suite that was my mother's pride and joy. 

I remember my father sticking up the two diamond-shaped plastic hooks. My mother, in her ceaseless quest for cleanliness, wanted my sister and I to have a flannel each, which we were to hang on our own hook after every ablution. 

Needless to say, that never happened. 

Also, sitting on the 'dirty clothes bin' in the corner with my legs stretched out and my feet up on the airing cupboard door, reciting my 3 times table while my mother pushed back my cuticles with the rounded end of a nail file. (Ouch.) We hadn't been taught our 4 times table yet but I got as far as 4 x 4 by myself and felt very proud.

Here's something I don't remember. Under a piece of carpet in the cupboard under the stairs a piece of lino that is completely unfamiliar, and presumably an always hidden remnant from the house's pre-Harvey life. 

And something I'd completely forgotten ... through a gap in the late 60s, built-in Sindy furniture, the original wallpaper in my parents' bedroom, which provokes a jolt of memory. 

My boys, going on a final prowl with me, are on the look-out for forgotten treasure. This is as close as they will get. 

The hardest thing to say goodbye to, for me, are the trees. It doesn't help that the cooking apple tree, the survivor of two that flanked the middle section of the garden, is growing forget-me-nots at its roots.

Dear tree, who never provided the handholds and footholds necessary for me to climb it.

And the tree I grew from pips taken from my grandmother's garden in Bishopston after her death, the twin of which Dru transported from the garden of my previous house when we moved to our current home.  

And the tree my eldest grew from seed to achieve some Brownie badge or other.

I will always see you

The fruit on the third tree is still far too small, but I take a couple of apples from each of the other two trees to see if I can get some seedlings growing. 

My father's long neglected shed at the always neglected top of the garden provokes a smile. 

Quick, Mum, quick, there's a weed on the lawn!
Back in the house the clank of the front door bolts and the rattle of the security chain, as the last piece of furniture leaves the house to be upcycled by a friend of a friend in Portishead and my dead father locks up for the night. 

A funny thing happens as I walk through the empty house. I keep expecting to see brown hessian wallpaper on one wall of the front room, and the burnt orange carpet that was another source of great satisfaction for my mother, but they are long gone. 
Or the small, dark kitchen with its dark blue wallpaper, before my Uncle Gilbert knocked through the larder, coal house and porch to make a single-skinned 'extension', but there's just a glimpse behind the late 70s pine panelling.

And after the 1930s lilac floral wallpaper and the 1960s horsey wallpaper and the early 70s pastel floral wallpaper, a glimpse of my bedroom in its true colours, before my parents covered it with blown wallpaper and painted it Bluebell White from the Dulux range, following my relocation to Lancaster in 1980. 

Blue blue electric blue ... 

I must have had a premonition they were going to do that because here's what must be one of the first ever, pre-digital selfies, of me the summer before I left, committing a glimpse of its glory to the historical record.  

The last two things to leave are my father's razor blade that he always left on top of the electric shaving point he never used ... 

... and one forlorn peg left on the washing line. 

The names in concrete will stay until the new owners block pave the drive ...

... but it's all there in my head, from beginning to end.