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.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

There is a world elsewhere

 It's twenty-five days since we lost our Ted. We are keeping walking when we feel up to it, especially in the places we found during the lockdown, that were new to all three of us, and which brought solace then. 

It seems inevitable to me that we'll soon all be back there again. Full lockdown, that is. Though not Ted.  

This is the last walk we went on. Ted had been off-colour over the bank holiday weekend, and I'd booked a vet's appointment for the Thursday, which was the earliest I could get him there. 

We'd driven from home up to the lane so we could walk as far as Charlton Common and back. The reason for this, we told ourselves, was because my hip was a bit niggly, though actually it was Ted who suddenly didn't have much energy. 

And when we got back to the top of the meadow, I slipped on ahead to bring the car up to the end of the lane, so he didn't have as far to walk. 

Even so, we had no idea he was as ill as he proved to be. 

Since then we've walked there two or three times a week. Sometimes there's no sunset at all, and the scene matches our mood. 

But sometimes we are given things that are very beautiful. Like the evening, less than a week after Ted died, when we watched a barn owl hunting over the meadow ...

... and being mobbed by rooks and jackdaws from the rookery, which it was scoping out back in April.  

Another evening there were balloons ... three of seven that had taken off from Ashton Court and drifted north for once. (Ted would have hated them on account of the noise, but they felt like a gift anyway.)

And to mark the Equinox, sunset in the oak tree ...

... acorns as brown as a good dog's eyes ... 

... and the covert feather of a tawny owl. (Jinny and Chris tell me they know of several places on the Kennet and Avon canal where barn and tawny owls live in proximity to each other.)

And sometimes there's just light, but we'll take that too.

We can never replace Ted, but we're not the people we know we are without a dog.

One day we'd like to adopt an old collie that has maybe lost its owner or not had a happy life and give it some wonderful final years. 

And hopefully more than once, only not yet.  We think we still have enough energy for one more young dog, though it's doubtful a rescue would agree. We've heard specialist rescues are reluctant to place any collie with sixty year olds, which we very nearly are. 

And it's true, we're not going to be belting around doing agility and flyball. (To be fair, we've never done that. Lots of walks are more our thing.

As for puppies, their price has gone up more than ten-fold in the eleven and a half years since Ted came into my life and my income hasn't kept pace. (Apparently, most of that increase has occurred because of the lockdown and people being home more and wanting a dog.)

Maybe, like barn owls and balloons and feathers, we'll wait for a dog to find us, and when we do, we'll walk together in Elsewhere. 

Saturday, 19 September 2020

A bit of out and aboutery

My dog, Ted, got me over my complete lack of confidence when it came to driving, by insisting in the early days that we went out at least once a week to visit new places, so I've decided to keep trying to get out as often as I can in his honour, even though it's hard right now, not just for reasons of grief but also Covid-19. 

Arnos Vale is somewhere I wanted to get to before it closes again. The IsamBards did a poetry walk there in early spring and we had another planned for Midsummer's Day but ... well, you know the rest. 

I missed wandering there through the summer, and now it's definitely autumn. 

It's also a bit more overgrown than usual. It took Will and I a while to find my grandparents' and infant great-uncles' grave, even though I'd committed its whereabouts to memory. More or less. 

Must get over there with some shears, we said, even though the grave is sinking between the roots of an ash tree. 

In some places the cemetery's like a painting by  Henri Rousseau.

Tyger! Tyger! 

I love this wild patch in the heart of Bristol. 

I also love Clevedon, so we popped down there too. First stop was Clevedon Craft Centre, which I last visited 12 years ago.

Then on to the beach, where we sat in the sand and scrabbled for sea glass, which was mostly too new and sharp-edged to be worth collecting. 

It was a lovely interlude, though ... 

... on a windless day. 

Out on the pier, I could see Church Hill, St Andrew's and Wain Hill, where we'd been on our last jaunt with Ted, when all had seemed well. Impossible to think that visit had been less than two weeks earlier.

There's somewhere else I've needed to go badly all year and that's Dartmoor. I didn't want to risk letting a whole year go by without setting foot on it. 

I didn't want to go without Ted either. 

In the end the Northerner and I decided to have a short walk and film my three Dartmoor-based poems from The Shadow Factory, as it doesn't look like we'll be having a proper, in-person launch any time soon. 

Except that when we arrived it was clear the conditions were against us.

And walking up steep Cox Tor in the teeth of the wind was attrition.
I staggered as far as the first outcrop of rock on its summit and howled and howled for my dog.

But I still had to get to the cairn with its trig point, a short distance that looked as wide as an ocean, 
rippled with waves from the Ice Age

It was so windy, even the landscape seemed to be coming unhinged. 

We made it as far as the big cairn to the north. 
There were amazing views in all directions, here over to Brent Tor, with West Devon beyond.

There were some very steep sections on our descent to the car.

Coming in the opposite direction was a man with two border collies. One had classic black and white markings, like Ted; the other as dark as a shadow. There's no way of knowing what went through their collie minds, but the dark one headed for Colin and the other for me, and they licked our hands, and swapped about, and they were just beautiful and so gentle. 

It was a slightly strange and special moment. If there's a message there, it's a loving one. It was always all about love. 


Friday, 11 September 2020

An ancient tree, a long man and two flaming churches

 A thousand years ago, when I still had a dog, I went with my sons to visit my daughter, Jenny, who lives in Sussex. We didn’t want to leave it any longer in view of the increasing Covid-19 infections and the possibility of future lockdowns. 

Here are some photos of that day, which was 2nd September.

The first place we visited was the Church of St Mary and St Peter in Wilmington, which has in its churchyard another of Sussex's ancient yew trees.  

This one has been scientifically dated as 1,600 years old, and is a possible indicator of pagan worship in the area. It's held together by chains, and relies on many props to hold it steady. 

We had a picnic in the churchyard. From high above in the yew a raven scolded us.

Under the tree were several blackly iridescent corvid feathers.

Headstone from 1766

Like so many of the old buildings in Sussex, the 12th century church is built of flint. It used to be joined to the neighbouring priory by a cloister.

Now in the north chancel but formerly outside is the 'Wilmington Madonna', another intimation of pagan worship on this site. 

Jacobean pulpit with sounding board

14th century font

The north transept was very badly damaged by fire in 2002, and a window featuring butterflies and bees destroyed. This window by Paul San Casciani, which also incorporates a phoenix and St Peter, was commissioned to replace it. 

Also by San Casciani, and much more pleasing to my eye, is this Tree of Life window based on the churchyard yew and incorporating a quote from the Book of St Thomas from the Apocrypha: 'Raise the Stone and thou shalt find Me; Cleave the Wood and I am there.' 

One of my favourite things about the church was the graffiti with serifs carved into the door ... 

... including this example which includes a day and a month. 

April 26th 1747 was a Wednesday. 

Just up the road from the church and the neighbouring priory is the other reason why we wanted to visit Wilmington, and that is the famous Long Man.

He's 226 metres high and his pose, with two staves, is very similar to that found on some Roman coins, though no one knows for sure how old he is. He could be an Early Modern folly, or from the Iron or even Bronze Age. 

He's said to be in proportion when you look at him from below, but actually those arms would reach to his knees. 

I think he's great ... though not quite as great as the Giant at Cerne Abbas, obviously. 

Our last stop was in nearby Lullington, to visit what purports to be the smallest church in the country, namely, The Church of the Good Shepherd. 

We accessed it by a chalk footpath over fields.

Not a chalk horse

The church is pleasing to the eye and rather quaint, being only 16 feet square .

It's actually the remains of the chancel of a church that was supposedly damaged by a fire caused by Cromwell's soldiers during the Civil Wars.  

I think that fact might disbar it from the smallest church competition. (I'm on the side of lovely Culbone Church on Exmoor.)

12th century square font