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.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Border collies make the best librarians

My new collection. Learning Finity, arrived just over a week ago, Even Storm Eunice didn't hold up its delivery. Our collie, Cwtch was very interested in both the box and its contents. I think she must have been a librarian in a past life.

I'm very aware of how lucky I am to have had my lifelong ambition - to take up a little space on a bookshelf somewhere - realised again and again. Poetry is my solace in a difficult world.

I'll be holding both a Real Life and a Zoom launch for Learning Finity, the first somewhere in Bristol with my fellow IsamBards also reading (date and venue to be confirmed) and the Zoom launch on 5th May, with Chaucer Cameron and Tina Cole as guest readers. More details to follow.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

A goodbye to Bristol Zoo

What with the announcement of the closing date and Son the Younger's imminent move north, we decided to go to Bristol Zoo one last time, not out of enduring regret - it's high time, after all - but because it played such a big part in our respective childhoods.

Despite its familiar entrance, the Zoo is a very different place from in the 60s, which is when my earliest memories of it date from. Back then, Johnny Morris filmed weekly segments for Animal Magic there, and there were two elephants, Wendy and Christina, giraffes, Bactrian camels, black rhinos, zebras and okapi, wolves, kangaroos, lions, tigers, white tigers, leopards, panthers, gorillas, chimps, orang-utans, polar bears, a bear pit with black bears, a monkey temple with red-bottomed monkeys - oh, so many inappropriate animals for a small urban site. Our arrival through the Guthrie Road entrance, with its free on-street parking, was usually timed to coincide with feeding time for the seal lions and nearby penguins.

Walking around, I found time collapsing as memories from my childhood visits clashed with those from my children's childhoods, and I struggled to get my bearings amid the shifting attractions. It turns out even the new 'immersive' Seal and Penguin coasts are over 20 years old now. 

South American fur seals

Snakelocks anemones

Rain on the surface of the seals' pool

Some things haven't changed at all since my kids were small. The Greater Flamingoes still flamboyant the dreary lake by the main entrance ... 

... and the giant tortoises live so long that 30 years is a blink of an eye to them. 

The reptile house, which I always had to steel myself to go in, as I didn't want to transfer my fear of snakes to my children, is also unchanged. 

Emerald tree monitor lizards

African pancake tortoise

Juvenile blue tree monitor lizards

Utila spiny-tailed iguana

pygmy crocodile

much of the goodbye-ing was to familiar buildings, even if neither generation of our family rose to meals at the cafe or restaurant, the prices being rather expensive for our modest pockets. The wisteria-covered front of the Art Deco cafe used to be obscured by a huge canopy when the kids were small; now, there's an extension.

The Clifton Pavillion, which used to be the really posh restaurant and now hosts weddings, looked a bit drab yesterday (but the weather was terrible).

The giraffe house, now home to the gorillas

The monkey temple

Looking across the Lawn of Many Picnics to where the souvenir shop was

The Top Terrace

Bronze sculpture of mute swan, by David Wynne, 1971

Where eagles and vultures and owls were kept

Back in the day, the aquarium was a round display you descended into via steps, with a circular steel handrail you could skim around as if you were on a roundabout. It was extended years ago, to incorporate the old bear pit, which for some reason had a sculpture of an eagle on top. This walkway underneath one of the tanks has been there since my children were small.

American paddlefish

Yesterday, in the rain, the zoo certainly felt like a place that's on the brink of closure. I would guess most of its visitors between now and September will be there for nostalgic reasons. I was sad not to see the sand cats and the naked mole-rats in the  nocturnal house, and the Victorian house exhibit, with rats and mice, and a black widow spider in the toilet.

Bubbletip anemone with clown fish and slate-pencil urchin

While the islands on the lake are empty of monkeys, there are still some in the monkey houses. This inmate was giving as good as he gets from visitors.

Spider monkey eating red pepper

A golden-headed lion tamarin

Ring-tailed lemurs

Gorilla Island was empty too, but only because the Zoo's group of eight were sensibly sitting out the rain indoors. 

In homage to my mother, whose memories - rides on Rosie the elephant, chimps tea parties - I was also shouldering, we paused to pay homage at the bust of Alfred the Gorilla, who was stuffed and put on display at the City Museum long before my time. (Though actually, I suspect my mother would have been more upset about Marks & Spencer in Broadmead closing than the zoo.)

We finished our visit with a walk through the butterfly tunnel, where we were buzzed by blue morpho butterflies, one of which is pictured on the fruit with its wings shut ... 

... and, since it had stopped raining, a return to the red panda and lion compounds, which had been deserted earlier.

All things must pass, and not before time. 

Friday, 11 February 2022

'Learning Finity' coming soon

I'm delighted that after a brief delay for personal reasons, my new collection of poems, Learning Finity, will be published on 14th March 2022 by Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams Publishing. Here's the front cover, of St Leonard's Lane, which probably has the most ridiculous double yellow lines in the country.

The visual resemblance of the title design to the opening crawl of the Star Wars films is serendipitous, but not misplaced. The poems in Learning Finity are set in my native city of Bristol, but travel back and forth through time, where everything changes but stories are always remembering themselves. 

More details on its real-life and Zoom launch to come. In the meantime, here's a
link to its page on the Indigo Dreams website, where pre-orders are being taken, and for good measure, a colourised photo of Gloucester Road circa 1960, at the junction of Bishop Road, where my great-grandparents lived, before passing their house onto my grandparents and their eleven children in the late 1940s. You can see Mr Hacker's the greengrocer in the foreground, and on the opposite side of the road, Miss Wyatt's Newsagent, which features in one of the poems that makes up my Gloucester Road Odyssey.   

Saturday, 5 February 2022

A truncated tour of Chepstow Castle

Son the Younger's car was due for an MOT and service in Newport, and since the weather forecast was good and since he's moving Up North (to Coventry) soon, I decided to make the most of him, and spare him the misery of hours spent waiting in Dunelm for it to be ready.  

On previous such occasions we've been to Porthcawl and Merthyr Mawr, Llandaff Cathedral and the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagan's, and Kenfig Burrows. This time we headed east to Chepstow ... 

... and its monstrous castle which, I'm ashamed to say, I've never been inside in all my 60 years, despite having lived within 12 miles of it ever since the opening of the old Severn Bridge in 1966. 

I say monstrous because it really is - a colossal weapon of mass oppression, the building of which was started in 1067 by Baron William FitzOsbern, a Norman warlord. This makes it the earliest stone castle in Wales; yea, verily, the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Look at these buttresses:

Marten's Tower, c1270 - 1306 (but named for regicide Henry Marten, who was imprisoned there from 1668 to 1680) 

The gatehouse, c1189 - 1219

And the original castle doors, which have been dendrochronologically tested, date from at least the 1190s, and are the oldest castle doors in Europe.

They look like they could do with a lick of creosote, though.

The castle is built atop limestone cliffs that form a ridge of land between the River Wye and a small valley known locally as the Dell. 

In the cellars of the Lower Bailey you can see where provisions would have been winched up from boats moored below the castle walls.

The cellar steps

Doorway into the Middle Bailey

Unfortunately - given that it had taken me so long to visit - the Great Tower, which is the oldest part of the building, the Gallery, the Upper Bailey and the Upper Barbican are all currently out of bounds, owing to conservation work. Although the people we saw wandering around at that end of the Castle looked more like speleologists than conservationists. 

The Great Tower is the oldest section of the Castle, the part Baron William FitzOsbern built, incorporating some already worked blocks of stone from the Roman ruins at nearby Caerwent.  We did get to see the typically Norman chip-carving on the tympanum, though, and an overhead gull ...

... which made a change from all the feral pigeons copulating in various crannies.

Another ancient door leads into Marten's Tower ...

... where's there's quite a lot of old graffiti on the walls.

Inside Marten's Tower

The romantic Chapel window, with nature imitating art

Views from the top of Marten's Tower included:

Across the Lower Bailey to the Wye

The Priory Church of St Mary and the old Severn Bridge

The 1816 Chepstow Bridge

Look, I'm the same height as a Norman warlord! (Or did they have to stoop?) 

After we'd done with the Castle, we made for The Cwtch cafe (where else?) for a little lunch and then headed to the Priory Church of St Mary, in the floor of which the aforementioned Henry Marten is buried. I'd run out of charge for my phone by then, but Son the Younger kindly took a photo of one of my favourite ever tombs, that of local benefactor Margaret Cleyton, who died in 1627, her two husbands, and twelve children (ten of them girls).  

It's the skeleton that fascinates me with its unfeasibly pristine teeth. (I do wonder how faithful was the restoration the tomb underwent in 1967.)

And then, after a ceremonial stand in the middle of the old Chepstow bridge, where Wales becomes England, it was back to Newport to drop Son the Younger off at the garage and home to Cwtch, who is now poised to learn how to ignore me in two languages.