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.

Friday, 29 April 2022

Remembering the beauty of Chris Palmer

It was a dark day in mid-February when I arrived home from a morning out with my sons to the news that our friend, Chris Palmer, had had a brain haemorrhage and was undergoing an operation in hospital. As the days have lengthened and the light has come back, my delight in the renewal of spring has been tempered by worry and feelings of helplessness towards Chris and her wife, Jinny; how they were and what was going to happen, as hope ebbed and flowed. Like many others, I carried them with me everywhere I went.

On Wednesday night came the news that Chris had died. Yesterday I drove up to Symonds Yat, wanting to be by the river, in nature, on the edge of one land and another. I thought there might be solace there, but didn't find it. (There were maps, but they can be hard to read.) 

Chris was a leatherworker, an artist and a writer, with a profound empathy for the natural world. She was the sort of person who, if you were lucky enough to make a connection with her - and so many were - she would open her life to you and it would feel like a homecoming. When I think of who she was, I can see she was the epitome of an old soul, countering more than her share of tribulation with the unrelenting beauty that permeated her work, and an attitude of curiosity, gentleness and fun. 

The satchel of poetry

I felt quite desolate when she and Jinny left the west end of the Kennet & Avon canal a few years ago and travelled east and then north-west on NB Netty to be nearer family, but it was easy to stay connected, through discussions about poetry and our MA studies at Manchester Writing School with Jinny, and through Chris's wonderful art and the entertaining blog she'd post daily on Skyravenwolf's Facebook page, where she had a devoted following. Chris and I would message too, from time to time, occasionally addressing a painful set of circumstances we had in common with each other. There were no answers for either of us, but I found comfort in our communion, and came to understand that the inability to resolve this particular issue is not necessarily the disaster I'd previously imagined it to be. Ultimately the responsibility we have is to our own lives, and Chris met that responsibility head on, day after day, regardless of any troubles she might have had. In this she has shown me how to live.

We all wanted Chris to be restored to us. We wanted more evidence of how wondrous life was to shore up our own existences. More beauty, more beauty, we cried, open-beaked and demanding. But I think Chris had learnt her lesson for this lifetime so well, she was, in the end, complete. The Finished Chris.

At the same time, I realise how this conclusion is scant comfort for those who were closer to her than me, who now have a void punched through every minute of every day.

People say rest well at this point, don't they, but I'm going to wish for strength and ease in joint and sinew, and enough leather, tools, paper and paints to keep Chris happy and occupied until the rest of us catch her up. 

Sunday, 24 April 2022

Lambert's Castle and Coney's Castle

Son the Elder needed to be in deepest Somerset for a spot of roboteering, so I dropped him off in Crewkerne and headed for the Dorset border. My plan was to park at the hill fort called Lambert's Castle and stroll over to nearby Coney's Castle, before heading on down to Charmouth for a sit on the beach, a scrabble for interesting pebbles and sea glass, and a sight of the sea, as a reward for my earlier burst of light exercise. 

Lambert's Castle is an Iron Age hill fort sitting atop the 840 ft high Lambert's Castle Hill. Unfortunately the day was hazy, so the views of the coast and other hill forts nearby were unclear ... 

... but there was much of interest right under my nose, which made up for it. Like the preposterous stands of beech.

(Other trees are available.)

It was possibly rather early for the height of bluebell season in this wind-scoured spot, but they were still something of a spectacle.

I had a leisurely wander about, to the trig point ... 

... and along its boundaries ... 

... as well as its Bronze Age tumulus, a damaged bowl barrow, where I sat for a bit, having first asked permission of its chieftain. 

Then I headed off along the ridge and a long descending lane that skirted Coney's Castle ... 

... along the sides of which grew a madness of wild flowers.

Sort of clockwise: Jack by the Hedge, white and blue bluebells, red campion, ramsons, dandelions, Herb-robert, bluebells, cow parsley, greater stitchwort, tormentil, wood sorrel, wild strawberries, violets and primroses, cowslips 

By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, it was quite hot for April, despite the breeze. I started talking to a farmer and he suggested I took a short cut straight up to Coney's Castle - 'other side of the horses, by the concrete - there's a bridge.' I retraced my steps, and sure enough, the ditch was crossable by a slab, after which an unmarked path wound its way through bluebells, but bloody hell, it was steep. (My photos give no idea of the gradient.) 

Just as I'd decided this was as good a place as any to die, even without being caught  in a storm of arrows, I reached the outer ring of banks ... 

... and then the top.

It was clearly more sheltered here than on Lambert's Castle, as bluebells were rippling all around the summit. 

Having crossed the fort, I headed back in the direction of my car, ready to hit the coast. My phone rang: it was Son the Elder. Could I pick him up? He'd had enough and didn't want to stay as long as he'd intended. 

So, no Charmouth then. My hips started to shriek that they would have preferred to sit on the beach ALL ALONG ACTUALLY, and momentarily I felt cheated. I watched a kestrel turn into the wind up by the pylon before being swept out of view. Though there's something to be said for an earlier night than planned, my hips continued, in a rather more conciliatory vein, and I had to agree, they were probably right.

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Forever Imber

Yesterday was Son the Younger's birthday and we finally got to visit a place that had eluded us for years, which was exciting. First stop, though, the Boot Inn in Berwick St James, seven miles north-west of Salisbury for lunch. 

Because my daughter Jenny and her partner Alex had been held up in traffic near Woking, the rest of us had half an hour to spare so I nipped along the road to St James Church, an ancient flint and limestone building near a chalkstream, all of which speaks far more of the South of England than the West Country.

I've visited a few country churches during the pandemic but not so many that it doesn't feel like a novelty. This one has a 12th century Norman doorway ...  

... a 12th century font ... 

... and a 15th century stone pulpit, a rare survival from before the Reformation.

The Ukrainian flag


Standing stones believed to have been removed from Stonehenge in the 17th century, where they functioned as an altar stone, to be used to build a bridge

After lunch we drove on to our destination, the remote 'ghost' village of Imber. 

The village gets a mention in the Domesday Book, and in fact dates back to at least 967 AD, but in 1943, its population of 150 was evicted so that it could be used as an exercise area for American troops in readiness for the invasion of Europe. 

Few of the original buildings remain. Seagram's Farmhouse dates from 1880. Meanwhile, Nag's Head cottages occupy the site of one of the village pubs.   

Like the cottages, most buildings here have replaced the demolished original homes, having been constructed for Urban Warfare training. 

The 13th century Church of St Giles is still standing, and is open for just a few days several times a year, as is the rest of the village. 

More solidarity with Ukraine

Its glory - at least from my point of view - is its mediaeval wall paintings.

Here's the Seven Deadly Sins - a bit difficult to make out, admittedly, though you can see the red devils quite clearly. Apparently it was a new addition in the late 15th century, courtesy of the lord of the manor, Sir Walter Hungerford, who'd been promoted on the battlefield of Bosworth Field in 1495 - ooh look, a link with my jaunt of two weeks ago


A set of 17th century bell-ringing changes painted on the wall of the tower

It also doesn't disappoint when it comes to graffiti with serifs.

Also in the tower there's a mason's mark in the form of a hexafoil or daisy wheel.

Outside a modern gravestone brings home the implications of the story of Imber. 

Albert Nash was the village blacksmith. It's said that the day the villagers had to leave, he was found crying over his anvil, and that he died of a broken heart. He was brought back to his beloved village to be buried.

The villagers fully expected to return after the war, as promised by the Government, but the Ministry of Defence took the land over completely. A rally was organised in 1961 to demand the villagers be allowed to move back, but a public inquiry round in favour of the military. 

Albert's wife, Martha, only returned after her death in 1967; their son, Cyril, in 1989. 

An open day organiser in the Church told me the villagers were only tenants, and that they knew the land belonged to the MoD, so would have realised they wouldn't be back. I say the land belongs to those who have worked it for generations, who have its dirt under their nails and in the creases of their palms. 

And another thing. With all those soldiers around, couldn't some of them rebuild the fine 17th and 18th century tomb chests that have been allowed to fall into ruin? 

Home, then, for birthday cake - a rather more convivial get-together than the previous two years permitted, owing to lockdown - and a sit in the field to watch the sunset and think about how everything changes, nothing can be taken for granted.