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, 26 August 2022

Visiting Beacon Mill

On every trip to Sussex Beacon Mill stands dark on the skyline, and there've been several times I've tried to get up there to take a closer look but have been thwarted. The last visit, though, was the time everything came together to make it possible, and it's formally ticked off my list, but like so many of these interesting places, I left feeling like there was much more to explore.

The mill isn't often open to visitors, but was during our sojourn, so we got the chance to go inside as well as admire its brooding exterior. 

The mill - a grade II listed smock-mill - was constructed in 1802 and in continuous use until 1881. It then fell in disrepair and was allegedly used by smugglers for signalling purposes before undergoing several restorations, the most recent being in the 1990s.

The Friend who was on duty at the entrance was keen to test our knowledge to make sure we'd read all the boards properly, but Never mind the weight of a bag of corn, tell us about the skeleton! I cried and so he did.

When the foundations were first dug, two workmen unearthed a skeleton complete with a sword. (Of course they did, all exhumed bodies have to be tribal chiefs with an impressive weapon, the story demands it.) (Although this isn't entirely implausible, since there are believed to be at least two Anglo-Saxon long barrows on the site.)  The men claimed they went into town for something to eat at lunchtime and when they came back, it was gone. More likely, said the Friend, that they found someone they knew who might buy it, and that's where it went. We Shall Likely Never Know.

I wanted to go for a prowl over the hill so the Offspring sat on a bench for a bit and then sheltered from the spotting rain in the cafe. 

It's been so dry and hot this summer, most of the wind-stunted flowers were a  frazzled brown, and I made a note to return earlier in the season another year. There were still a few butterflies about and lots of bumbles ... 

... white-taileds mostly, I think, but also a common carder with a very high whine on milkwort (also common). 

Sadly there wasn't enough time for much more than a quick gathering of impressions.

Looking west over Rottingdean village and the Church of St Margaret, where the ashes of Edward and Georgie Burne-Jones are buried

Looking east towards Brighton

Back down on the beach - because there always has to be a sit-down on the beach with an ice cream - I gathered the day's quota of treasure:

a jackdaw wing feather from the hill

a lump of chalk also from the hill, a hagstone, and a pebble that looks quite a bit like a toffee and is pleasing to hold

Looking towards Saltdean

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

'Now is poetry where a rubbish bin once stood ... '

With apologies to Ovid. And also, I suppose, Auden, although he is wrong about poetry making nothing happen; in fact, embarrassingly so, since it's on Auden Mead in Upper Horfield, Bristol, that the poetry installation commemorating John Keats stood, with a rubbish bin sited directly in front of it.

This is how it looked when fellow-IsamBard Dominic Fisher and I scoped out our Poetry Streets of Horfield Poetry Walk almost exactly a month ago. 

Reader, we were appalled. The fragmentary poem it was impossible to read without getting a noseful of Merde De Chien No 5 is called 'This Living Hand' and was written in 1819, when Keats was 23. He'd just coughed blood into his hand and, having seen his mother and brother die of tuberculosis, knew that he was next. He died in 1821, at the age of 25. It - and Keats - deserved more respect than Bristol City Council was showing them.

So we complained. And asked other people to complain. Which they did in their hun- well, a lot of people did, from even as far away as America. And the Bristol Post got involved. And the local councillors were alerted. And although we didn't get our promised response within the 10 day deadline, yesterday I had a message from a friend who lives on the same street to say this had happened. 

And shortly afterwards, this happened.

And all we have to do now is get up a petition to get remove her and her dog. 

Friday, 19 August 2022

The Dog Days of Elsewhere

These are the dog days up the Field of the Hollowing Oak and in the Small Dark Wood of the Mind and on the Path by the Embankment and out on the Farmland that is soon to be the New Bristol Suburb of Brabazon, partly because it's that hallucinatory time of year when everything's dry and crackly under foot and stilled in the heat, but also because it's almost two years now since our dog Ted died, and we think of him even more than usual and miss him so much. 

Not that there isn't another, smaller and rather more biddable collie keeping us company, of course. But Ted comes with us too, and sometimes I even hear myself say 'Let's take the dogs for a walk', which I kind of like. 

And of course it's been hot this summer, and a lot drier than usual. The deserted farmland is tinder dry, although a few flowers are regenerating after the mowing it received early last month. 

Meanwhile in the field of the hollowing oak, big cracks have appeared in the path that goes around the perimeter ...

... though the most marked indication of drought is on the the golf course, by the small pond. It's possible, with a little art, to take photos that make it look as it quite normal, as we make occasional illicit trips past it at twilight when all the golfers have left for home ... 

... but actually, it's level is low enough to reveal all sorts of horrors under the surface, to go alongside detritus left by the (also illicit) evening fishermen.

The larger, shallower pond is no more than damp at present, but that's nothing unusual. It's full of loosestrife, common mint, ragwort, fleabane, thistle, and reedmace. 

It's also the season for feather shedding, though for some reason this summer, I've found only corvid feathers. (Not that I'm complaining because they're beautiful.) I did decide at one point not to pick any more up, as I've enough to reconstruct several murders, but I can't seem to help myself. Here's some of the latest batch. 

My favourite is the last one. I think it's the tail feather of a magpie, and it's very notched and battered, having been on so many adventures. 

As usual, the untended parts of Elsewhere are more diverse than the tended areas, although even up the field and on the path by the embankment there are fewer flowers and insects now. Nevertheless, there's still something new and interesting to see every time we go there. 

Gradually over the month all this has set or started to set seed ... thistles, vetch, bindweed, agrimony, yarrow, hemp agrimony, melilot, greater burnet saxifrage, fleabane and common mint, tansy, betony, and great or hairy willowherb, with outliers and the woody nightshade still going strong.

The thistledown is still omnipresent, but it's startlingly thick every year. It lines the narrow badger path near the bottom of the field and makes it even harder to see the tunnels and scrapes undermining it. 

Still ebullient are my favourite wild carrots, which line long sections of the footpath. 

They look like they've been designed by someone with a spirograph and fade from perfect parasols to snowflakes to mad hats.

Referencing their other name of Queen Anne's Lace, I've never seen one with such a pronounced blood spot as this before.

As for insects, there are rather more bees than butterflies around now, and definitely no more red soldier beetles.

There's a mix here of buff-tailed bumbles, common carders, a honey bee, meadow browns, a speckled wood, and a skipper on a very busy yarrow also accommodating a house fly and something I can't identify that's in the process of landing.

At the bottom of the field, the Small Dark Wood of the Mind is still quite dark, and appears to have some sort of a portal thing going on. The Grove of the Silver Chair and Ruby Crown remain largely unchanged. 

An owl pellet

Meanwhile, down on the path by the railway embankment, the profusion of vegetation that made us forget this will soon be a building site has started to die back, so that you can now just see the nasty plastic fence that was put up in March, while the now ghostly rosebay willowherb stands by the fence and choruses a warning.

Out on the farmland there have been strange patterns in the sky ... 

... and the areas that did escape the scythe earlier now remind me of my Auntie Betty's carpet in the 1970s. 

It's definitely beginning to look autumnal out there ... 

... with a not-too-distant harvest of blackberries and sloes (guarded by stingers), apples, damsons and elderberries.

The rookery is largely silent now, though we did see rabbits on the soon-to-be pitch and putt again, and out on the fields, we had a couple of encounters with a family of three roe deer. I'd seen one earlier this summer in the hedgerow where the damsons and apples are, but one night when we were down there, we saw them emerge and bound across the field, pursued in a thankfully half-hearted fashion by a curious rather than murderous Cwtch. (Ted probably would have been murderous, though he'd never have caught them either.)

Just a week later a chopsy Jack Russell drove them out of the same hedge before being put firmly back on the lead. Cwtch just contented herself with a little growl (once everyone was out of earshot).  

Finally,  sunsets - occasionally out on the farmland ... 

... but more usually up the field, with its oak and its view of Avonmouth and the hills of Wales. Always a good end to even the hottest day, although its progress along the tops towards the estuary shows how we're heading towards winter.

The sun in competition with the windows of the Mall at Cribbs Causeway