Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The long and winding road…

After a day trapped inside, ambushed by the deepest, dankest monsoon, Sunday’s dawning brought with it a spectacularly clear sky: and only the northern Pennines, morphing into the majestic Howgill Fells, just waking, to my right – constant, lumbering, reclining colossi – were still snugly covered beneath the cotton-wool-drifted quilt of rising dawn moisture, softening their sharp bulk.

Leaving the motorway, and arriving in the Lake District proper: as I passed Scales on the main road, those majestic mountains reared up in front of me – Blencathra almost friendly, welcoming – glowing a glorious rich russet; with their own topping wisps of remaining cloud floating away, lazily and gently, on the surprisingly lethargic breeze.

All the way, I had followed the sentinel just-past-full moon – a guardian and a guide – the low, bright lunar globe leading me to the turning I wanted at Braithwaite; before descending to its own long orbiting sleep behind the north-western summits.

Hugging the Derwent Fells, the familiar narrow road leads to a small, ancient bridge just before Birkrigg – but mouldered now into the grown-riverlike Rigg Beck beneath – the first vestige of the struggles I had, thus far, only seen in the news. Fortunately, the gushing ford that ran next to the footbridge was passable – but only with immense care and forethought. Had I not a vehicle designed to conquer such challenging terrain (and the knowledge to go with it), I would have mourned my annual return to “the lake by the dairy pastures”; but, surely, in this small paradise, readily found another delightful destination. (Cartmel – which my iPad’s autocorrect decided should be “Caramel” – which seems apposite – Priory, again, maybe; or “old man’s mountain” Gummer’s How – surely, on such a glorious day, one of the Lake District’s more achievable, and far-seeing, vantage points? (In August, visibility had been minimal; the ascent and descent treacherous; the weather then damp, belligerent, and bitter.))

Having waded through this first obstacle, still I went on with deep trepidation. At points – especially the final descent, beyond Newlands Hause – torrents of water rendered the 25% inclines deceptive, untrustworthy waterways. Landslips had mostly been cleared; but the surface of the road was littered with debris: mud, wrack, tangled branches, scree. My 4x4 was as sure-footed as a mountain goat, though: enabling me to concentrate with long-held breaths, and steer slowly and cautiously to my morning’s destination.

I was the second to arrive at Buttermere: chatting for a while with the seasoned, hardy soul about to set off to reconquer Haystacks and the ridge along Seat, High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike, before returning via Dodd and Old Burtness.

His love for the mountains was obvious: as was his preparedness. He, too, had arrived via challenges and setbacks – but also would not be thwarted in his goal!

I parked next to Mill Beck, which feeds into Crummock Water. It bubbled and frothed with a rabid anger that had not only destroyed the fences which usually ran alongside, but filled me with a foreboding that I would not be able to complete my planned circuit.

No snow remained: although torrents poured down from every crevice. Water, water everywhere – turning roads and paths into rivers, streams, and sometime waterfalls.

The walk itself was more hazardous than in previous years: well-trodden ways now well under water; sodden ground; routes blocked by serried, toppled, shallow-rooted pines. At one point, I had to scramble along a short rockface: hunting with amazed joy (and the memories of long-forgotten youthful climbing) for hand- and foot-holds – true crag-hopping (albeit in extreme slow-motion) – before descending to the remains of the eroded, slate-pebble-dashed path below. (My damaged body will take weeks to recover from this punishment, I know. But my mind will leap forever with joy at each similar memory.)

Conditions could have been so much worse: recent wrack-marks demonstrated how much higher the mere had lapped – obliterating any chance of traversing its shoreline.

Just past the obstacle course of fallen trees, I encountered a toddler (with justifiably proud mum) entranced with my reflective sunglasses, bush-hat and fingerless gloves. This was one happy child – with an even better outfit than mine! – determined and communicative; and aiming to complete the circuit with a big grin that warmed the heart. I truly hope they succeeded. They deserved to on such a day; and with such spirit.

But, of course, everyone I encountered said hello. Some stopped to chat, as well; and there was a comradely courtesy – holding gates open; advising about obstacles ahead; suggesting diversions… – but all of us glorying in the sunshine hovering above us.

At this time of year – even when all the sun can do is paint the sky a vivid cobalt, and tint the surrounding, cradling peaks with gold flames, without ever reaching the mere itself – this remains such a beautiful, yet sometimes harrowing, place: the true definition of the ‘picturesque’.

I must have been born without the traditional-English-stiff-upper-lip gene: and, as a result, there is a direct line drawn from external, ineffable beauty – whether that be music, art, poetry, sculpture, landscape… – to the core of my creative, sensitive, romantic soul.

Standing once again on Peggy’s Bridge, at the entrance to the Scarth Gap (I expected orcs), gazing back towards my starting point below High House Crag – Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike glowering menacingly dark behind me…… – dear reader, I admit that, silently, I cried.

The overwhelming assault of magnificence flooded my senses. (There was no room, today, for music.) Truly, this is a place where there is a surfeit of glory and grandeur – enough to emotionally sustain one for a lifetime.

I do not believe in any deity – yet this felt like an epiphany, a conversion (albeit on the path to Gatesgarth Farm).

As I returned to the sanctuary of my car, I was rewarded with one of my favourite sights: four keen Border Collies, expertly controlled with the subtlest of commands, manoeuvring a small flock of muddy Herdwicks to less waterlogged pastures.

Such skill; such innate teamwork; corralling them seamlessly and cohesively through a series of gates along narrow tracks. The oldest dog had a withered rear leg – but this was no impediment – this was an independent, sharp spirit, tugging at the boundaries of control, and obviously gleeful in its well-earned freedom.

Later, with such perfect weather for wandering – although, returning to my hotel, I would discover that my cheeks and forehead had been sanded rough and raw by the prevailing wind – the car park behind the Fish Inn grew full; and the paths and roads around the mere grew busy with companion walkers and cyclists. (Last Christmas, I departed as only the second car of the day arrived – such was its peace.) Such busy-ness, this time, made the place safer, though – essential when each turn of a corner presented unexpected vistas and occasional risks.

Not wanting to repeat my morning’s daring adventures, I returned to the A66 via the Honister Pass (which I had been told by my earlier associate was clear and dry) – pausing below the rugged, stunning Seatoller Fell to wonder at the surrounding might. Beautiful Borrowdale (I expected hobbits) glowed golden and welcoming, below, bathed in a beautiful, warm, umber light. But, beyond, yet more stark evidence – an almost infinite sea, where Derwent Water had once lain peacefully: at some points reaching out to stroke the road’s edge. In Keswick, the worst-affected households were marked by cairns of damaged white goods and furniture – and yet the town was very much buzzing with life.

This had been Buttermere at its very best: not as placid and tranquil as perhaps it can be (and is often imagined). But the Lake District as a whole is still struggling: and needs as many visitors, as much help – along with Lancashire, Calderdale, etc. – as it can get. Go visit! Cumbria is open! (But please – with Storm Frank on the way – be careful out there.)

Thursday, 24 December 2015

From the ridiculous to the sublime (and back again…)

Well over three hours sat in the Swan Theatre may sound like torture to some: but yesterday afternoon’s matinée of Love for Love went by in a flash; several bangs (and some other wonderful sound-effects (poor cuckoo): delivered with concentrated aplomb by percussionist Kevin Waterman); and almost a continual stream of tears running down my face. Mostly of merriment; but, for one moment, time definitely stood still… – “I would have music. Sing me the song that I like…” – the audience’s laughter was hushed; and the stage was conquered by the beautiful, rich, soulful countertenor of Jonathan Christie. In that one moment, it felt as if the emotional, social, satirical depths of this glorious Restoration comedy – hidden so well under a whole heap of bawdy petticoats – were suddenly laid bare. “No more, for I am melancholy.”

This is what the Swan does best: a company so utterly happy with itself (and so relaxed that they performed an impromptu rendering of Happy Birthday before the play started… – although, with all the actors – and some of the supporting creatives – treading the smooth wooden boards well before the ‘official’ starting time: this is a show for which you need to grab your seat early…); and where everybody (truly everybody) shines. (Special mention must go to Selina Cadell, though: here directing for the RSC for the first time (hopefully of very many); Tom Piper, for yet another subtle, cunning, evocative set design; Rosalind Ebbutt, for the joyous costumes; Claire Windsor for those rip-roaring noises off; and Eliza Thompson for musical perfection – and with a bassoon, too: oh joy of joys!)

Okay: not all of the gags work all of the time – but, there is a self-awareness (an artful stupidity overlaying stunningly intelligent artistry) here that renders them simultaneously both funny and forgivable.

It therefore feels wrong to just list a handful of the actors, as is the norm: so here’s a rundown (up, really) of the cast list, with my brief reasons for mentioning each and every one of them. Daisy Ashford, as Nurse – simply because she brought a light to proceedings every time she appeared (all too briefly). Jonathan Broadbent as Tattle – the “half-witted beau, vain of his amours” – for that quiff; genial pomposity of the highest order; and second-best face-puller. Robert Cavanah: as “free-speaker” Scandal – a wonderful, authoritative representation of William Congreve himself, I think. Jonathan Christie, for that voice; and a presence that still haunts me. Daniel Easton, as Ben “Ben!” Legend: the Captain Pugwash of salty metaphor (and a mean dancer, too)! Michael Fenton Stevens – not enough lines! – as the semi-bumbling Buckram (and best warm smile of the night). Hermione Gulliford, as the double-dealing, arch Mrs Foresight: for her wicked wit. The superbly weighty – but finally duped – Nicholas Le Prevost, as Sir Sampson Legend. (I’m thinking of changing my name: “Sampson’s a very good name for an able fellow: your Sampsons were strong dogs from the beginning.”) Justine Mitchell, as the shrewd, calculating, man-manipulating Angelica. (If it is anyone’s play, it is hers – and, I think, she demonstrates perfectly that Congreve’s attitude to women is not quite as superficial as one may believe: “You tax us with injustice, only to cover your want of merit.”)

Hywel Morgan, as scrivener Trapland: yet more beaming jollity with every appearance. Carl Prekopp (left, above), as sage servant (and dry, wry, witty foil), Jeremy. (He would make a superb Mosca – a not dissimilar rôle – in Volpone, given the chance.) Jenny Rainsford – she of the long, pink locks and brazen grin – as “silly, awkward, country girl” Miss Prue: bringing the house down every time as the vivacious, lusty bumpkiness. Elliott Ross, as Mr Snap: cheekiness personified. The wonderful Michael Thomas: who captured Foresight – “an illiterate old fellow, peevish and positive, superstitious, and pretending to understand astrology, palmistry, physiognomy, omens, dreams, etc.” – perfectly, and sympathetically. Anna Tierney as Jenny – if only for her charming rendition of “A nymph and a swain”. Tom Turner (centre) – first-best face-puller… – who was born to be the urbane Valentine Legend (our fault-filled hero); and who does a mean, rip-roaring act as a convincing madman (cuckoo): “’Tis strange! But I am Truth, and come to give the world the lie.” Ragevan Vasan, as lucky Robin (and very, very naughty torturer of poor young actors). And last – but certainly not least (and my favourite of the night) – Zoë Waites (right), as the wicked Mrs (although she certainly isn’t in any way) Frail – “a woman of the town”: forming a riotous, very fanny, er, funny, double act with sister Mrs Foresight.

This – on until 22 January 2016 – is the perfect pantomime (with huge, humorous dollops of audience participation) for those of a very insensitive disposition; and I shall be returning (at least once) in the New Year, if for no other reason (apart from being confident that I will be perfectly entertained again) to see what other in-jokes I failed to spot, this time around. (There are knowing – and none-too-subtle – references to concurrent productions Queen Anne and Wendy & Peter Pan, as well as next year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, scattered throughout. But the jokes come so thick and fast that I’m sure I missed many, many more!) Go! You will be “the happiest, merriest men [and women] alive”!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Whither the weather…?

What was certain was that I was wearing too many layers. What seemed uncertain was the season. It looked like winter (unless you looked carefully); but felt like autumn (or even the springing of returning warmth). So, even with no respite from the gales – passing unheeded and unhampered through shoulder-height hedges as transparent as leaded glass; and as substantial as gauze – it was obvious that there was no need for that thick, second fleece.

The many gulls strafing the thirteen locks climbing the Northern Stratford Canal seemed to be taking pleasure in the many opportunities the gusts provided: producing masterful acrobatic routines. And yet a lone heron glided sedately above the resultant turmoil. Nearby, though, a field-edge kestrel flapped its wings dragonfly-fast as it wind‑hovered; before finally retreating to distant shelter.

Further on my short walk, a lone mallard took advantage of the strong tail wind, and the deserted Grand Union Canal, to sail masterfully up its centre: king for a few minutes, at least. I was heading in the opposite direction, of course: along the muddy path. And soon the temperate breeze – ensuring stiff resistance to all straight-line progress – contained cooling hints of the rain to come.

So I headed back: on my way, disturbing a large mixed flock of redwings, fieldfares, and thrushes: fifty or more, rising in waves – along with my confederate guilt. Here, the centuries-old hedgerows sprawled, having lain undisturbed for years: providing me with sanctuary, and the birds with plentiful food.

On the shortest day of the year – a time for stillness and reflection: as the sun turns, and the light returns – somehow, this brief wander through a small parcel of Warwickshire felt more like regression than procession.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Merry Sproutmas…!

For Alex and Mike…

This year, for the first time in living memory, the Winter Solstice coincides exactly (in fact, to the minute) with the (as yet) little-known celebration of Sproutmas: where we commemorate the budding of the Monster Sprout; and remind ourselves of our gemmiferous saviour’s miraculous creation story.

Today’s lesson is therefore taken from the first chapter of The Book According to Cranberry (an arguable source, admittedly) –
  1. In the recipe was the Sprout, and the Sprout was with Chestnut, and the Sprout was Chestnut.
  2. The same was in the ingredients with Chestnut.
  3. All things were cooked by her; and without her was not any thing cooked that was cooked.
  4. In her was taste; and the taste was the feast of diners.
  5. And the feast smelleth in the kitchen; and the cooker-hood extracted it not.
  6. There was a chef sent from Chestnut, whose name was Floyd.
  7. The same came for a toasting, to raise toasting of the Feast, that all diners through him might be satisfied.
  8. He was not that Feast, but was sent to raise toasting of that Feast.
  9. That was the true Feast, which feasteth every diner that cometh into the restaurant.
  10. He was in the restaurant, and the restaurant was made by him, and the restaurant knew him not.
  11. He drank unto his socks, and his socks carried him not.
  12. But as many as carried him, to them gave he menus to become the fans of Chestnut, even to them that believe on her name:
  13. Which were cooked, not with sauce, nor of the turkey of the flesh, nor of the bill of diners, but of Chestnut.
  14. And the Sprout was made festive, and eaten among us (and we beheld her greenness, the greenness as of the only pistachio of the Nut), full of relish and flavour.
Thanks be to Chestnut. Worship the Sprout.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The price of greatness is responsibility –
an open letter to Tysoe Parish Council…

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.
– Abraham Lincoln

We seem to have forgotten what politics is. What politics is really for. It is not for self-aggrandizement – i.e. for the enlargement of egos – but for serving the requirements of the constituent population: whether this is at national, regional, district, or at parish level. Anyone elected to any governing body should therefore always remember why they were elected; how they were elected; and who they were elected by. To misquote another American president: Ask not what your village can do for you; ask what you can do for your village. Perhaps, whatever your religion – or lack of it – Christmas provides the perfect opportunity for such reflection.

This is therefore just a polite request – from one of your many constituents – that you work together; and work through any differences you may have (amongst yourselves; or with other parties who may believe they hold sway in the village – however delusional their reasons…) for the good of the village. If such responsibilities are not your principal measures – your principal guides – then perhaps you should rethink your relationship with those you serve; or the standing of those who would try to wield over you power that they should not have. I do not – however beautiful the landscape; however generous the majority of my fellow residents – wish to live in a village riven by the selfishness and solipsism of an élite few, who believe, through sheer arrogance (whose only fuel can ever be ignorance), that it is only their wishes and needs that should be fulfilled; that only their supposed ‘vision’ for the Tysoe we all love is correct.

Another request, therefore, is that – particularly with regards to the Neighbourhood Plan – the Parish Council returns to first principles: and asks those of us who live here whether such a plan is actually required; if so, what form it should take, what we think should be in it, and how we would like it to be put together. I would rather this, than have stricture imposed on us from above by those whose perspectives are skewed by either supposed expertise, wealth, or bigheadedness.

And, no, I don’t have the answers. I also don’t have the power; or feel I should have it. I am just one small voice; one small part of this place – who loves it beyond measure; knows, if push came to shove, that it would survive (as it has done for centuries) without the interference of heavy-handed governance; shaped by those forces – internal and external – that invisibly wax and wane in and around it.

What I do know, though, is that I do not want our local councillors to act like the worst combative proponents of the Westminster ‘bubble’. You may disagree with his (and my) socialism – which I must assume many of you would, considering the local demographic – but I doubt if anyone can disagree, deep down, with the politeness, conviction and sheer decency of the way Jeremy Corbyn conducts his type of politics. Such thoughtfulness befits us all. Especially those who have the power to mould other people’s lives. Especially at this time of year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Some of us are looking at the stars…

I tend not to write (on here) about the many and major downsides of (me) being disabled – unless I am describing how I continually (attempt to) overcome those drawbacks – having learned, slowly but surely, over the last nineteen years, that, for me, having a positive attitude (if only in public) means that I cope more easily; and am not completely defined by the fact that my life and body have been seriously damaged by the recklessness of others. I also hope, of course, that those who meet me, and get to know me, can therefore similarly learn to ignore such negative aspects – seeing past the walking stick and hearing aids, as well as any visible pain (that may leak through the clumsy forcefield I erect) – concentrating instead on the happiness, creativity, intelligence, and frequent goofiness; rather than dwelling on being sympathetic to what they may perceive as my ‘plight’.

Yet, as an individual, there are innumerable core facets of my personality that have not changed in this time. Those that have, I would categorize as ‘growth’: aiding and abetting a maturity that, otherwise, may have taken much longer to emerge. I have learned patience; acquired stoicism; become more attuned to the world around me – especially the natural and the aesthetic. I have also realized that ploughing my own furrow – oft with little or no regard for those who would want me to fulfil their expectations, rather than (or even ignoring) my own thought-through desires – is the only way I will survive (or even flourish).

It would be easy to label such an outlook as ‘selfishness’: but I only have this one life (a truism, I know); and many – particularly the physical – facets of it (and therefore some of my ambitions) have already been snatched from my reach. This approach, then, to me, is more about making the most of my limitations: bringing a smile to those others who do care – and not just for me – by being vividly genuine.

When I have written on this blog about (my) disability, I have tended to follow three paths: the humorous (often in rhyme); what could be described as the general, objective, or political; or, as I mentioned above – particularly when I am reducing the subject to the specific: the way being crippled affects me – the physical mechanisms I use to try and get on with those aspects of ‘everyday’ living that are still open to me (although not actually every day…). There are therefore very few people who know and understand just how tough ‘being’ is for me; and, for most of the time, that is how I would want it to remain.

However, I have been told on numerous occasions that, by appearing so generally happy – which, in many, many ways I am – I often do myself a disservice. (One of the things you are taught on pain management programmes is not to fall habitually into that supposedly British response of “Not bad”, when asked how you’re feeling: but to remain honest, without, if possible, reducing yourself or the questioner to a pile of gibbering mush.) This then, is about finding a middle way – although not a compromise as such: just refining (and perhaps minimizing) the detail, without being dishonest. (After, all, no-one expects – or wants – a lavish exposition….)

Abetting such an aim – although perhaps counterintuitively – is my desire to live what life I have remaining (meaning both in a “threescore years and ten” way, as well as one limited in capability) to the full. I referenced Robert Herrick, recently: and yet there are (too-frequent) days when I am confined to the house – and often to bed – where that gathering of rosebuds is simply not possible. Those days, therefore, when I am out and about – although I would not go so far as to describe this as determined socializing: any interaction with others is more liable to be accidental, because of my Mole‑ish nature and dulling ears – are filtered through lenses of tinted joy; coloured with the success of (temporarily) subduing the demons of my disability; overcoming the limitations I am supposed to let rule my invalid existence.

As I have written before, I am no fan (in practice) of ‘pacing’ (despite my intuiting of its logical, proposed benefits): and will, on the rare days that I envisage the successful fulfilment of the tiniest potential, become an enthusiastic repudiator of any impediments – increased suffering; decreased energy, etc. – placed in my way. Short-term gain for long-term pain, no doubt. (And, almost certainly, countless days of worsened symptoms, as a result.) But the psychological benefits, for me, are reward enough: not only giving me something to write about, on here; but, more importantly, producing an all-encompassing glow of achievement that then motivates the next escape from the confines cruelly placed around me. (Some people never learn, do they?)

However, there is one particular pitfall to such a disposition (one which could be described, I admit, as fighting my own body; confronting my infirmities in what may be seen as quite an aggressive manner): one which comes from scheduling those “rare days”, rather than waiting for them to emerge through the mechanism of happenstance. And Saturday night was such a heffalump trap.

Continuing my musical “pilgrimage”, I had hoped to attend (and therefore had bought tickets for) the Orchestra of the Swan’s Christmas Concert at Holy Trinity, with members of my extended family. (I also had an invitation to review another concert, that night, in Bradford-on-Avon!) I can be (I will admit) a little bit of a Dickensian humbug when it comes to such seasonal celebrations – decades of being in, and running, church choirs can do that to even the staunchest musician (especially an atheistic one…) – but, obviously, the chance of enjoying any music (and from such talented performers) was enough to lure me away from my innate aversion.

However, for the last eight days, I have – despite short remissions for good behaviour (well, impatience, really; combined with stubbornness and stir-craziness) – been plagued with migraines of increasing severity: and I am still somewhat (at the time of writing) in a position where the left side of my body feels as if it has joined the Dark Side. Never mind the pain (which, on its own, I have learned to deal with): I also have very little vision on that side (insert Jeremy Corbyn joke here); and what I have is extremely light-sensitive. Additionally, on top of my usual tinnitus, I have hyperacusis – a cruel irony for someone losing their hearing. And, just to top all that, my movement is severely limited.

So this is where, and when, my ‘condition’ finally ‘gets to me’. Where all the psychological resilience I have constructed, crumbles. Not for the first time; and certainly not for the last. But the blinding reminder – in the same way that a memento mori may shock you into remembering your own fragile mortality – can be quite overwhelming: especially as proof that you don’t (and won’t) always win; that you can’t always get your own way – as other, more ‘normal’ people do – and that there’s a reason why the sheer exultancy of setting goals, making plans, ignoring limits, comes with its own equally harsh, depressing risk of consequential, unplanned-for, hurtful reality.

But if you don’t take those risks, then what is life about? I accept that I will never climb Helvellyn again: threading my way gingerly down Striding Edge. But I will never accept that I cannot at least make an attempt to see it again; or slowly explore easier, flatter parts of the Lake District at my own, bumbling pace (whatever the short-term consequences). And I will also play my part in overcoming those ‘social’ aspects of disability that stand in my way – more captions at the RSC; better hearing aid provision; ramps and handrails; self-opening doors – enabling easier access to the things most take for granted.

It is hard, though, to accept the disappointments that stem from being less able; less mobile; less (and simultaneously more) sensitive to sound; more riddled with pain. And, when even the smallest victory appears unachievable, inaccessible, it is hard to envisage future successes. They will come, though….

Prologue to an (as yet) unfinished play…

Once my world was the world, a world entire;
I made it mine, stamped my feet hard across
Vancouver’s islands and Pacific coasts;
Ascended tall Chicago towers, relished
Michigan’s shores, its pier, its peerless art
Made concrete; crossed the Seine at dawn; explored
Deutsch Kirchen; Dutch kerken – sang their echoed
Magnificats to an unknown godhead;
Wandered Swedish forests, paddled broad fjords;
Crossed seas; strode Highland glens and Lakeland fells;
Broke the back of Beacons; dark Pennine moors;
Rode ridgeways; saw spires; edged Midland waters;
’Til I found my home safe beneath Edge Hills.
My world – a world without limits; without
Unknown places that could be turned knowledge –
Turned small.

                    A fall of curtain too early;
Too soon before its call could play its turn;
All dramatis personae vanished, too
Soon, before their parts completed starring
Arcs across the heavens of their stagecraft.

Once my world was the world, the world entire;
Now it is a village, at best; a house,
When less better; a room; a bed; myself –
My world has shrivelled into my grey skin.

All know that with age comes unkind shrinkage:
Of height; of mind; of friends’ encompassing
Love, and life – a narrowing of knowledge
Expected: as arteries atrophy,
No new blood is made to warm our fingers
Or our toes.

                    But not too late; yet, for me,
Ever too soon; too far; too quick. Finis,
Before the second act has started on
Its way: ices yet to melt; drinks not drunk;
Rôles to be delivered; and plots entwined.
Too soon, too quick, my mind may be my world:
Complete as the sun; wide as planets; bright
As the moon; journeying as comets do
To fantastic destinations not known…

     Shrunk to a stop: a black, marked point of
Pressed ink, deep within blank, bleached, milk linen –

An original space to be filled: with
All that was my last world; made new with new
Imaginings; explorations; visits
To the broadest limits of my new-found
Loam; and then beyond. I will not be bound
By infirmity or pain. I will face
Impositions; false borders of barbed wire
Erected by dull, slow expectation
Against the anarchy of thought; against
Sprinting regular creativity;
I will face them with joy and rare strangeness;
From my infinitessimal blot I will
Trumpet, demolishing establishment;
Will blast loud: shout My world is world enough!
Collapsed, my corner may well be; subdued,
Punctured, rendered miniscule; but not done.
I am not done. Not done. This is no end –
It is a chance; a vantage: not over,
But [grins] an overture! So, let’s not dwell on death:
But fill our heads with light; our hearts with spring’s bright breath!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

I’ll go walking in circles…

The cold comes in many colours. On what felt like a rare, cloudless morning, crouching beneath the unkempt, unspoiled hedgerows, the lingering frost painted the shadows a cleaner, crisper shade than that of the lethargic sheep – too hungry to clear my path, or be concerned at my intrusion. Elsewhere, the bright, verdant clumps of appetizing torn grass glistened with innumerable distilled jewels in the low sun: which cast the trees as dark prostrate giants reaching across the silent meadows, now littered with their singed green, gold and umber confetti.

A biting sou’wester gripped at my jaws, clenching my teeth until I turned my back against it – my cheeks the colour of the few scattered berries and hips. Out of the wind, sheltered by a recent copse, the flaxen light brought surprising warmth; and I soon removed my gloves. The cloudless sky still glowed pale steel-blue, though: a reminder of the morning’s insistent chill.

Returning to the grounds of Baddesley Clinton, from where my short walk had begun – the rhythmic hum of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro accompanying my every step – I found the birds also overly intent on foraging to mind my presence. A young, fluffed-out, almost spherical chaffinch pecked close to my mud-spattered boots beneath the pines, sorting through the spillikin needles. Above my head, a treecreeper scuttled shrew-like, spiralling upwards around the trunk, and then along the underside of a large branch: unaware that its characterful acrobatics effortlessly defied gravity. A robin preened itself just out of reach: a gleaming black eye permanently glowering at my impertinence; its traditional Christmas plumage matching my still-smarting face. In the leaf-littered tangle of branches at the pond's edge, a silhouette of a blackbird chuntered in impatience; the mallards taking up its call with short, fading, slowing cackles.

For a while, I was their only observer: until a moorhen, skittering paranoiacally over the water, alerted me to an unheard squirrel, checking and re-checking its scattered winter larders, bouncing ever closer, from remembered spot to remembered spot. Only then did more humans appear. So I retired to the comfort of another coffee: surrounded by the ceaseless chatter of my own kind; and thawed by the glorious flames of the wood-burning stove.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Against strife and contention…

At a loss for something local to do, and with a small wodge of time to while away, I wandered lazily into Tredington: lured by “the tallest spire in Warwickshire” (reminding me of my beloved Salisbury) and too-frequent unacted-upon glimpses from the road of a uniquely seductive clump of surrounding houses and grassy plots. (Next time, I must remember to take my DSLR.)

From the comments in the recently-published Parish Plan – including “Rural quality with interesting architectural historic mix…” and “Its beauty and history”, in response to the question “What do you like most about living round here?” – this would appear to be a thriving, involved community. In fact, as I meandered through the village, it felt like a place that was truly at ease with itself – with its mixture of building styles and periods; stone, brick, slate and thatch. Such a lack of uniformity is, I think – especially huddled together in such a small area – at the heart of its attractiveness.

In such an obviously rural – and therefore quite isolated – location, it’s strange to learn that I could once have caught a tram from here to Stratford-upon-Avon! Although a large part of me – especially whilst struggling to limp across the Shipston Road: as an extended cavalcade of tailgating cars, blatantly exceeding the speed limit, thoughtlessly ran through, slicing the village cruelly in half – then thought that such once-again-fashionable transport provision (as demonstrated by its recent adoption in Birmingham) would probably render the place both safer and a lot greener.

It was mizzling as I entered the churchyard; but, as I meandered around inside, transfixed by a centuries-old and ‑deep beauty, hesitant, developing patches of pale blue appeared through the many ancient, clear-paned leadlights. And yet I couldn’t be enticed back outside!

If you have a moment, walk to the top of the road (where the thatched cottage is visible) and look back towards the church. On a sunny day, with the thatched building to your left, an Elizabethan house on the right, and the spire of St Gregory’s rising high above the surrounding cottages, it’s as pretty a village sight as you will see anywhere in England.

This excerpt comes from a wonderful, insightful review of St Gregory’s by David Ross – and from the way it is written, I think it is easy to conclude that this sacred space affects many as it did me. (For those who want more – and immediate – information, there is also an immensely detailed and scholarly description of its architectural history on British History Online; plus, of course, guidebooks available to purchase in the church itself – including the history quoted below.) And so I lingered – luckily having the building to myself – for almost an hour: intrigued by its complex layers of development; its manifold – and yet ultimately harmonious – architectural palimpsests (with “deeply splayed” Saxon windows still evident high in the nave); its immersive beauty and immense humanity.

If one stands at the font and looks east, a whole history book is open before one – the Saxons and the Danes – the Normans – the fine English Gothic of the chancel – the screen a relic of Roman Catholic days and the pulpit of the time when England was in the midst of a bloody civil war. Also one sees, high above the nave, a well preserved coat of arms. At first sight this appears to be that of Queen Victoria, but on closer inspection it is found that the V.R. is super-imposed on G.R. This suggests that the coat of arms therefore dates back to some considerable time before Victoria’s reign.
– DML Davis: The Parish Church of St. Gregory

I have to say that my favourite object was the font (above) – “It is a magnificent relic” – in the west end: if only for the “Old staples, on [its] steps, said to be a guard against witches!” But that tower – “210 ft high” – and the “60 ft long” nave and “forty-five feet long” chancel, are certainly both worthy of admiration (if not amazement – just for their sheer scale); as are the remains of fifteenth-century woodwork (in the rood screen, reconstructed “bench ends and pew fronts”, and “probably” also the lectern). The fourteenth-century north door – which may originally have been hung in the “reset… limestone and grey lias” Norman south entryway; and with its “lead bullets… dating to the Civil War” – also forms a weighty welcome and farewell. This is a substantial edifice: with authority over all who bestride its threshold.

This then is the church of St. Gregory at Tredington. You have read how history has passed through it. It was built during the Danish invasion, it was enlarged and beautified in the medieval period and simultaneously was involved in the estrangement of the English monarch from the papacy; it was concerned with the Reformation under Henry VIII and was held in plurality by his Latin Secretary Petrus Vannes; it escaped during the Marian reaction but still carries a book of Elizabethan religious compromise; it saw and took part in the civil war and thence it has settled and become a less interested party. No longer is its advowson a source of conflict. No longer are its walls needed as protection. But it is by no means dead. It remains a memorial to men’s labour and generosity, and a witness to living faith.
– DML Davis: The Parish Church of St. Gregory