Bridging the years

Benhall Woods Bridge

This fallen tree bridges a deep dip in Benhall woods.  As I walk there each day with my little dog, Toffee, it also bridges the years and the generations for me.

I have lived opposite Benhall park and woods for over 30 years now.  It is a delight to have such a wild and wonderful place in the heart of a residential area.  It is filled with Silver Birch, hazel and oak trees as well as blackberry bushes.

I used to bring my children here to play when they were very young.  Then, as teenagers they would play endlessly among the trees, riding their bikes (BMXs in those days) over the natural obstacle course formed long ago by the spoil from the construction of the railway that runs alongside.  The bumps, dips and trenches make a perfect playground and the fallen trees add to the excitement and interest, providing endless hiding places and material for dens.

These days I bring my grandchildren to play in the woods and they love it just as much.  There are always squirrels to spot and birds galore, including owls and woodpeckers that nest high up in the trees.

There is a stream running alongside the woods through a lovely park.  In the stream there are ‘millers’ thumb’ fish, and this week I saw a Great Egret fishing for them!

In spring there was a carpet of snowdrops around the edges of the wood followed later by banks of bluebells in wild areas where nettles flourish.

I love the place.

Recently there has been a lot of controversy because the local council want to allow trainee tree surgeons to practice cutting down trees in the wood.  I have to say I have mixed feelings about this.  I do love the wildness of the wood, but, I can see some work has been carried out to good effect.

One of the saddest aspects of the wood is the tragic suicides that have taken place there in recent years.  A young man hanged himself there some years ago.  Then, tragically, a 15-year-old boy did in 2015 after possibly being bullied.  And a 29-year-old woman sadly did the same last November while suffering from depression.

Since then I notice lots of the lower branches have been removed from the trees, making them difficult to climb and so less likely to be used for this sad purpose.

 

What brought me to Adlestrop?

What brought me to Adlestrop?

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I recently started my second free course with the Open University at futurelearn.com

The first course was “Start Writing Fiction“, which was a hands-on course focused on the central skill of creating characters.   My current course is “Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.”  The course aims to explore how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with deep emotional strain.

Readers who were used to following my blog weekly will have noticed that I have written nothing since I lost my little Dachsund, Dayna, who was the subject of my last post.  Maybe other pet owners, especially dog owners, will understand the depths of my despair at losing Dayna.

I am blessed to have a husband, adult children (albeit three of them live abroad), supportive friends and adorable grandchildren.  But, although I love them all dearly, after losing Dayna I was inconsolable.   I gradually slipped into a downward spiral of despair and lost interest in going out, seeing friends,  talking to people, cooking or even eating.  All I wanted to do was stay at home and curl up under a blanket wallowing in my misery and solitude.  I felt bereft and ridiculously lonely.  Hence my interest in finding ways to cope with ‘deep emotional strain’.

All of my children are dog lovers and my eldest daughter volunteers at a rescue centre in California.  They recommended that I get another dog – not as a replacement because my precious Dayna is irreplaceable, but as a companion.  So I started to search.   How I found my new dog is a long story which I will save for another day but suffice it to say she is NOT Dayna

My new puppy was 10 weeks old when I got her, and supposedly a Corgi crossed with a Dachsund.  However everyone including the local vet is convinced she is a Beagle cross.  I personally think there is a bit of shark in her too.  She is very cute and slightly crazy most of the time but totally adorable of course.  My grandson, Stanley, christened her Toffee and instantly fell in love with her.  Well who wouldn’t?

 

Anyway, I started the course and I am finding it very  stimulating.  It is brilliantly put together with input from poets, authors, doctors, psychiatrists and research scientists, as well as the wonderful actor Sir Ian McKellen, and the amazing Stephen Fry who defies categorisation!

There are countless opportunities for online discussion with other course participants and it was a discussion about the poet Edward Thomas that led me to drive to Adlestrop today.

Edward Thomas was primarily a nature poet and he wrote his famous poem Adlestrop when the train he was travelling on stopped there unexpectedly on 24 June 1914, just before the outbreak of WW!.  Instead of getting irritated, he used all of his senses to take in his surroundings and wallow in the details.

Edward Thomas joined the Artist’s Rifles in 1915 and sadly was killed in action in France in 1917.  Interestingly, his widow, Helen Thomas wrote two books after his death reportedly to help her recover from her deep depression.

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917
Of course Adlestrop Station is no more although the railway line still passes through nearby fields.  Today the fields and the railway line were underwater, flooded after the week of heavy rain we have had in Gloucestershire.  But there is a wonderful bus shelter at the entrance to the village where the old station bench and sign is preserved and a brass copy of the poem displayed.
I went there today as I live just 20 miles away.  It was a cold, cloudy day, and the rain was drizzling down.  But the journey was worth it.  There were swathes of snowdrops by the roadside and in the churchyard.  There is a Yew tree shaped like a cross by the gate to the church.  The writer, Jane Austen was known to worship here when she visited her uncle, the Reverend Thomas Leigh.   There is a beautiful Cotswold stone manor house and a thatched village shop housing the ‘new’ post office. There were young riders in red jackets exercising the racehorses from the beautiful Adlestrop stables.
Here are the photos from Adlestrop

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

 

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 3Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 10

In Gloucester Cathedral there is a new stained glass window created by Tom Denny, which is a memorial to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney.  Like Will Harvey, whom I have written about before, he was a pupil and chorister at the Cathedral school before joining the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the First World War.  Indeed, they were great friends.  Gurney was a talented musician firstly, but in the thick of war, poetry became his creative outlet.   Like Will Harvey  he survived the war but was drastically changed by it.  So much so that his fragile mental health was totally destroyed, and he spent many years in a mental asylum where he eventually died before he was 50.  Gurney is buried at Twigworth, where his gravestone commemorates him as ‘poet composer of the Severn and Somme’.

Gurney’s poetry is beautiful and reflects his love for the Cotswolds, the countryside and the beauty of nature.  I’d like to share 2 of them with you that touch me deeply for different reasons.

Firstly, To His Love which is a poem thought to be written by Ivor Gurney when he thought his friend Will Harvey had been killed.

To His Love’

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

The second is The Bugle, written after Gurney returned from the war, a sadder and wiser man.  I include it as my grandfather was a bugler in WW1, and also because it speaks to me loudly of how ordinary life and commerce still goes on while soldiers suffer and die ‘out of sight, and out of mind.’ 

The Bugle

High over London
Victory floats
And high, high, high,
Harsh bugle notes
Rend and embronze the air.
Triumph is there
With sombre sunbeams mixed of Autumn rare.
Over and over the loud brass makes its cry,
Summons to exultancy
Of past in Victory.
Yet in the grey street women void of grace
Chatter of trifles,
Hurry to barter, wander aimlessly
The heedless town,
Men lose their souls in care of business,
As men had not been mown
Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme
Never again home
Or beauty most beloved to see, for that
London Town might still be busy at
Its sordid cares
Traffic of wares.
O Town, O Town
In soldiers’ faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.

There are many learned websites with information about Ivor Gurney, but my wish today is simply to share the beauty and poignancy of the new window and explain a little of its background.

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 2

There are 8 lights or panes overall and each reflects something from the life and writing of Ivor Gurney.  The notes are a precis of those that appear in the Cathedral by the window.

Light 1 ~ Glimmering Dusk ~ a figure walks at dusk in a Vale landscape.  there are dark pools of rain on the white road and May Hill can be seen in the distance.

Windows 1 & 2

Light 2 ~ The Stone Breaker ~ In Flanders a chance encounter with some road menders reminds Gurney of a much earlier meeting (“Oh years ago and near forgot”), in the fresh beauty of a summer’s early morning, in a landscape of Vale orchards.

Light 3 ~ Brimscombe ~ Gurney remembers a night-time walk through the fir trees of the steep-sided Brimscombe valley near Stroud.  The “pure clemency” of the moment enables him to forget the “blackness and pain” of France.

Windows 3 & 4

Light 4 ~ Severn Meadows ~This was written in March 1917 at Caulaincourt.  As the sun sets over Severn meadows, a figure, in the shadow of a willow, looks back at the river and the willows.

Light 5 ~ Pain ~ Gurney recalls the grey-white Somme battlefield.

“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….

Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.

…………………………………….

The amazed heart cries out to God.

Windows 5 & 6

Light 6 ~ To His Love ~ Probably drafted on the Somme battlefield, Gurney reacts to the news (false as it turns out) that his great friend, the poet Will Harvey, is presumed killed.  A couple walk on the Cotswold hills as their dead friend lies among the violets.

Light 7 ~ To God ~ In the intense suffering from mental illness, surely aggravated by his experiences on the battlefields, Gurney cries out for death, “I am praying for death, death, death”.

Windows 7 & 8

Light 8 ~ Song and Pain ~ A more optimistic end to the window as a figure emerges from an understanding of pain to enter “The House of Joy”.

As I stood and gazed at these incredibly beautiful but harrowing windows, there were people around me moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered.  Tom Denny is a wonderful artist. He has captured and honoured Gurney’s genius, his love of Gloucestershire, and his suffering in that dreadful war and in his mental distress.

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-153

https://wordpress.com/post/heavenhappens.me/4977

http://www.ivorgurney.org.uk/biography.htm

http://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/to-his-love-ivor-gurney/

Sanctuary ~ a Sacred Space

My Sanctuary

At WI I received a lovely gift in the lucky dip.  It was a silver bag containing a little silver and diamanté heart and 2 bottles of Sanctuary; a brand of luxury bathroom products.  It was lovely, although as I only have a shower, it may be passed to someone else!

The word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the Latin root word, sanctus, which means holy.  So the primary meaning of the word is, ‘a sacred space’.  Following on from this is the idea of a ‘place of refuge’, where someone can escape to and find safety.

In the year 2000 I retired exhausted from full time working, and spent a year seeking ‘sanctuary’ from a life so busy that it had overwhelmed me.  Being too ill to go anywhere, my sanctuary had to come to me, so my wonderful husband built me a summerhouse at the end of the garden where I could find some healing peace.

It was 3metres by 4metres made of solid wood lined with tongue and groove pine panels with a waterproof, pitched roof and 4 doors.  Each door had 12 glass panes and I was inspired to paint them with glass paints.

At the time I was reading “Landmarks”, An Ignatian Journey, by Margaret Silf and the book inspired me to consider my faith journey.  Knowing that the Domain in Lourdes has been the most formative place in my faith life, and thinking (wrongly) that I might never be well enough to go there again, I decided to reflect its importance in my summerhouse.  Each door would have a depiction of the grotto and of water included, as well as images that I love.

I chose the 4 seasons as my theme and decided to paint the doors Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  Before the doors were hung I measured out 4 pieces of wall lining paper and sketched my designs

 for each door.  I used trees, laburnum, wisteria, maple, holly, bending towards each other to form arched shapes.   I then drew images from nature related to each season, mice, hedgehogs, robins and anything else that came into my mind.  Once the paper design was complete I stuck the paper onto the back of each door and drew over it straight onto the glass with ‘tube lining’.  This dries quite quickly so then I started to paint! 

I am not an artist so the result was very primitive, but because the glaze comes in such beautiful colours, the overall effect was stunning.

Once the doors were hung we laid electricity cables to the summerhouse so that we could light it from inside or out.  This meant that at night we could see the stained glass effect shining down the garden from the house.  If I was in the summerhouse on a sunny day with the doors shut, the stained glass effect cast coloured light all over the inside of the summerhouse.  If I was in there at night I sometimes turned off the lights and lit candles to gain a different effect.

This was my sacred space, my sanctuary, my still point, my little bit of Lourdes and I loved it.  In my summerhouse I looked deep inside my self; I wrote my life story; I restored my spirit; I emerged a different person.

Sadly, I had to move home 3 years ago, and I could not take my summerhouse with me.  But I have the photographs and I just have to think of it to find a beautiful stillness.

Acquainted with the Night

Following on from an earlier post about how the Artist’s Way and journalling helped me when I was feeling very low, I thought I would pass on another tip for beating those dark night’s of the soul ~ walking.  I revisited a poem that sums up how I felt then and I thought I would copy it here for you.  I used to walk 3 to 6 miles a night, regardless of the weather, while it was dark and quiet  so I could think my own thoughts.  The fresh air and exercise is a great way to aid sleep as well as soothe the mind.

Now that I am well I still walk ~ but in daylight and looking outward at the beauty in the world around me ~ not looking inward at my cares and woes.

It may seem obvious, but it may help others to know that the bad times pass.  Life is so short, it is worth living to the full.

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Robert Frost