What are the streets that have no memories

What are the streets that have no memories

Wolfgang ButtressLighting up the past

This unusual public art by Wolfgang Buttress is a 22-metre-high beacon and landmark on the way between Gloucester Docks and the city centre.  It symbolises a candle as a reference to the nearby Cathedral, or a flame to remind us of the many fires which have devastated the old buildings over the years.  The most recent fire was at Bakers Quay, which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

The structure is made of ‘Cor-ten’ steel, which I’m not a great fan of!  It seems to be cropping up all over the place on public buildings and local businesses such as restaurants.  It is supposedly a ‘high strength, low alloy, weldable structural steel, which possesses excellent weathering resistance due to the formation of a protective oxide coating which seals the surface’.  This is supposed to give an attractive finish, but to me it just looks rusty!  I think it is a case of the ‘king’s new clothes’.  I can’t imagine what my old dad would have thought of it, as he spent his life in the steel industry and presumably was not a great fan of rusty structures!

 The structure is etched with the words of Ivor Gurney’s poem, Requiem;

Requiem

Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth’s outworn shell
Pure and cold your radiance – pure and cold
My dead friends face as well.

Requiem

Pour out your bounty moon of radiant shining
On all this shattered flesh, on all these quiet forms;
For these were slain, so quiet still reclining
In the noblest cause was ever waged with arms.

I have written about Ivor Gurney (1890-1937, a gifted composer, musician and poet, in a previous post. He was born in Gloucester and became a chorister at the Cathedral.  Later, he played the organ at the Mariners’ Chapel which I also wrote about recently.

While serving in the trenches during the first world war Ivor wrote very moving poetry about his experiences, and memories of his beloved Gloucestershire, the people, the history and the beauty of its nature.

A truly thought provoking poem written by Gurney is Thoughts of New England.  It really moves me as it speaks of the Gloucestershire people who emigrated to the New World. Three of my children emigrated, one to New England, so it has a special relevance to me. And, while I can see the appeal of a new life in a vast country with seemingly endless opportunities, like Gurney, I am tied to this tiny island country with it’s history and heritage.  I feel the weight of the past in the rivers, the buildings, the countryside and the people.  Hence the title I chose, which is a line from Gurney’s poem…

Thoughts of New England by Ivor Gurney

Gloucester streets walking in Autumn twilight,
Past Kineburgh’s cottage and old Raven Tavern,
That Hoare he kept, the Puritan, who tired
Or fired, and took a passage in the ‘Mayflower’,
Gloucester streets walking in frost-clear hour —
Of ‘Captains Courageous’ as a boy read, thinking,
And sea-ports, ships, and all that boy desired . . . .
Walt Whitman, history-scraps and Huck Finn’s cavern:
My thoughts went wondering how the New England Folk
Walked twilight now, watched stars steady or blinking —
If thoughts came Eastward as mine Westward went.
Of our ‘Citizen’, the ‘Massachusetts Times’,
And the boys crying them perhaps about their lanes.
But those no historied ground of Roman or Danes.

What are the streets that have no memories,
That are not underset by ancient rubbish?
Where gables overhang, and the quarters clang
From Cathedral towers, and the slops or dinner dish,
Hurried a man voids handily into the gutter:
And ghosts haunt the streets and of old troubles mutter.
Where steel and scarlet of the military
And routine use flash vivid momentarily;
Imagination stricken unaccountably
At full day into pictures not looked for even,
And children from their play by curfew driven.

Are there men of my blood over Atlantic
Wondering there what light is growing thick
By Severn and what real thing Cotswold is?
Are there men walking slow till tiredness leads in
To write or read till the night’s veil grows thin;
Insatiate desiring what hope would win?
Is the air clear there as Thoreau’s prose,
With frost and sparkling water, and day’s close
As mild, as soft as shows in ‘Evangeline’?
(Since all verse from the air or earth does win).

Do they hear tell of Domesday Book, and not
Think of this Gloucester where the scrivener wrote
Command of reeves first set their lists to begin?
Do they wish walk at evening where the earls went in
And William: Are there not crowns of England old
That first in Gloucester’s Abbey showed their gold?
Can villas contain man in unloving hold
As here the cornered, the nooked low-ceilinged beetle-browed
Houses cloak man in; or the strict thoroughfares
Stone or asphalt-paved ally to man? 

Are there great joys in April her high days
For those who cannot high imaginations see
Of other men builded, stirred to a great praise?
Cotswold earthing profound for white material,
Masses of stone gone slender as a silver birch,
Upwards in dazzle to an arching azure.

O where in the new towns shall recompense come,
For the market-days, the week-end trouble without measure,
The crowded four ways and cattle markets boom,
And country faces seen often with so much pleasure?

Can New England think deep thoughts of her bye-ways,
Is Abana and Pharpar a balance for
Severn receiving Avon, at her knot of highways,
Her Abbey township, beneath so high a cloud floor?

But nevertheless one would go very willingly
At the year’s turn, where Washington or Lincoln walked,
Or praise ‘Drum Taps’ or ‘This Compost’, and hear talked
Speech of Lowell, or Hawthorne, or Holmes and be
Pleased with citizenship of Gloucester or Worcester
And companionship of veterans or veteran’s sons
Of the Wilderness or Richmond, see the old guns
That set Chattanooga’s thronged woods astir;
Or woke terror in steadfastness with red anger.

But not for longer than the strangeness lasted.
Severn yet calls not to be resisted:
And the mix of Dane thoughts, Roman, with Middle-Age
Calls all love out to mark on any page.

The glory of Peter’s Abbey high up in Summer,
Or low in Winter’s gloom, and a wavering shape,
Are more than is ever seen by foreign comer
To Connecticut, or Staten or Providence with its cape,
Being loveliness and history and height in one.

And there is nothing uprooted that is not changed.
Better to stay and wonder in the half light
How New England saunters where Kipling loved and ranged, so
And watch the starling flocks in first autumn flight.

The New World has qualities its own,
But the Old not yet decrepit or withered is grown,
And brick and timber of age five centuries known
Are consolation for poverty enough
Against New York, where they say Opera is brilliant,
And the byeways with five dollar notes are strown.
The stuff of Liberty is a varying stuff,
But from Grant’s men. Lee’s men, nobleness should never want.

Here are some of my photos of historic Gloucester to enjoy…

 

 

 

 

Bluebells with the Brontes

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While taking my little dog, Toffee, for her walks this week, I have been thinking about WPC’s cue for my blog ~ ‘Earth’.

It struck me as I wandered across the park and through the woods near my home, just how marvellous the earth is at recovering from what nature, and we humans, subject it to.

We had a short cold spell when the grass was covered in frost and the earth in the woods was as hard as rock underfoot and twisted ankles were a real danger.  Then as the long and wet winter dragged on, the grass became waterlogged and sodden, and the woods were a quagmire with mud.  But through it all, the snowdrop, crocus and daffodil bulbs survived, and bloomed.  When the weather turned milder a few weeks ago, the blackthorn hedgerows were covered in blossom and the daisies started to appear.  Then, just in time for Easter, the sun came out and transformed everything.

Suddenly the grass over the park is green and dry and covered in bright yellow dandelions alongside the daisies.  In the woods the mud has dried up and carpets of bluebells have miraculously appeared in vast swathes of violet among the weeds, ferns and tree roots.  The smell is wonderful and indescribable.

I can see why they are called the fairy flower, they are just so delicate and beautiful and seemingly appear from nowhere.  They seem to speak of childhood and innocence.

As I wandered with my puppy, a poem started to form in my mind.  Then it struck me that many poets, including Shakespeare, have crafted lovely verse about Bluebells, which I could never match.

So, I will include a couple of my favourites here from the Bronte sisters.

Firstly, a really poignant poem by Anne Bronte who suffered so much sadness in her adult life and died far too young.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

And one by her sister Emily, who also died tragically young:

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

I was going to write a learned post about Shakespeare and Bluebells but then I thought I could just add this link about the bard’s garden.

Then I thought I could write about the beauty of bluebells but then I realised that I could never match this one by bookishnature

So I think I will just post photos of bluebells from my walks with Toffee instead!

 

A Lego Doughnut

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I have made a rather obscure link to this week’s photo challenge theme, which is ‘security’.  But, as regular readers of my blog know, I will use any excuse to write about my grandchildren!

One of the many advantages of spending lots of time with the grandchildren is that I can have fun playing with their toys.

Currently I am enjoying Lego Duplo with Stanley who is 4 and Thea who is 2.  The sets are a far cry from the uninspiring little pieces I remember from when my children were young.  They are so colourful and child friendly now, with animals and themed sets.   Yet they still stimulate the imagination and encourage a world of creative play.

Fortunately I don’t have a tablet, or an ipad, or a kindle, or any of the gadgets they seem to get addicted to as soon as they can hold them these days.  And, horror of horrors, I only have terrestrial TV channels, not games on demand!  So at grandma’s house creative play still rules.

Thea is particularly enjoying the Forest Park and Family Pets sets because she loves animals while Stanley loves the vehicles and characters.  But, however many sets they get, their first desire is still to build the tallest tower!

My older grandson, who has reached the ripe old age of 13, is also into Lego.  He has a bedroom full of it and is very expert.  I don’t even attempt to meddle with his models though, as they are very technical and way beyond my skills.

So, you can imagine how impressed I was to hear recently that part of our national security agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is based near my home, had set it’s employees the challenge of modelling the building out of Lego. This is not just any regular building,  it is shaped like a doughnut, which must be really difficult to model.  But they did it and the result is impressive as it would be with all their skills brought to bear.

I can’t take credit for the photo as it was on the official GCHQ website, but I do have permission to use it.  I think it is brilliant, especially as it was created in order to raise funds for a local charity, Elisabeth’s Footprint, which is very dear to my heart.

Do click on the links to see more blogs on the theme of ‘security’ and if you want to know more about the Doughnut Lego model, or the inspiring story of the marvellous woman behind Elisabeth’s Footprint.

What else can you do with grandchildren in the absence of gadgets? Well, We build dens, paint, play with sand and water,  picnic in the woods, take the dog for walks, or go to farms, parks and forests.  If it is cold or wet we make up stories, poems and fantastical adventures…

What did you do today?

Did you go to the airport with an alligator,

Or go to the beach with a bear?

Did you eat in a café with a camel

And frighten the people there?

 

Did you build a den for a dinosaur,

Or run through the grass with emu?

Did you go to the fairground with a fox?

Did he win a goldfish for you?

 

Did you play houses with a hedgehog,

Or go ice-skating with an impala?

Did you drive a jeep with a jellyfish,

Or fly a kite with a koala?

 

Did you eat lunch by the lake with a lamb,

Or play marbles with a monkey?

Did you go on a nature trail with a newt?

Now that would be quite funky.

 

Did you eat an orange with an octopus,

Or splash in a puddle with a pig?

Did you quiver and quake at a queen bee,

Then go out and dig?

 

Did you ride the rails with a reindeer,

Or go to the seaside with a snake?

Did you climb a tree with a tiger?

Now that would be a mistake.

 

Did you race upstairs with a unicorn,

Or drive a van with a vole?

Did you make a wish with a wallaby,

Or did you do nothing at all?

 

Did you swim with an x-ray tetra,

Or sail on a yacht with a yak?

Did you go to the zoo with a zebra?

Tomorrow ~ are you coming back?

 Poem by Brenda Kimmins.

snowdrop time

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One of the best things about this time of year in the UK is the abundance of spring flowers that battle their way through the cold wet earth. In my garden the hellebores have been flowering since Christmas, the snowdrops all through February, and the daffodils popped out as March poured in.  This is something of a miracle as I was sure my little puppy had destroyed them all with her frantic digging.  But thankfully they survived her and Storm Doris.

In the park opposite my little bungalow there are banks of snowdrops growing beside a stream, clumps of crocuses among the trees, and a touching display of daffodils that appeared in 2010 spelling out, “Will You Marry Me?”  I walk my dog there every day.

But for a really impressive display I have to go a little further into the Cotswold countryside and take a walk around the Rococo Gardens at Painswick  or Colesbourne Park.

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This year the road taken had to be meticulously planned and carefully executed as my husband came with me to both places. He has been using a wheelchair for the last 18 months due to his medical conditions and the debilitating effects of his treatment.  But over the last two months he has made great progress and started walking indoors with some mobility aids.  He has done so well that I was determined to take him to see the snowdrops.  This would be his first walk in the great outdoors.  It was a bit difficult in some places due to uneven ground or slopes, but together we did it.  Fortunately there were lots of places to rest on the road taken.  It was a lovely afternoon out for us both.

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Leaving my husband to rest on a seat in the Rococo Gardens, I wandered down a gravel path and came across a most unusual sight.  A fairy castle inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria was carved on top of a fallen birch tree.  According to the label it was created by chainsaw sculptor, Denius Parson.  It really was impressive.

I was joined on my walk, as I often am, by a friendly robin.  I enjoyed the sights as he hopped about bending his head to watch me.  There were banks of snowdrops in every direction, with little clumps of cyclamen and hellebore dotted about, and daffodils just beginning to show.

Enjoy my spring photos from the Rococo Garden.  It was dull and drizzly and the sun was setting by the time we left but the photos show the abundance of snowdrops …

 

 

 

 

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

The Art of Love

The Art of Love

 

Keats quote on River Avon

As we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this weekend, I thought I would post about my favourite Romantic poet.  Bless him, Keats died when he was only 25 years old but, in a truly inspired period of just three and a half years, he produced some 150 poems.  He said that love was his religion.  It is said that his best poetry was written in the last nine months of his life, when he was madly in love with Fanny Brawne, his neighbour in Hampstead where he had lived.

To follow the WPC theme for this week, which is “Life Imitates Art”, I have added an extract from one of his poems to a photo I took of the River Avon in Stratford, where I often took shade for whole summers on school holidays.

Keats (1795-1821) died in Rome when he was just twenty-five years old.  He had left his home in London’s Hampstead to seek a better climate, hoping this might cure him.  But he left behind some of the most exquisite and moving poetry ever written.

00000948Before he gave his life to poetry, he had qualified as a surgeon-apothecary at Guy’s Hospital in London.  But he had to give that up as his health was fading.  There is a beautiful bronze statue of him in the garden of the hospital, which was unveiled in 2007 by another wonderful poet, Andrew Motion.  I went to visit it with two of my dearest friends.

Keats famously said, “Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject”.

He remains to this day one of the greatest of British poets.  Who knows what he could have achieved had he not died so young of TB. But what he left us, his beautiful poetry, will survive.  And, contrary to what he thought, he will never be forgotten.  In one of his later letters to Fanny he was obviously feeling despondent, as he wrote,

“If I should die,” said I to myself, “I have left no immortal work behind me-nothing to make my friends proud of my memory-that I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered”

But of course he is remembered and he was truly loved by Fanny although her family disapproved.  She wore the ring he gave her until the day she died.

He knew that whatever sorrows, difficulties or even tragedies we face in this world, there will always be beauty in nature and art.  He wrote about this in his exquisite heroic poem, Endymion

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: 
Its lovliness increases; it will never 
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep 
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep 
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. 
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing 
A flowery band to bind us to the earth, 
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth 
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, 
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways 
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, 
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall 
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, 
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon 
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils 
With the green world they live in; and clear rills 
That for themselves a cooling covert make 
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake, 
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms: …

There was a film called “Bright Star”, starring Abbie Cornish as Fanny, and Ben Whishaw as John Keats, released in 2009.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t say whether it does him justice.  But if you would like to see a clip the link is here.

Below are some photos I took in London while visiting Keats’ statue, Enjoy x

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day everyone x x x

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Henry Stephens invented Stephens Ink and Wood Stain which was used at the buildings of the Great Exhibition of 1851

 

 

 

 

 

The simple song that spread around the world

Church at Mariapfarr

There are some times, they are rare and they are brief but they happen, when the horizon between heaven and earth melts away and the future is changed forever. It is often those who have suffered the most who experience such revelations.   Their gifts are a profound peace, the knowledge that all will be well, and total clarity about the course they must follow.

I am sure that it was just such an experience that led a young man from a desperately poor background to create the world’s most popular Christmas carol. A carol which caused soldiers to come out of their trenches one Christmas Eve during World War One to share rations and gifts with the ‘enemy’ and even play a game of football together!

It was Joseph Mohr who wrote the words to Stille Nacht, (Silent Night).  He had a very inauspicious start to his life.  Born in Salzburg in 1792, he grew up poor and fatherless.  His godfather was the local executioner and his mother knitted to make a living.  But Joseph was a special boy.  He sang in the church choir and had a gift for music and poetry.  These talents were recognised and encouraged by the local priest who helped Joseph through school, on to university, then to work as a curate, and ultimately to train as a priest.

But times were hard in Europe during his early years.  As well as natural disasters such as flooding, which destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure; the Napoleonic Wars had seen Salzburg and the surrounding towns and villages devastated, occupied, bombarded, defeated and heavily taxed.  The ordinary people were suffering in 1816 when Joseph Mohr found consolation in the church at Mariapfarr.  There he was inspired to write the words to his carol.

It would be two more years before the carol was set to music by Joseph’s friend, the organist and choir director, Franz Gruber in Oberndorf.   They sang the carol together in German at midnight mass with guitars for accompaniment.  The aim was to bring the Christmas spirit of love, peace, comfort and joy to their community in these difficult times.  They surely succeeded then and ever since.

Joseph Mohr died penniless in 1848, having used all his earnings to provide education for the young and care for the elderly in his parish.  He would never know that his little carol would travel the world being performed over and over again.  It would be translated into over 300 languages and become the people’s favourite Christmas carol nearly 200 years after it was written.

Now that is a legacy to be proud of!

Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Oberndorf