Wednesday, 30 December 2015

You don't have to be rich or famous to make your own museum

It was one of those never-never nights,
Becalmed between Christmas and New Year,
When you’re not quite sure of the day or the date -
We’d walked the Laurie Lee Trail,
And after falling into two different pubs,
Playing cards and spoof, drinking wine as well as beer,
Then toasting the table with Josh’s sloe gin
(Courtesy of the canal towpath at Ponder’s End),
Conversation wandered to our own pondering end.

Josh, who is a carpenter,
Was chatting about planes,
And how in former times,
Fathers passed their tools onto sons,
Names stamped into the wood –
This was too much of a coincidence
And opportunity to miss:
I ran upstairs to bring down
My great grandfather’s plane,
And Josh used pencil and grease-proofed paper,
To take rubbings and reveal: ‘C.W.Butler’
(Passed to his son, my gramp): ‘C.H.Butler’;
Josh examined the plane carefully,
Took it apart,
And was completely certain that the plane was hand made,
Presumably by my great grandfather;
The sloe gin was kicking in, and the memory kicked off:
I knew that Charles William had moved down to Swindon,
After the carriage and wagon works opened in the 1880s
(He was a carriage builder in London),
And my mum had told me donkey’s years ago,
That his wife, Caroline (nee Ridler), loathed Swindon
And eventually left him to return to London,
The marriage broken;
My grand-dad, Charles Horace, was born in 1891,
And served his apprenticeship as a carpenter in the GWR,
Before leaving Swindon for London before the First World War –
The plane ending up in my dad’s shed
And then passed on to me,
As an artefact and historical exhibit only –
For I am utterly useless with my hands,
Not what you’d call practical at all.

We then brought down a framed collage
I had made for my mum twenty odd years ago,
Now in daughter Alice’s possession:
My Little Museum” -
This contains pictures of my and Trish’s family,
A funeral card for a great-great uncle, a young boy killed
In a Wiltshire threshing machine accident,
Newspaper cuttings, old railway stamps,
Artefacts such as old coins,
And gramp’s brass GWR clocking-in token
But we were interested in the centre stage 1887 marriage certificate,
For Charles’ address, 19 St. John’s Place, Clerkenwell,
Is just around the corner from where Josh works today,
And where I was the other month,
Researching the local Chartist Allen Davenport and the Spa Fields Riots –
I must have walked past it, oblivious.

And what’s the moral of this tale?
That the truth is not as plain as the nose on your face –
Just as you sometimes rub your nose:
‘Ask no questions, tell no lies’,
Sometimes you have to take rubbings of what you think you know,
Examine the mundane, the half remembered and the ignored,
Enjoy the Inspector Bucket quest,
As you make your own museum,
For the truth might just be below the surface,
As plain as the name on a plane,
Or as plain as the knows inside your face.

(Stop Press! Josh also found the name Bartrop and Co. on the plane. Questions to be resolved – did this firm in fact make the plane, or did Charles William, unknown to memory, work for this firm of agricultural engineers in Highworth, near Swindon, for a while? Bartrop and Co. sounds so Dickensian, or like something out of Thomas Hardy.)

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Bath Disenchantment Walks 2016 Programme

Hi folks,
I walked out to Saltford yesterday and the tow path is really muddy with one section impassable so I propose to have a go at finding a way up to the Workhouse burial ground on Sunday. Its a recce for something I would like to explore later in the year the route from the National Trust picturesque view across the city from Widcombe fields to Odd Down.
Its a loop walk but there is a bus service back down into town from the Red Lion roundabout.
As ever meet outside 44AD Gallery 10.00 Sunday.
The walk offers some great views, spaces to imagine the enchanted city; thinking about who built it and worked it and the economic migrants it attracted we may see another enchantment, thinking about the productive and the unproductive poor we will reach the former workhouse and go looking for their unmarked graves.
I hope you can join me, come prepared for mud and a few hills! Back in town by 16.00 at the latest.
best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year on foot and on line!


A message from Richard White:
'Festive greetings, walkers!
Walkout Sundays continue into next year....walking and talking a bit further as the days lengthen.
Here is an outline plan:

In the first few walks I want to explore more on the slave trade and the legacies of slavery and empire...the focus is on the Brass MIlls on the Avon, one of which survives at Saltford. Brass goods were made here for trading in West Africa for slaves... I am interested to explore an idea about goods traded in the first leg of the triangular trade were made using the energy of the river Avon....what went down the river, what came back...attitudes to fellow humans, trade, sweat etc. I have a thought that the currency of the slave trade was manufactured along the river just outside Bath..but that maybe over egging it.
We will walk through the remains of early industrialisation, a coal field and ghosts of Bath's engineering past all now smoothed, concealed perhaps, in a romantically landscaped does it feel and what stories will start to can we tell them...

Sunday 3 Jan: Saltford loop....out on the tow path and back on the old railway line ( or back on the bus if you prefer...)
Sunday 7 Feb: No walk.  I will be travelling back from Germany from the Forced Walk: Honouring Esther we walk on the Thursday and Friday 4 and 5 Feb...why not join us...on foot or online.
Sunday 6 March: Saltford loop reversed
Sunday 3 April: Bath to Avonmouth on the River Avon Trail
As the days get longer I want to explore an idea around the memorialising and the treatment of poor people and those unable to work in Bath, in particular I want to start to develop a walking route from Chewton Mendip into Bath finishing at the Bath workhouse burial ground by the Red Lion at Odd Down. Walking, talking and the undeserving poor?

Sunday 1 May:  A walk via the ornate Victorian graveyard at Smallcombe to the unmarked graves at the Workhouse burial ground
Sunday 5 May: Bath to Chewton Mendip
Sunday 3 July: Chewton Mendip to Bath
Sunday 7 August: tbc
Sunday 4 September: tbc

The common theme in all this is enchantment/disenchantment and I really hope you would like to contribute to capturing throughts and ideas in some form or another. The walks are participatory and any information, stories, myths or rumours that you can bring to this the better. Please share! From October onwards I hope to be able to offer some of these walks more formally on the basis of what we have developed over this year of walking out!
Have a good festive week/weekend and I look forward to seeing you outside 44AD at 10.00 on Sunday 3 Jan.'

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Songs of Christmas Past

One damp, December afternoon,
I biked out through Stroud’s featureless streets,
Out along the Slad Valley to Bull’s Cross:
Past pollarded willow trees all along the road,
Past well wrapped farmers stacking logs in a dripping coppice,
Past chapels turned to guesthouses,
Their graveyards full of cars,
Past families cutting mistletoe from high, tall branches,
Long handled secateurs silhouetted
Against a setting sun’s cloudscape,
Past rooks, copse-calling in the gathering dusk,
Until, all was silent and still,
As twilight turned to darkness,
That moment,
When all life seems suspended,
A brief moment of seeming equipoise;
I listened to the silence
And then turned for home –
And when I got back to Stroud,
Nocturnal winter-spring had sprung,
Every window was now ablaze
With lights and trees and candles,
Doors were hung with stars and wreaths
Of holly and mistletoe:
Christmas has come!
Mum and dad are singing again!
Cold season’s magic!

This note below is from my brother, ten years ago, when mum still used to perform this song (she would have been a hundred this year):

‘My mother told me that she bought this play as a sixpenny publication in Woolworths. The family may well have put a strong West Country influence on the rendition which shows in my recollection.’


In our village, Christmas Eve,
I sez to zeveral mates:
"Now look 'ere, mates", I sez,
Sez I,
"Now ‘ow about some Waits?"

We gets zum carols, lairns ‘em up, and on an evenin' wintry,
We muffles up and zallies forth to try it on the Gintry.

"Good King Wenceslas looked out,"
We zings we with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out too,
To see what all the row were,
We zings forte (sounded like an ‘underd),
Even in the soft bits 'ow we thundered,
Bill, our bass, 'e 'urt 'is face, we thought that it was torn,
Yet all agree there were none like we, to 'ail thee, 'appy morn.
Perkins took the treble line (a lovely voice 'e's got),

I were tenor, Bill were bass, and Fred sang all the lot,
'E wandered up and down the scale,
And though 'e rather marred it

Cuz 'e never knewed the words, and so 'e "lah-lah-lahed" it,
"Lah-lah-lah-lah looked out", ‘e sings with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out, too,
To see what all the row were,
We zings forte (sounded like an 'undered),
Even in the soft bits 'ow we thundered,
Every verse got worse and worse,
And though we all felt worn,

Yet all agree there were none like we, to 'ail thee, 'appy morn.
Still we never got no cash, which didn't seem quite just,
Zeein' we'd stood there for hours, a-singin' fit to bust,

Then our policeman, old Bob Bates, comes down, a-scowlin' proper,

"Good old Bob", young Perkins cries, "At last we've got a copper!"

Good King Wenceslas last looked out, we zings with splendid power,
Zeveral neighbours looked out too, to zee what all the row were,
Then a change came on the situation,

Bob got nasty and took us to the station.

"Look 'ere, Bates, we're Christmas Waits,"
I says to him with scorn.

He said, with a sneer,
"Now wait in here
And ‘ail thee 'appy morn.”

The piece below was mum and dad’s Christmas special – they used to perform this in fancy dress as a duo and remembered the lines perfectly, almost to the end of their lives.

Little Nell

It was a dark and stormy night

When my Nelly went away

And I'll never forget her

Till my dying day

She was just 16

And the village queen
and the prettiest trick

That the valley ever seen

The farm ain't the same since me Nelly went away

The rooster died and the hen won't lay

But in this window I'll put a light

40 below zero, gosh what a night

Who's that a knocking at the door?

It's your own Little Nell

Don't you know me anymore?

What happened to the actor guy,
Who used to call you Honey

Did he leave you all alone when you hadn't any money?

Oh, he's a slick town guy and he lies with ease

And he's got more money that a dog has fleas

But he left me alone when I was most forlorn

The very night that my little Dumbell was born.

Is that there Dummy?

Well it ain't no other

The gosh-darned image 
Of his gosh-darned mother.

Hoity Toity my fair beauty

Or you'll come to harm

Cos I hold the mortgage 

On your gash-darned farm.
Give me back my Dummy.

Your Dummy?
My Dummy.

Your Dummy?

My Dummy.

Who's this a comin’?

It sounds like a mule.

I ain't no mule you gash-darned fool
Can't you tell by me badge
I'm the constibule

Now what's the harm?
Do please tell.

Well he ain't done right by my Little Nell.
Yes I have.

You have not.

Yes I have.

You have not.
Well he's spoilt me farm and ruined me daughter.

Well I guess I'll have to fine him a dollar and a quarter.

Which all goes to prove the price of sin -
And tomorrow night we play East Lynn.