Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Memory Lanes: Brexit, Chartists, Chindits and Skylarks

The Stonehouse Brick Company’s Edwardian insignia
Are easy to miss as you walk past Spillman’s Pitch,
Where the cobbler sat tapping away, born in the Crimean War,
But still remembered by Irene, just a few years ago,
And where Old Tom, the delivery horse, trudged over the cobblestones,
Munching his way through front garden carrots,
Watching the deliveries of coal and milk and spuds and beer and bread,
And, the fishmonger, basket on head,
Listening to the housewives’ weekly question,
“What have you got for me today?”
While in the evening, tired out mill hands
Would take their beer jugs down to Vesey’s Offie,

Half way down steep Spillmans Pitch,
Getting some choc drops for the children,
Or those long liquorice bootlaces.

Rob and I talked of our teaching careers,
Nearly seventy years’ worth between us,
And that seventy years took us along the Nailsworth branch line,
To see the rusting mighty iron capstans,
One, now toppled, but one still firm and strong,
Once used for winching trucks down the gas works siding,
To a coal tippler (concrete remains there still),
Where a hydraulic ram tipped the trucks' coal

Down a chute to a narrow gauge hopper,
And thence over two bridges and the Frome,
To its destination at Stroud Gasworks –
Spillmans in the 1920s must have been more
LS Lowry than rus in urbe:
Steam whistle hooters,
Gas hissing in mantles,
Rain streaking the windowpanes,
Flat caps bobbing in unison,
Stout boots clattering on the cobbles,
Bread and marg in your pocket,
A small army on the march,
Wife at the washing:
Spillman’s Pitch,
Another Monday morning;

We walked on through water time,
Streams and millraces and water wheels,
To reach Woodchester and Water Lane:
This canopied holloway takes you to the prehistory of Selsley Common
(And memory lane),
One of a number of ancient tracks
That would have interlinked the Five Valley burial mounds and barrows
On the hilltops and valley sides,
A Neolithic tracery, connecting sites at Randwick, Woodchester, Nympsfield, Minchinhampton, Avening, Horsley, the Stanleys, Uley -
Leading to the vision (and occasional roar) of the tidal, mystical Severn,
The sweeping light of sunset cloudscapes,
The silhouettes of the distant mountains;

I talked of my father’s Chindit war -
The Channel 4 programme the night before:
‘Every man who returned was a casualty’,
And how after dad’s funeral,
When walking with Trish on the common,
A skylark soared and sang high in the February sky,
And how I pledged that skylarks and memories of dad
Would be forever conjoined –
Just as I finished this monologue,
We reached the top of the barrow,
Where a skylark stood, staring at us from the ground,
While two others soared singing to the heavens;
I’m not a pagan, but it makes you wonder …

But we did not have long to muse on this:
Our stunned stupefaction was immediately jolted
By the arrival of different ghosts -
Thousands of working men, women and children,
Marching up to the hustings up on the common,
Bands playing, music flowing, banners streaming:
One Chartist told me how her newspaper,
The Northern Star was eagerly read and shared,
By the working classes,
With discussion groups in the home and pubs,
And how it would herald a new age of democracy –

I showed her the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun,
We told her about the referendum and the power and lies of the press,
And how referendums had historically been a tool of populist dictatorships,
Hitler used three, for example,
We gazed at the banner fluttering in the gathering breeze:

When we turned back round to talk,
The crowds, the hustings, the banners, the bands,
The skylarks had all disappeared,
All that remained was the banner:
And beneath its shade,

The headlines of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun.

We walked into the sunlight,
I showed Rob another headline:
'As Farage looked on, Le Pen said;
"Look how beautiful beautiful history is ..."'

Monday, 27 June 2016

Rodborough Gardens Sculpture Trail: A Day in a post-Brexit Life

It was strange returning to the Old Endowed School,
Where just three days before we had voted
In the referendum;
Members of the Rodborough branch
Of the People’s Republic of Stroud
Gathered in Church Place,
Sharing their sense of vote-shock,
Over soup, tea and cake,
Beneath the red, white and blue bunting;
Trench cake too, for the forthcoming
Churchyard Somme centenary;

But life goes on –

‘How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
in an English country garden?
I’ll tell you now of some that I know and those I miss,
you’ll surely pardon.’

Seven gardens were open to the public,
With sixteen artists exhibiting;
Families walking past
A quaint hand painted wooden sign:
With an arrow pointing left,
The necessary word, ‘TICKETS’,
Only just squeezing into its allocated space;
A greenhouse from the 1920s,
With bakelite attachments
For modernist electricity;
No. 2 Church Place;
Clinton House, Church Place;
Highcroft, Church Place;
Derrigar, Walkley Hill;
Steepways, Walkley Hill;
Glebe House, Walkley Hill;
Champagne at Rodborough Court from Omnitrack,
The sponsors of the occasion,
With displays and pictures artfully showing the gardens
In their Victorian and Edwardian heyday,

Before Arthur Lancelot Apperly, son of Sir Alfred and Lady Apperly of Rodborough Court, marched off to war, to be killed in action in 1916.
We returned to the Old Endowed School,
Once a chantry house,
Where masses were sung for the souls of the dead,
Seven hundred years ago -
It’s hard now to glimpse the shadows of sheep herds,
Or watch the wool on Cotswold packhorse routes,
En route to river, sea and then Flanders;
It’s hard to hear Rodborough’s coins jingling
In treasure chests sent south to Southampton,
For Rodborough’s feudal lord, the Abbey of Caen
(The chantry by now a secular store for
Mammon and the best Rodborough wool) -
France and England entwined,
Yet rent apart with the 100 Years’ War.

Two centuries later, the Tudor Reformation closed down
The chantries, abbeys and monasteries,
And the chantry building would become a parish workhouse;
Then a charitable school, then a state school,
Then a welcome village hall in the Great War,
Then a social club and place to pay your rates
In those Radio Times
Great Depression times
Between the wars –

And today, a place where people meet
(A quintessentially – seemingly – English occasion),
Trying to ignore the aftermath of the referendum,
A rus in urbe sequestered parish.

But the bright dawn didn’t last:
It always rains on Sundays:
Gurney's Somme and the Severn are still conjoined.

(Artists exhibiting: Lucy Birtles, Ann-Magreth Bohl, Danny Evans, Julie Fowler, Kim Francis, Paul Grellier, Helen Lomberg, Hannah Mathison, Amanda Moriarty, Jim Pentney, Marion Mitchell, Dave King, Darren Rumley, Rebecca Simmons, Ian Rank-Broadley and Josef Kaspar)
(Jim included work on Gurney)

Money raised for:
Stroud Women's Refuge;
Stroud Valleys Project;
The Old Endowed School.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A Peculiarly English Form of Fascism?

I think we are witnessing a peculiarly English/British form of Fascism -
We have the civilised classical Johnsonian face,
The Govian exhortation to ignore the ‘experts’,
The atavistic appeal to emotion,
Farage and his decent, ordinary people
Fighting without bullets against the multinationals,
For a bright new dawn where tomorrow belongs to him,
Together with: ‘F*** Off, Europe, We’re voting out’,
From some England football fans at the Euros;
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail seems back in the 1930s,
When it supported Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts;
Once more, it feels as though the toffs
Are mobilising and diverting the masses,
With carefully fostered nationalism
And carefully calibrated xenophobia;
We have seen how dragon’s teeth have been sown
For over a generation by Conservatives, New Labour,
Liberal Democrats and a relentlessly right wing press:
Now the vilification of ‘socialism’ brings its harvest of hatred:
If the working class has been informed that it mustn’t vote socialist,
Then it votes nationalist and Brexit:

So much for the Third Way.

 What next?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Gloucestershire and the Peasants' Revolt

Walking between Climperwell and Caudle Green,
You walk through prehistory
As well as the spring-source of the River Frome;
And then at Grid reference SO 928117,
Latitude 51.80389980, Longitude -2.10581700
(400m metres south-west of Groveridge House,
Near Brimpsfield),
You pass an old Roman site,
On top of which stood a deserted medieval village,
Through which drivers now speed on their oblivious way;
But to the east of the road lies most of the settlement,
Earthworks about half a metre in height.

Excavations have found stone walls and rubble;
Field walking found 12th-13th century medieval pottery
(As well as Roman materials);
A holloway ran parallel to today’s road
(Containing tofts – building and croft platforms),
Other trackways, field patterns, lynchets,
And enclosures can be descried
With earthworks to the east indicating a sheepcote.

The field evidence is obvious,
But the documentary evidence is more of toponymy:
The fields are first named Manless Town as late as 1622;
The area has also been named Haywick; Munley Towne;
Old Mondley; Longlorn Town and Keywich –
No taxation records have been found.

A century later we have this survey’s definition:
‘A patch of Plumb Hey within the ruins of Old Mondley formerly a Market Town and a Roman Station was Sacked
and Burnt in the Wars of King John’;

Samuel Rudder called it a hamlet in 1779 –
‘If a place can be called so with no house in it’;
He wrote of ‘Haywick’ as the original name,
With a weekly market
‘Until all men were killed in the reign of Edward the Third,
And all the women and children departed,
Since when it became known as Manless Town’;

Another survey toward the end of the 18th century
(A ‘Survey of Lands in Brimpsfield’)
Speaks of ‘Longlorn Town, which was destroyed in the reign of King John, then and still traces of Foundations to be seen and it has since that time been called Manless Town’;

More prosaically, but just as tellingly, we can wonder
Whether the overlaying sheepcote on the eastern side
Might not indicate the turfing out of the peasantry,
And a manorial switch from arable to pastoral farming:
Sheep and the lucrative medieval wool trade.

But if we wander up here in a winter dusk,
Perhaps we might hear the voices of the peasantry,
And follow in their footsteps,
To what was once a hamlet of houses, gardens, yards, 
And ditches, with ridge and furrowed open fields,
And quarries, enclosures, streets, paddocks,
And footpaths to Brimpsfield Church,
And Sir John Giffard’s Brimpsfield Castle -
A testament to King Edward the Second’s order that
‘Not one stone should henceforth stand upon the other’,
After Sir John dared to rebel.

Did the locals care?

Pasture and turbary,
Estovers and piscary;
Pannage and housebote,
Shack and ploughbote.

‘It is the custom in England … for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thrash and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.’

‘Let the reeve be all the time with the serfs in the lord’s fields … because serfs neglect their work and it is necessary to guard against their fraud … the reeve must oversee all work … if the serfs do not work well, let them be punished.’

‘What sayest thou, ploughman?
How do you do your work?’

‘Oh, my lord, I work very hard; I go out at dawn, driving the cattle to the field and I yoke them to the plow. Nor is the weather so bad in winter that I dare to stay at home for fear of my lord: but when the oxen are yoked, and the ploughshare and coulter attached to the plough, I must plough one whole field a day, or more.’

‘Have you any assistant?’

‘I have a boy to drive the oxen with a goad, and he too is hoarse with cold and shouting.’

‘What more do you in a day?’

‘Certainly, I do more. I must fill the manger of the oxen with hay, and water them and carry out the dung.’

‘Indeed. That is a great labour.’

‘Even so. It is a great labour, for I am not free.’

I’d like to think the village became deserted because everyone got so fed up that they marched off to join the Peasants’ Revolt …

‘The rebels petitioned the king that all preserves of water, parks, and woods should be made common to all: so that throughout the kingdom the poor as well as the rich should be free to take game in water, fish ponds, woods and forests as well as to hunt hares in the fields – and to do these and many other things without impediment.’

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.”

‘You wretches, detestable on land and sea; you who seek equality with lords are unworthy to live.  Give this message to your colleagues.  Rustics you were and rustics you are still:  you will remain in bondage not as before but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live we will  strive  to  suppress you ,  and your misery  will  be  an example  in  the eyes of posterity .  However, we will spare your lives if you remain faithful. Choose now which you want to follow.’

Let’s imagine that this deserted medieval village near Brimpsfield was home to a community of Lollards (the word possibly comes from an old Dutch word meaning “to mutter”). Lollards rejected papal authority and various beliefs about the sacraments, transubstantiation, confession and the elevation of saints. They also placed an emphasis upon preaching rather than liturgy; they objected to the wealth and what they saw as the greed of the Church. The Lollards emphasised the importance of individual interpretation of scripture rather than priestly ceremony: this had radical freethinking implications.
Archbishop Courtenay of Canterbury (who succeeded Archbishop Sudbury, murdered in the Peasants’ Revolt) decided to extirpate this movement by banishing followers of John Wycliffe or forcing them to recant. The movement was linked in the eyes of many to the Peasants’ Revolt: hence its persecution.
It was strongest in the west of England and the heresy continued here, as it were, underground. Professor Christopher Hill saw a direct link between the Lollards and William Tyndale over a century later. He argued that the cloth trade with its links with London and the continent helped foster the spread of heterodox opinions. Gloucestershire was unusual, he said, for its Lollard survival; it was a key county in the continuity of belief stretching from the Middle Ages to the Tudor Reformation. The Wycliffite innovation of translating parts of the Bible into the vernacular would reach its destiny through this county.
Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a link between this Gloucestershire radicalism of the fourteenth century and the Diggers of Slimbridge in the seventeenth century?
There’s no point in fetishising documentary evidence: imagine and re-create with guerilla memorialisation.


Truth is stranger than ...
First time as tragedy, second time ...

The day after posting the above, it was stated that the reason why the heir to the throne did not attend his mother's birthday celebrations in London was because he was attending a village fete at .... Brimpsfield.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sixth Sense Supernatural Psychogeography in Kefalonia

It all started quite normally tbh:
No hint of an MR James ghost story at all,
Just straight forward hiking and walking
(Though admittedly Edenic)
Through layers of time,
Following the route signs
And ticking the sights off the list:
Mesolithic coastal meandering;
Ancient Greek woodland temple:
Woodland cave where Pan was worshipped;
Roman cemetery with bas-reliefs
Depicting Persephone's abduction to Hades
(Where we stretched out in open tombs,
Coins in our mouths to pay the ferryman),
Then a Byzantine Christian basilica;
Venetian footpaths and a ruined lighthouse;
A Guns of Navarone-like gun emplacement,
Where a giant Krupp battery commanded the Ionian Sea -
But this route required a passage through a deserted village:
A street succession of gaping windows and doors,
Doorways that once were portals between different worlds,
Entries to domesticity and security and a refuge
From the travails of the heat of the day,
But long open to nature's calling, 
With roofless houses,
Full of lustrous arum lilies, and countless trees
Soaring to a cloudless cypress sky;
And as I reflected on such liminalia, and took pictures
(Finding a shard of pottery as Trish picked a lemon),
I sensed a shadow and movement to my right -
And when I talked to Trish about my sensing of a ghost
Just there in front of the doorstep we had just passed,
The keys in my rucksack started jingling and jangling.

Now I am a rationalist and I am sure there are sound reasons
Contained within the laws of physics and the rules of the universe,
As to why those keys started their movement and their jangle -
But all I know is that it only happened just there,
Just that once, and on no other occasion on our walking holiday,
Even though the keys were placed in exactly the same place
In the rucksack, as a sort of half-baked empirical test.

All I know is that those keys started automatically jangling,
Coinciding with our doorstep conversation about how
Time had changed the meaning of these doorways.

I hasten to add that we had no madeleine biscuits in the bag,
But I can't stop thinking about it all.
Why did they jangle?