Wednesday, 18 December 2013

I was BORN into a CATHEDRAL...

I was born into a cathedral of green water and weeds and light. My small world was bordered by hedges and fields rich with cow dung and hollow dark places, rank with nettle and dock, where archangels and kingcups grew and I was cradled by the sound of wind among reeds; the rush of glassy water in the sluices of the locks; the song of swans' wings in flight; and the wash of rain against a wooden cabin roof. It smelt of wet wood and anthracite and the smell of hot iron from the little Pithers stove that kept the cruel winters at bay and dried the bedclothes when the roof leaked. And then there was the smell of pigs and straw and paraffin and the rich, trouty, earthiness of when still waters are stirred.

The Kathy, Grand Union Canal, Rickmansworth
There were five of us aboard this clinker-built ark, called the Kathy, cobbled together from an open-topped lifeboat that had been salvaged from an old liner. The wood was rotten, but loved. The farmer, on whose land, it was moored kept threatening to break it up, but Mum and Dad just laughed; it was home and it was a good one. There was laughter there and warmth, even when the ice came and our world no longer rocked gently to the secret rhythms and movements of the dark canal waters. There was a port-hole by our bunks and Mum made drop scones in an old frying pan for friends dropping by. There were always friends dropping by.

First there was Mum and Dad. Then there was a cat, Kismus - who (later) would sleep with me on my pram, then my sister, Wendy, came and finally there was me. At 9.45, on a Friday morning right at the end of a wet April; it was the day when the farm's guard dogs were silent, I was born in the little cabin made and fitted out by Dad. Dad and Wendy waited on the canal bank hoping that the rain would hold off. Kismus was the first of our family to see me. The midwife plucked her up, saying that it is only right that she should see this new creature that had come into her life so that her nose would not be put out of joint. Dad bought a marble cake to celebrate.

Dad (looking splendidly bohemian and piratical), Mum, me and Wendy

Records show that there was a long-lasting system of low pressure hanging over the country that spring which made it very wet. Much later, Mum was to write:
"One of the aspects we enjoyed most about the boat was the feeling of close proximity with the elements without actually having to go outside. When it rained we could hear it pattering on the roof, giving a very cosy feeling and the sight of the raindrops falling on the water making patterns was so much nicer than seeing them fall on cold town pavements. The same with the wind, when it blew there was the gentle rocking of the boat, with the added chuckling sound of the water against the clinker built sides." 
Space was tight and sometimes, of necessity, even in the rain I would be outside, in the fields by the bank, tucked up in the pram with Kismus - on guard - sitting under it. Later, once a week, a friend of Mum's would collect us in her dinghy, I would be in a carry cot placed in the centre, and then she would row us upstream, to where she lived, for tea and cake in a narrow boat that was moored around the willowed bend, where swans swam with their signets, and that smelt of rush matting and oil lamps.

What did I stare at?
What captured my mind (young as it was) and my heart in those moments?
And do those things still stir me deep within?
What pleasures did I feel with the rain brushing the canopy of my pram, safe and cocooned while the elms sighed and the heron flew?
Is this why I am still entranced by the sound of rain against window or hood?
Is this why I breathe a little deeper at the sight of rings forming on still waters?
Is this why I still like to press myself up in the corner where the roof eaves drop on stormy nights and listen... and listen?

The cosy warmth of a wooden cabin, the smell of a hot stove, the light that spills from a hurricane lamp, the sound of water lapping against a wooden hull, moorhens swimming through green seas of duckweed, gnats dancing low over water, the slow creak of oars complaining in their rowlocks, the smell of locks and the rattle as the winding gear is released, the white fall of water... These are not memories. They are too old to be memories, too forgotten, too lost; pre-memories, impressions, stabs of emotion, feelings gauze-thin like dreams in the morning's light. But they are somehow still part of me, as strange flashes of recognition that disorientate me and strip me bare. Yes they are still there, for I hear their songs and hear their owl-like call. Not to an Eden lost, but to an Eden that still lives.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 4

Book: Dylan Thomas. (1977) Collected Poems 1934-1952. London: Everyman's Library. JM Dent & Sons.

Bought in Paton Books (an independent bookseller now, unfortunately, no longer in business) in the late 1970s.

  • Cherry red and inviting
  • Smooth, cartridge-paper thick pages
  • Its smell has almost disappeared, but there remains the faint memory of stationery office and ink
  • Part of a uniform collection carrying a picture of a Churchillian Thomas, pen in hand, smoking what I take to be a cigar, and touting Thomas' spidery signature in black ink.
  • Beautifully weighted so that it fills the hand and feels satisfyingly heavy
  • The volume is "An Everyman Paperback" with a picture of a pilgrim leaning on a staff and the words, "EVERYMAN, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side." Which lends it the feel of portability (I sometimes took it on walks, snug in my pocket).

Stopping off on my way home from work - bicycle teetering against the large plate glass window - I re-found Dylan Thomas in Paton Books on the precipitous Holywell Hill. The poetry section was in the corner. It was a dark, liminal space where I could crouch and hold in my hands such wonderful new worlds. 

Ever since sitting down with my family, as a lad, to listen to Under Milk Wood on the radio I had been mesmerised by Dylan Thomas' use of words. .... ah those words! 

"To begin at the beginning: 
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black..." 

To be honest, I understood very little of it. I knew that it was funny because Mum and Dad laughed, but was not sure why (not that it mattered, I liked it when Dad laughed; it was a good, round sort of laugh with no sharp edges to it).

I loved Adventures in the Skin Trade and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, but it was Thomas' poems that lured and yet taunted me in equal measure. Their words drew me in and set my heart beating even though their sense evaded me (and often still does).

"Altarwise by owl-light in the half way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies..."

I had no idea what it meant and yet it filled me too with fury and I too walked among ancient altars in primaeval nightfall.

I read (and still read) poetry atrociously. I am a poet's nightmare. There are times when I've read poems completely back to front. I quite often start in the middle if my eye catches a word or a line. My eyes seem incapable of linear movement, sliding over words, lines, whole verses, even pages and then they will be captivated by a line, phrase, or word. I will read it over over and over and over again, letting the image and sounds roll around my mouth and mind. Too often I find myself staring into the sky (or at the ceiling) having read just a few lines...

As I grew into adulthood, Thomas' words rang in my head. I never tried to learn them, they just seemed to migrate organically into my being. However, I knew one thing, I wanted to stand tall and let the words that roared in the belly of my soul loose upon the world. I ached to find a voice for my spirit that so ill-fitted my adolescent body. His writing somehow emboldened me. The world was so large and so frightening, but reading Thomas' poetry filled my heart with fire and I felt that I could throw myself into the howling waves of life and live. Here were words to woo angels and shame devils.

Reciting poetry while I walked was an obsession for me. I walked and walked as if driven by demons. I remember one snowy day, taking the dog for walk. The cruel wind flayed the small copses scattered across the fields. We walked and walked and walked until my legs turned to lead. I can remember turning my face to the heavens and hurling at the top of my voice Thomas' bold, audacious words up to a sky as white and as hard as the flints that splintered the chalky fields upon which I strode. Lament, I particularly loved.

"When I was a windy boy and a bit
And the black spit of the chapel fold
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of women),
I tiptoed shy in the gooseberry wood,"

Of course I couldn't understand it, for I WAS still that 'windy boy and a bit' and for whom I had yet to grieve. And my blood churned with hormones as I stood on the brink of my own gooseberry woods that made me ache so much and filled me with such sweet and desperate sadness. Strange fire was kindled upon my altar and cast a dangerous and unholy glow upon my world, but it would be many years before I felt its flame touch my body. Understanding would come later as would the grieving - but, perhaps, not quite for the same things that Thomas grieved.

The skies remained silent as the snow continued to fall and down in the dell was the sound of a pigeon weeping.

Over the years I have fallen in and out of love with Dylan Thomas many times - but his use of words always remain to captivate me. Even though I now recoil from the sentiments expressed in some of his poems, I am entranced by his passion and playfulness and the roar of his heart.

Saturday, 2 November 2013



            Today I stopped the parish clock
            and while the village slept,
            at the point where summer time
            falls back into winter,
            with one hand, I held back time      
            and let seconds fly
            directionless and  haphazard
            around the steepled tower,          
            like gnats dancing over a summer pond.
            The iron hands stood frozen
            to each moonish clock-face
            at five minutes-to the mute and silent hour.


Instead of rounded golden chimes
rolling out over field and rooftop
there was silence
and the pigeons in the bell chamber
slept on undisturbed.
And all I heard was the beating of the wind against the tower
as I rubbed shoulders with God and angels in this place beyond time.

                   For a while I watched the village slumber
                   from the unlatched door high up
                   on the side of the old stone tower.
                   A guardian of this time of no time.
                   The ticking watch on my wrist counted out the untrod
                   minutes upon which no one had yet walked...
                                ... or loved
                                          .... or danced.

                             In that silence,
                             I tasted each moment;
                             Those seconds,
                                      those minutes
                                               and precious quarter hours
                             that those below had yet to live.

Is this what it feels like to be God?
To be standing in the dark outside time?

Is this the eternity of which my soul dreams?
Where seconds are born 
 then slew back upon themselves
to be reborn later? 

Or is this just the world of the wilder things;
the fox, hare and badger?
Those that run as wild as wind
Unaware of the clock not ticking
Or the hands not moving.

                      For an hour, with one hand
                      I held back time
                      and set eternity loose
                      among the streets and alleyways.
                      And the village below me
                       slept on, unknowing.

And my eye travelled up
to the smudge of woodland
on a high brow of hill
Where eternity always breaks in.

* Background music composed, performed and recorded by Helen Ingram

Thursday, 24 October 2013

FOR two DAYS the SKIES wept...

... and I walked alone in a desolate world of water and mud and wind; the fire of chestnut leaves was strewn carelessly across the glistening ground and conkers smouldered in the wet soil. Dirty blotting-paper clouds, torn and ragged, hung like veils over the sobbing fields. Save for a flurry of starlings, the jackdaws and rooks were the only birds abroad, swimming through the air. The sheep in the meadow turned their back to the whipping wind-driven rain and they hung their heads; and so did I. We both felt the trickle of cold rain on skin.

It was right that the sky rained its heart out for those two days.

There has been so much death in the village recently: The badgers on the low road; the deer by the old chestnuts at the brow of the hill; the nest of pigeon's feathers, with its gash of red, under the weeping ash.

Our summer broke with wind and the wash of rain, and with it the village was touched by the presence of death. News spread from house to house, mouth to mouth, eye to eye. Dog walks became a litany of death. Each day we entered the park with the rising sun and we left it a little quieter because our worlds had become a little quieter.

Some I knew, some I didn't. Those I knew, I knew only a little. A few were expected, but most were sudden. Those of whom I looked forward to meeting in the morning; a comment on the weather, a smile and gone. A wave across the fields, a pat of a dog, a greeting. But now they are gone. I miss them.

Different people respond each in their own way. Some want to know each death-blow in forensic detail, others just talk about the families and friends left behind. Some reminisce, catching smiles amongst the storm of shock and sadness. We learn all those things about their lives that didn't seem to matter when they were alive.

This world weeps rain because it has holes torn from it; the holes of those I knew in passing and who made my world a little different.

And now I hear that the Park Keeper is lying in hospital after a heart attack followed by a stroke. In his front garden, the large mower (he loves lawnmowers) on which he was working stands forlorn, gutted and its pieces spread neatly upon the grass, a few tools patiently waiting for a ready hand to put them back to use. It's missing its heart. His wife cannot comprehend what has happened to him and stands chattering excitedly at the gate or shouting news from the bedroom window. His daughter has grown up in the space of a couple of days. She now holds the keys to the park and, in her youth, has felt the breath of mortality.
And my friend with the Frisbee (who finds it so difficult to talk), on that same night, was also rushed to hospital after he found life a little too hard and a little too cruel to bear. We stand together in the rain, he is like a ghost. He tries to form words, but none come just a jumble of sounds. Not even his dog can make him smile.

It is right that the sky sometimes weeps...

Saturday, 5 October 2013

WHEN we WALKED to THE wood

              SO TELL ME...

     The day we walked to the wood... And I followed your footsteps up the steep earthen path, cut by rain and as brown as nature's womb... and when, at the steepest places, you reached out and held onto the same trees that I too hold on to; their slender trunks, wet with dew and rain and life... and you said that you could smell autumn and it made you smile as autumn always does... and we listened to the silence and a rook's call and the sound of rain falling from leaf to leaf.

              ... BUT I know there was more...
                                                      SO much MORE...

Two people cannot share an hour in the woods without experiencing a lifetime brimming over with wonder and joy... and I want to remember and to savour every single moment...

               SO TELL ME...

DID the mist hang in the air like dragons' breath so that the tops of the larches touched a different sky?

DID the chimes from the village clock roll up the hills, as sweet as carols, as soulful as owls, as lethal as quicksilver, shimmering among the beech and sycamore until only the moles and the sleeping badgers could hear it?

DID the crows rake the skies with their ragged wings?

WERE your fingers wet with rain drops that hung like glass globes from each leaf and branch and blade?

DID we dance together to the ancient music that the trees sing? And if not, why not?

DID we really meet the hermit who lived in the brushwood shelter, who smoked a briar pipe, and who sang songs and brewed coffee too bitter to drink? And did we sit with him beside his fire to listen to stories of love and hope and of friendship that is greater than both, while badger cubs dozed between his feet?

WERE there pink mallow and yellow cats ear and wood aven that outshone the sun among those dying leaves?

DID we taste together blackberry and wild sorrel's bitter-lemon bite?

DID we stand together upon the cracked concrete of the old airfield, now welcomed back by the wood, and listen, among the mist and the dripping leaves to the crackle and hiss of wartime music and the thud of distant bombs and the sadnesses they bring?

WERE there crab apples and rose-hips and bread-and-cheese leaves, and did we run our fingers, crimson with blackberries, through willow-herb's matted beard?

WERE your scarlet paths aisled with Lords-and-ladies and around your throat did you wear black bryony's bloody necklace?

DID the clouds part and the sun pour down upon us honeyed warmth so we walked through a dappled landscape where Cain was unborn? And I marvelled at the chalk-blue sky and you blew upon a dandelion-clock that was a perfect sphere and feathered-time drifted from your lips and out over field and hedgerow where the soft-eyed cows grazed.

WERE the fields filled with crane flies that rose with each footfall and heralded our way with elven wings?

DID the wind turn and ravage the world with ice and snow so that your breath burned in warm clouds and your nose turned red? And did you say, "This is Narnia" and I replied, "Yes. And below us lies the valley of Huntercombe where the Walker and the Rider and King Arthur meet." But neither of us could feel anything malevolent about the friendly, dancing flakes.

DID I see joy and wonder in your eyes, darting and flaming like fireflies (though I was afraid to look too closely), so that I too could see the world as you see it?

WERE there Chinese lanterns glowing again like painted planets in the Rectory garden below us and was there an accordion playing and the sound of a woman singing beneath the Harvesters' Moon?

DID dragons come and play at your feet? And each tree limb burst into bloom? And golden leaves and butterflies cascade from the skies? And was the world filled with God's laughter?

Perhaps ALL... or perhaps just SOME of this really HAPPENED...

I cannot precisely remember...
                    So tell me about the day we walked to the woods
                           and I followed your footsteps up the steep earthen track...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

On BELAS KNAP I sat down...

An old one, but a recent visit prompted me to post it here:

Belas Knap (GLO1) lies on a gentle hill-slope overlooking a steep-sided river valley. The name is derived from the Old English words bel meaning a beacon and cnaepp meaning a hilltop. It displays many of the classic features of Cotswold-Severn long barrows and is often seen as a type-site for examples with lateral chambers.  The wedge-shaped mound is over 50m long and stands nearly 4m high; it is orientated north-south. At the north end is a deep forecourt between two rounded horns, and in the back of the forecourt is an H-shaped setting of stones, perhaps the remains of a portal dolmen. The ditch that seems to define the sides of the mound is a product of reconstruction work during the 1930s; the bank of soil and stones outside the ditch is in fact material that has weathered off the top of the mound.
Timothy Darvill. Long Barrows of the Cotswolds (2004:262) 

On Belas Knap I sat down
For I felt in need of some sacred ground
And I had no strength in my ragged soul
And for me the nonetide bell had ceased to toll
And so to Belas Knap by the withered tree
I hunted him who haunted me.

For I’d lost my way in Bethlehem
And I’d bartered my name to Rome
And the body of god was a dry wafer crisp
And my soul felt as cold as stone

And the book in my hand had lost is voice
And the altar candles their flame
And the blood had turned to cheap red wine
And the world had lost your name.

Then I heard it in the earth
And I felt it in the air
And the crowing of the birds above
An older voice laid bare.

The spilling of a wilder blood
The beat of shaman drum
The smell of earth and woody moss
The cycles of the sun.

And its…
1 for the man who counts our bones
2 for the woman who carries our souls
3 for the man who reads the stones
4 for the woman who flies with the crows
5 for the man who rides the moon
6 for the man who catches the dream  

And the primal drum beat pulses
Through the veins of every leaf
As before the Christ and devil danced
To the frozen music of our creeds
The Alpha and Omega busts out of Palestine
No longer held by cultures
No longer bound by time.

And so to Belas Knap I came
And kindled there a dying flame
And as I sat on ancient ground
It was an older God I found
As in the shade of a withered tree
I hunted him who haunted me.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Night Walking (Infinitas)

I lifted the latch and went out into the night to see what I could see and discover in the darkness what the darkness would disclose. And I went to the place where the air was heavy with moisture and dripped with the dewy sweetness of night-time flowers and there the waters ran silently, as dark as scriveners’ ink. Above me, Cassiopeia and Cepheus danced their slow dance in frozen silence and Banbury town stained the sky above Sunrising Hill with its amber glow. And as I stood, I listened for a voice, but none came and there was no song upon the breezes of the night.

sicut in caelo…

And so in the faint penumbra of my lantern I turned my eyes to another lonely circle of light glinting in the world of darkness; Andromeda, riding high on the wings of Pegasus. Its flaming glory traduced to a tiny blur diminished by unimaginable distance. Its light had taken 2.3 million light years, the entire evolutionary span of humankind, to reach me. Through what icy darkness had this speeding speck of light passed? This dim smudge that danced in the liminality of my vision contained the mass of one trillion stars in a whirling Catherine Wheel of ferocious light, each astral blazing furnace streaking outwards on its own path to the ever expanding tidal edges of the Universe, just as we on our spinning rock hurtling around our yellowing sun are also on a cosmic voyage into infinity.

The brief flash of our life-spans freezes this speeding moment into the illusion of timeless and motionless solidity, as if this is how things ever were and will ever be to come. The high speed shutter of our perception captures the drop of milk exploding into the cup of tea and, to us, that moment will last unchanging forever while our children and then their children’s children are born, live and die.   

… et in terra

And so in that howling blackness of infinity, I lowered my lamp to the solid security of this world of grit and mud and stone. There, around my feet, glittered a spangle of starlight as dew globes glistened in my lantern’s light. A tiny watery orb balanced and quivered on the whirled ridges of my fingertip. As I looked closer, the world opened up. The world that makes up our world; where spinning electrons circle in wide sweeping orbits around their nucleus in their infinitesimal universes. Solid became no longer solid. It was as if my hand should pass through the brute mass of the tree trunk beside me as if it were a wisp of vapour. And I found myself teetering on the precipice of another infinity; another eternity of space. If I were to fall, I would fall, endlessly tumbling, through fractal chaos, a kaleidoscope of complexity. A world no longer trapped by the rules of physics… or even our minds.

Our world, the world of rock and ice and fire, solid and unyielding, is made from a chaos of freedom; a reeling, floating enigma dancing in infinite space. A world of ‘charm’ and ‘strange’; of coloured quarks, strange attractors and quantum entanglement. A space where the events upon which our world exists last for just a fraction of a chaotic second. But my perception is too slow to hold it; like an ancient oak that tries to glimpse a fork of lightning.        

Here I am, standing on the frail skin of this spinning globe, caught between two infinities; one above, one below. I am a being who is bound by time in a universe of eternities. Is it therefore not surprising that, when I look up into the night’s sky, my heart hears the roar of eternity?

In aeternum
And in this dark breathing night, I feel lost, adrift, in this foaming vastness. Perhaps I am the one of whom Teilhard de Chardin wrote that “the world had disclosed itself as too vast”. In which case he was wrong, for I feel no desire to close my eyes and disappear, to crumble before the brute vastness of the Universe. Its vastness affirms in me a singing, dancing energy that I am more than me and folds into its velvet blackness my heart-song of ‘Why?’

It might be a bad reading, but perhaps the NIV translator of Ecclesiastes 3:11 was right after all, that the divine has indeed “set eternity in the hearts of men.” If so, he reveals so much more of himself than he does of Quoheleth’s god. A mistranslation? Perhaps, but it was the one phrase that kept my faith in the bible, when everything else blew away like threshed chaff and clung in my mouth with the taste of death. And now those words come back to me, resonating in my soul like a struck bell. I am a man locked into temporality and with eternity set – no, burning – in my heart.

Balanced on this thin line of time stretched between eternal infinities, is this why we look so longingly into the bowl of the night’s sky for that which we have yet to recognise? Is that why our hearts sometimes sing to us strange songs and we yearn for that for which we have no words?

Is this why, when I sit alone with the wind and the untamed things at an ancient place, that my eyes fill with water and it feels as if my heart is about to break?

Is this why the glow of amber fills me with hope? Or why the new buds of spring are so very potent? Is this why we repeatedly fail to come to terms with the concept of our death - because, at heart, we are the children of infinity? 

Monday, 24 June 2013

SHE looked AT me ACROSS the...

... dining-room table, her name, written in felt pen on a sticky label, that peeled and curled like a dying leaf on her lapel. In front of us lay plates filled with lunchtime fare and the corporate clattering chatter of a corporate building, boxy, concrete and glass and ugly in its sterility.

Outside the sea rose and fell in thick grey slabs upon the shingle and the sky was low and restless. A small knot of people were sheltering under the iron work of the pier and a gull hung upon the wind.

We talked about the papers we'd heard. We politely laughed in the way that two strangers laugh together. Her eyes were as bright as forget-me-nots and her relaxed smile enchanting. She told me of the session she had just run, how, at the end, some of the people attending cried. She was touched, but not surprised. She then told me about the times she had cried and I could read each tear in every line of her face.

After awhile, she looked up and smiled and asked me my name.

I looked at that smile and into those eyes and with an ice-cold realisation I understood two unshakeable truths:

1. I had no idea what my name was.

2. That the next (perhaps last) stage of my life would be to find it...

Monday, 15 April 2013

On WASHING Days...

... particularly on April washing days like this; when I stand at the sink, hands as red and furrowed as the antique faces of babies, and I can look up to a sky so heavenly blue that if I were to reach up and drag it down and were to bury my face in it I would smell the wax crayons of God; and amidst that sailor boy blue the proud castles of cumuli, boil and bluster, cauliflowering the almost spring heavens. It is on days like these that I hear loudest the call of the my childhood imagination - so real I could have dreamt it only yesterday.

Perhaps it is the sight of washing billowing before the galleon-ing wind and the walks I had with Mum, down the Green Lane that squeezed its way between the long narrow strips of back-garden terraces and allotments. A silent no-man's land; a furtive quiet place from which other worlds could be spied through gaps in fences. It smelt of compost heaps and midday lunch being cooked and the smouldering bonfires of weeds. It was filled with the sound of dogs barking and their wet-nosed snuffling and most of all, the wild tear-filled wind played among the washing, pegged and propped, like a clipper's sails.

Mum was never happier than when she had pegged out her beaten but clean army of washing on the line after a morning steaming in the kitchen, until the condensation ran down the windows and walls like rain and the air was sliced by the sharp smell of boiling handkerchiefs and washing powder. And I was never happier than when, tilting like Don Quixote at the ballooning sheets and bedspreads, I raced through them feeling their coldness trickle down my face and Mum calling me in so as not to get her washing dirty and we had jam on our bread while the radio played.

But for some reason, what calls to me the most is a couple of pictures from a book I have long since lost. They are of towering clouds in a powder blue sky (a washing day sky) and in those clouds was a whole town, with shops and lampposts and a sun that shone yellow. It seemed to me that all the men in it were avuncular uncles with bald heads and wide smiles and they wore old fashioned Sunday suits. The type of uncle who made sixpences appear from inside your ear, even when you knew that there were no sixpences there, because you had checked. And the women all looked like the Queen, when she was young, and wore long dresses that swept along the red-bricked pavements. There was a friendly red dragon in the picture too. I assume he was friendly; he had big smiling eyes and a head shaped like a Labrador.

I say assume, for, as I recall, the book had no covers. It was just a few stray pages and so it had no story. It was like me, without beginning or end. Just as I, one day, found myself alive in a world of sun and colour, noise and scent, this world within these few pictures, just was. And it was those pictures that captivated me and it was in them that I found my stories beyond words.

From 3 to 30 I read very few words, I immersed myself in the pictures. I inhabited them, I explored behind every wall, every hedge, and over every beckoning, windmilled, church-spired, horizon. I played with Janet and John, and Dick and Jane outside their world of words. Lanes were adventured and streams raided for sticklebacks and pirated treasure. I read pictures with the skill of a textual critic and hours could be lost over just one page. Sometime ago, I bought a secondhand copy of one of my most favourite childhood books, a Ladybird book about a mountain adventure. I opened the cover and began to read the unfamiliar story that lay beside the oh so familiar pictures. A little while later I found myself, once more lost in those pictures. The story remains unread, but the pictures await for more adventures.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Easter SUNDAY Morning...

... quite early, and the street was as still as the ghost of sheep on the high hill. But dawn had broken. Oh lord, how it had broken, sending splinters of light into the victorious, ringing, bird-carved, air. Even though snow still lay as white as sea foam on Sunrising Hill and lay under each hedge, ribbed, like the bare, bleached bones of ship-wrecked schooners, the sun had risen high; higher than the turbulent rooks and higher than the breath that billowed in clouds of steam from my ragged body.

I walked abroad in the slumbering village, and as alone as a blushing, rib-full, Adam, beneath a sky of thrush egg blue; as blue as the cornflowers of summers past. Down Main Street, past Quo Vadis. No curtains twitched, though the garden hedges bristled with song. The occupant of each house slept warm and deep under the soft hills and folds of their duveted wildernesses. Jackdaws wheeled and laughed among the sleeping bones of the old oak on Fourways Corner to see the sun beams of that beautiful morning trying to prise their honeyed fingers through the neat, new shutters of the Old Shop and its cymbal playing tin monkey. A blackbird stood as proud as your mother (should she see you now) in the middle of the road. The sun warm on her back. She watched me pass with beetle eyes, a harmless spirit in her eternal eden of sun and ice.

Only two other souls were awake. The vicar who, with knitted brow, played with whirling fingers the organ of the braying heating pipes in the village church. Climbing down from one of the Jacobean, dark oak pews, he fussed some dust into the morning air as the sun poured like Eucharist wine through the great east window and stained the altar cloth crimson and blue and, oh, such golds. Does he know that, when no one is looking, the faded saints and the firemen in their smart blue serge climb down out of their stained glass windows to ring out the hour on the faithful old tenor? Or that, in the church tower (made of rough brick and cobwebs and prayer), the stone angels play hide and seek with the umbrella-winged bats, piping and squeaking, in the belfried dark? Or that, behind his back, at every Pentecost, the yews in the churchyard burst into flame and that tongues of fire dance upon every shaggy branch?

The other is the runner who outruns the dawn, red faced and breathing out dragon's breath, down past the village hall (built in 1929), newly painted, and then past the Post Office, bursting with wool and flowers and unlicked stamps, and on past the shuttered tearoom. But not even he can outrun my nose in this impudent north-easterly wind that has been sharpened by the claws of polar bears, and the clash of icebergs, and carries down these whistling streets the sound of Saami bells, and shamanic gongs and the deep green waters where the blue whales sing. Past the Peacock, smelling of booze and laughter and last night's ashes. Down Saddledon Street to blow on my fingers and the sweet smell of the cattle barn on the frigid air. The old dog at Herbert's Farm snuffled where foxes loped, loose-limbed and laughing, under the frosted thatch and snow and dreamt of the days he ran wild and free over Orchard Hill. A woodpecker drummed out his exuberant life among the sighing trees. The morning whistled and trilled.

As I returned home, my hand on the garden gate, the Park Keeper opened his front door and roared out his approval to the triumph of the morning.

Monday, 18 February 2013


... frosted crusts of yesterday's snows. Smooth rolling folds of white with the trace of green beneath; thin plumes of Spring's green fire. I have come here to wind the church clock. To climb those dusty steps that smell of old stone and the rough prayers of older days. To turn the windlass whose cold metal scorches the palms and fingers. And all the while the rhythm of my thoughts turning and turning...

I am on my to way work. I've been asked to take an evening lecture on the resurrection in the New Testament. For the last three or so days my head has been full of it.

But now, as I stand in this darkening churchyard with clumps of snow lying blue and cold in the shadows, I do not want to leave. I look at the ragged rows of gravestones and memorials standing slant and hag-like beneath the heavy sky. Each grave holding safe one who was buried with the promise of resurrection. Did they die with that hope in their dying hearts? That same hope that we will be dissecting and scrutinizing? Did those standing around the torn earth on that day ache with longing for that day of resurrection? Did they sit in kitchens, now forever quieter, the favourite cup ownerless and never more used, a chair now sitting empty, nurturing the hope that sparks when even tears have long since dried?

I do not want to leave. I want to hear those stories of the long buried and the dead. To hear what they knew of the resurrection and how tears might turn to laughter... and to know... to know why I, at times, find it so difficult to comprehend. My notes on cognitive dissonance and the enervating words of Bultmann await me in my car. My lecture feels too much like the 'strange fire' of Nadab and Abihu. Not because it contravenes some pale orthodoxy sealed by the machinations of synods, but that it tramples on something far more sacred - the last hopes of those in need of hope. There are times when my work wraps around my head too tightly. I feel that sense of disconnection and alienation from all that I hold precious and then I need to remind myself that I must come here. That I must stand beneath this shaggy yew and listen to the ancient stories that matter.

Darkness falls and it grows steadily colder...

Beneath the snow there are daffodils.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

One OF these MORNINGS...

... I will climb the rushing slopes of Sunrising hill,
                   under their sigh of larches,
                          just as dawn is bursting apart the night and
                                 she lets her light rage and roll down the fields
                                           and the tangled fortress of badger sett and fox hole...

... And the air will dance with dew and shiver at the might of life...

And I swear I will keep on climbing. And I will climb on up the cloud pillared sky...

... above the hills and these friendly, folded fields. For this body will no longer be heavy enough to keep me earthbound...

And I will keep on climbing up and up
          and into the restless, crow-painted skies
                      blinded with the joy of a small boy's heart
                                   and a timid soul that walks lion-tall among angels and giants
                                              and keeps company with the untameable and the divine.

And I swear that my spirit will break open in wolf-like howls among those castled clouds until the universe pours itself inside of me and my heart beats with its blazing pulse.

... One of these mornings I will be so large my heart will contain universes...

.... and there will be nothing left of me but a hymn of praise.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Those EYES of OLD look at ME...

... and, through the haze of your futures, I look back at you.

I can remember those shoes; the feel of elastic over the bridge of my foot, my fingers curling over the smooth, slightly ribbed texture of the soles... and the smell of rubber and dust... and the coolness of the painted tiles. 

        I remember when buttons felt as big and as creamy as deep-glowing moons of coloured fire, slipping hard and soapy between my fingers and how they defied the narrow, buttonhole slits in all my clothes.

But then again - perhaps - I don't remember... 
          not really...
                          ... only the awareness of vague formless sensations of experiences collected through the dream-time avenues of memories and the songways of my past. 

       What sounds could you hear in that place of sun and laughter? Were there bees humming? Was there the clink of a Sunday morning mechanic busy about his car? Could you hear birds? Ice cream vans? Lawnmowers?

I struggle to remember in the same way that I struggle to recognise in you my heart, my veins, the water of my eyes, the beat of my soul... 
               ...and I also fear that neither would you be able to recognise in me the 'I's that we both know and are.


So I sit here - looking across the calendars of my years - and all I want to do is to reach out and protect you: 
       To put my arms around you and to hold you in that sunny, laughing day. I want to shield you from all those days that are my memories and that you have yet to live; from those careless, thoughtless words of youth that you will hear and that will bury themselves deep within you so that you will never forget; those voices that will stay with you and bend the paths you take; the glances given (perhaps not even really meant) that will take away that laughter...
... oh, it will return. That laughter WILL return many many times, but never in quite the same way as it was then. 

You will discover things that will make your world grow dark and you will learn to fear and when you look into the night skies you'll cry. For it was in Eden, before there was ever any fiery sword of exile, that we first learnt about fear. Little man, you will hurt people (though you never wished it) and that hurt will remain with you and you will make so many, many mistakes...
                   ... and, you see, I want to save you from all that...


.....But is this the father in me speaking? Wanting to protect, wanting to keep safe a young flame who doesn't yet realise how tender it is.

And yet I see you there - sitting on that sunny porch - and I realise that I am not your father. I am in no position to be your guardian. It is YOU who is MY father. I am grown from you, not you from me. I am YOUR progeny. What I am, in part, is because of what you were/are and all those thousand upon thousand other 'me's caught millisecond by millisecond in the flickerboard of my life; each one taking over where the other leaves off.

Now I understand what you are saying to me. You have others to care for you (and they cared for you well) and those others will dry your tears (when those times come). I see again the spontaneous, unselfconscious laughter of one poised on the edge of a glorious world. I see once more the little child who laughing opens his arms to the world and say's, "I'm here, what wonders will you bring to me?"  

That little laughing lad will one day, through film and pixel, sit across from me and say, "this is what you have come from. This is how your journey started - with laughter and open arms embracing the world. Finish it too with laughter and open arms."

I am glad you were there - little man...
        Your heart still beats within me.