Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Fecund Earth

Resurgence Camp 25-26 July

Resurgence Camp

Green & Away, Bransford

Just returned from an inspiring time at the Resurgence Readers Camp, the annual gathering for readers of the fabulous magazine ‘at the heart of Earth, art and spirit’. This was held at Green & Away, an eco-conference centre near the Malverns. Both organisations are inspiring, taking positive steps to live in harmony with the planet and each other – seek them out!

I was booked to give a talk on Awen Publications and its ecobardic ethos (as summed up in An Ecobardic Manifesto by Fire Springs) Sunday morning, thanks to my friend, poet Jay Ramsay – who was down to run a poetry workshop there. Fellow Bard of Bath Helen Moore was due to perform but had to drop out, so I stepped in: Number 3, rather than 8!

I rode up on Saturday afternoon in the sun, after dealing with ‘bikefright’ (a flattish battery). After a productive, but full-on week (getting to the end of Book II of The Wounded Kingdom; preparing The Well Under the Sea for publication; writing the introduction to Mary’s posthumous collection, Tidal Shift…gathering in the harvest) perhaps my batteries were low too, but it was worth the effort. The site is beautifully managed, in a permaculture way – lots of green things growing amongst the tents – used throughout the summer and run by a core team of G&A volunteers who have clearly put love into the place. Food was laid on, which was a pleasant surprise – and a relief – as after I’d loaded the bike with Awen stock and my tat there wasn’t room for any cooking stuff!

Saturday night’s main entertainment was with Ashly Ramsden, who performed an impressive solo show that last over 2 hours! It was a narrative woven around the wise stories of Sufi folk hero, Nasruddin, stories Ashley has made his own. There was some musical accompaniment from Jay, his friend artist Hereward Gabriel and others, which helped to break things up a little. It was a testimony of Ashley’s skill (& stamina) that the audience stayed the distance until the end, gone 10. We had been well and truly ‘hodja’d’!

Afterwards, I enjoyed the campfire and the ‘village pub’ before deciding on a whim to experience the sauna/sweat lodge. I stripped off, my poncho serving as a towel/robe. It was an intimate session – just five of us. We sat in the steaming darkness, ommed, sang daft songs and gave thanks. I get folk to do an awen, which really resonated there – so I repeated the activity the next day at my talk. Afterwards, emerging naked into the night, felt wonderfully alive, gazing up at the stars whilst enjoying a shower!

The next day, I penned this poem in Jay’s ‘edges’ poetry workshop:

A Green Way

The fecund earth

breathes

damp green goodness.

Plums ripe on the tongue

release their slow sunlight.

Naked in the dark, glistening,

reborn from the hot, wet womb

wearing a skin of stars.

Fireworks explode,

fruit of light.

I met a man looking

for a mirror in the dark.

Songs in the silence,

prayers swirl in steam,

skirls of smoke.

Swimming in sleep

we plunge into the river’s dream.

***

After a final plenary, when feedback and ideas were shared, we all struck camp – barrowing our tat back to the carpark like post Peak Oil hoboes. Bid fond farewell to Jay & Hereward and hit the road – a long ride home in the rain, (any ride in a downpour is too long) but it certainly worth it.

A magical place – a lovely group of people. Recommended!

***

A sad coda – I got home from this inspiring event to discover the Big Green Gathering had been cancelled. It sounds like the Blue Meanies did their very best to make it impossible for the organisers to continue, and so they were forced to pull the plug. This is a damning indictment of the kind of skew-whiff society we live in, when such a positive, creative event gets squished. The Big Green Gathering has been running since 1994, emerging out of the Green Field at Glastonbury Festival, and is the best, big festival around for my money. When so many festivals have huge environmental impact and implode on themselves after three days, bloated beasts of mainstream consumer culture, the Big Green pioneered a low-impact sustainable approach, with many wind, solar and pedalled powered stages, recycling, permaculture, compost loos, organic and fair-trade fare … long before such concepts became trendy. At BGG it wasn’t about big name bands who are deemed successful by how much money they make for the corporate coffers, but grass-roots creativity. You could spend five days doing fabulous green craft workshops; getting ‘genned’ up in the Campaigns Field or Green Forum; hanging out in lovely cafes, or the beautiful magical spaces made with love; hearing mind-expanding talks in the Earth Energies field; receiving healing vibes in the Healing Field; dancing to some up-and-coming band or festival favourite; meeting old friends and making new ones… The BGG is an inspiring expo of green solutions. It is more about lifestyle, than superficial fashion. Attitude than income. You get the feeling that the majority of BGG contributors walk their talk – they live it, year round, not just for one weekend a year. If the authorities stop something as positive as this, then that shows how morally and intellectually bankrupt they are. We can see all around us signs that the ‘System’ is not working – indeed it is collapsing before our eyes, as banks and big businesses go into tail-spin – the BGG, in its colourful way offers alternatives. Which, do you think, is more valid? Which ark would you rather be on? Long live BGG! May it rise from the ashes of small-mindedness.

Read The Guardian article by John Vidal here

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

Big Green Gathering - a beautiful festival

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This is the End (again)

This is the End (again): the New Apocalyptic Sublime

Kevan Manwaring

The destruction of Vulcan? No, The Great Day of his Wrath, by John Martin, c. 1853The destruction of Vulcan? No, The Great Day of his Wrath, by John Martin, c. 1853

The destruction of Vulcan? No, The Great Day of his Wrath, by John Martin, c. 1853

From the scenes of planetary cataclysm in the latest Star Trek revamp to the Coppola’s napalm-reeking Apocalypse Now, Hollywood has revelled in the aesthetic of beautiful destruction. And with the long-delayed released of Cormac Mccarthy’s wrist-slitter The Road finally hitting the screens later this year, the latest in a string of post 9/11 gloomfests, Doomsday never seems more popular. The media whips up fear about the New Bad: another pandemic to push ink. Yet concerns about plagues and famines, about geopolitical and religious tensions are nothing new. A spin-off of the Romantic art movement became known as the Apocalyptic Sublime, and in the dramatic paintings of Biblical catastrophe by John Martin we see precursors of today’s big screen Armageddons. Put on your Kilgore shades and don your darkest clothes as we wander through cinema’s gallery of the end of the world.

JJ Abrams 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise dwells lovingly on intergalactic carnage – notably the ‘controversial’ destruction of Spock’s home planet Vulcan, although a planet named after a Roman god of fire was perhaps doomed, like the unlucky member of the away team in the red shirt: you just know they’re going to get it. But the apocalyptic aesthetic the special FX maestros were conjuring up on the big screen with state of the art technology – the planet’s surface breaking up in cataclysmic upheaval – is in fact nothing new.

The Apocalyptic Sublime, a sub-genre of the Romantic art movement academic Morton D Palely defined in his eponymous book (Yale 1986) emerged out of the Romantic Movement, directly as a result of political and religious tensions and scare-mongering that took place throughout the period stretching from the French Revolution of 1789 to the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Between these paradigm-shift poles, when old certainties were being challenged, art began to mirror both the zeitgeist of Terror and the ever-deepening wonder of the universe.

The sense of the sublime (the “exalted”, the “awe-inspiring”) was increasingly used to bridge the gap between the limited human faculties of understanding and the unimaginable infinity of the physical universe’ [Introducing Romanticism, p19]

Man was being overwhelmed by the infinite complexity of nature. Poets like John Keats decided to accept the limit of human consciousness, in what he called negative capability, but to scientists of the day, such fathomless enquiry gave them night terrors. The light of reason only served to illuminate the extent of the endless darkness. Sir Humphrey Davy, scientist, expressed this frustration:

Though we can perceive, develop, and even produce by means of our instruments of experiment, an almost infinite variety of minute phaenomena,yet we are incapable of determining general laws by which they are governed; and in attempting to define them, we are lost in obscure though sublime imaginings concerning unknown agencies.

‘Obscure though sublime imaginings concerning unknown agencies…’ This seems to sum up much of the art of the Apocalyptic Sublime – from the painting of the 18th Century to the cinema of the Twenty First. A sense that not only are ‘there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in most people’s philosophies’, but forces, vast and inconceivable, could sweep us away at any moment. Since the invention of the A-Bomb this has been a reality. The events of September 11th 2001 presented the world with a living image of the Lightning-struck Tower from the tarot. Nothing was certain, nothing was sacred, nowhere was safe.

Romantic artists, notably John Martin (1789-1854), captured dramatic scenes of the end of the world in his large paintings. Romantic writers also dwelled on this e.g. Mary Shelley’s lesser known sci-fi novel, The Last Man (1826). This trope, the last man on earth, offers cinematic opportunities for eerily abandoned urban centres. There is something both chilling and sublimely beautiful about such empty vistas – after fears of baby boom-fuelled fears of over-population, the image of a post-Malthusian world is strangely comforting. Richard Matheson’s 1954 sci-fi novel I Am Legend was first made into The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price; then The Omega Man with gun-toting, Charlton Heston in 1971, before being remade in the big budget Will Smith vehicle in 2007, which created, at huge expense, the memorable image of the ‘concrete jungle’ of New York reclaimed by nature – escaped gazelles and lions gambolling gamely along the overgrown avenues, pursued by man the predator, who himself has become ‘food’ to CGI-zombies.

Scenes of urban devastation in films, (eg Saving Private Ryan; The Pianist) echo the Romantic penchant for ruins. Painters loved them. Poets loitered around in them. They symbolised something about the impermanence of life, the folly of man’s vaulting ambition. This was captured most memorably by Shelley in his poem ‘Ozymandias’, inspired by the temples dedicated to Ramses II he had beheld: ‘I met a traveller from an antique land/Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,/Half sunk, a shattered visage lies…’ This foregrounding of scale, to emphasise insignificance – life on an ungovernable scale – is captured also in the nightmarish city-scapes of Piranesi, whose hellish visions of dungeon-like metropolises were brought to life on the silver screen in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927); Things to Come (1936), and on to Blade Runner, Brazil, Minority Report, etc. Gormenghastian edifices which baffle the human inside an endless maze. Films with giant starships (2001: a space odyssey; Alien; Event Horizon; Sunshine) offer the same aesthetic in space. The human animal trapped within an artificial world. In an increasingly urbanised and over-populated world, this became increasingly the reality for many.

The 1970s saw a whole swathe of gloomy Sci-Fi movies mirroring contemporary concerns about over-population, pollution, congestion, etc: Soylent Green, Silent Running, The Cars that Ate Paris, Mad Max, THX1138. The world had ‘gone wrong’ somehow. Environmental issues were starting to drip-feed into popular culture, although it would be a decade or more before such concerns were seen as more than the fears of a few green Lefties and the chronic fantasies of sci-fi writers.

Ridley Scott’s first film The Duelists (1977) captured memorably the stark aesthetic of Europe rendered by the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars. Scott’s later films, especially Blade Runner (1982) brought the Apocalyptic Sublime into the cyberpunk era. The opening shot of the tech-noir classic, of a smog-darkened Los Angeles, illuminated by spouts of infernal flame seemed chilling when first it was seen on the big screen, yet a decade later similar images of burning oil wells were being beamed back from the first Gulf War.

Flame seems to be a common image of apocalypse, perhaps not surprising after two millennia of hellfire and brimstone. What preachers brought to life by the power of the spoken word, churches and abbeys did through imagery. Aesthetically, cinema – with its moving stained glass, rows of seats and hushed reverence – provides the modern experience of the medieval cathedral and the nearest many of us get to a collective religious experience. The effect can be terrifying and awe-inspiring. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1978) itself a reimagining of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, cited as being the first modern novel of the Twentieth Century, began the main narrative of the film in a plume of napalm to the lugubrious incantations of Jim Morrison.

The apocalyptic warnings of the 1950s, a culture having atomic kittens, seem to have come true, but in a way unforeseen by Beatnik Cassandras. The classic British doom-movie, Val Guest’s intensely atmospheric 1961 film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, appears, in hindsight, to be the most on the money, and was eerily echoed in real newspaper headlines when both the Stern Report came out (‘The Day That Changed the Climate’, The Independent, 31 October 2006) and then the IPCC report (‘Final Warning’, front page of The Independent, 3 February 2007):  life mirroring art mirroring life – because the film is set and filmed in actual Fleet Street offices… In it, the Earth is jolted eleven degrees off-kilter by Russian and American nuclear testing – ‘Cold War’ brinkmanship ironically causing the planet to heat up. Now we are told the world is only six degrees away from devastation – and the thermometer is rising.

Max Ernst, Europe After the Rain, 1940-1942

Max Ernst, Europe After the Rain, 1940-1942

‘Europe After The Rain’ by Max Ernst  (1942)

Flood is equally likely to bring about apocalypse. Richard Jeffries, prescient Victorian post-apocalyptic parable, After London, or Wild England (1885) depicts a future primitive scenario of a flooded England reduced to a feudal Mediaeval state, where animals have turned feral and roam the overgrown landscape. Later artists continued this tradition into the Twentieth Century; such as Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rains, which Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004) emulated, albeit in a far from subtle way…The poster of that old fashioned ‘disaster’ movie, masquerading as an eco-fable, was of an inundated Statue of Liberty. Ever since the classic ending of the original adaptation of Monkey Planet, The Planet of the Apes (Schaffner 1968) with spaceman/caveman Charlton Heston striking the sand in despair at the Ozymandian Statue of Liberty, half-buried in the sand, has this icon of American been used as a visual metaphor for ‘democracy’ (read Western Civilisation/humanity) under siege, as in the post-humous Kubrick project AI (Spielberg 2001). Here, it was preserved in the ice. In Cloverfield, the whole head was blasted across the screens, landing in front of a shell-shocked twenty-somethings. In the adaptation of The Road, it is a beached oil tanker, like a great white whale, which provides a stark short-hand for apocalypse, the Moby Dick of Peak Oil which man, Ahab-like has hunted down to the bitter end, at the cost of everything he holds dear. His doom, it seems, is to be tied to it as it goes under. In this vision of a burnt America, (the cause of the catastrophe is not elucidated in the book – as though Mccarthy is saying ‘take your pick’), ‘The fragility of everything is revealed at last.’

The late, great, master doomster JG Ballard used his own childhood experiences in the decaying splendour of the Post-colonial Far East to shape his dystopian vision of the future in his quartet of environmental disaster novels, The Wind from Nowhere (1961); The Drowned World (1962); The Drought (1965); The Crystal World (1966). His later novels explored a similar aesthetic of entropy and ennui. So far, only his memoirs, Empire of the Sun and his ‘auto-erotica’ cult novel Crash have been translated significantly onto the big screen – by Spielberg and Cronenberg respectively. It would be good to see a version of The Drowned World, but perhaps life has overtaken art.

In another instance of art mirroring life, it has just been announced that Will Smith will star in a dramatisation of the notorious 2007 Flood of New Orleans, which scandalised America, playing real-life Katrina hero John Keller. Spike Lee has already chartered this in sober indignation in his documentary on the event, When the Levees Broke (2006), which used news-reel footage and interviews with witnesses.

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin 1852

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin 1852

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin 1852

Donnie Darko’s (Kelly 2001) quirky Eighties-esque rites-of-passage worked far better than the OTT over-hyped Blair Witch on cocaine, Cloverfield (Reeves 2008). And let’s mercifully forget the uber-expensive flop of Southland Tales (Kelly 2006) – a ‘difficult second album’ scenario for the Darko director, written in $200 million. The studio have decided to go back to their original cash cow, with a sequel, S. Darko (Fisher 2009).

One could argue that these mega-budget movies, and the industry that supports them, is actually contributing to the eco-apocalypse. One of the reasons Daniel Day Lewis was reputedly said tohave given for declining the role of Aragorn in Peter Jackon’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is because of the environmental impact of such cinematic behemoth. He instead chose to deconstruct the environmental agenda in the low-budget Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) directed by his partner, Rebeca Miller Arthur Miller’s daughter. And in There Will be Blood (2007) based on Sinclair Lewis’ 1920s novel Oil!, he played the oil magnate turned monster, Daniel Plainview. Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic film provided visuals of a burning oil well, echoing the burning of the oil fields in the first Gulf War, which in itself seemed to be referencing Blade Runner…The second in Godfrey Reggio’s art-house Qatsi trilogy Powaqqatsi (1988), from the Hopi, ‘parasitic way of life’, dwelled hypnotically in such scenes.

Of course with the charnel pyres of Foot and Mouth, floods, and the traumatic events of 9/11 played at the time continuously across the world, we had a very real example of the Apocalyptic Sublime – so much so, that for a while Hollywood went (even) softer than usual, (Chicago winning Best Picture in early 2003). Since then it has learnt to cash in on the doom and gloom zeitgeist with films like Right At Your Door (Gorak 2006).

Plagues, pandemics, zombie-inducing viruses, are always good cinematic standbys. In The Andromeda Strain (Wise 1971) a group of scientists investigate a deadly new alien virus before it can spread. This now seems a cosily sedate affair compared to the hyper-kinetic offerings by Boyle and Garland who, in 28 Days Later (2002) cranked up the gore to 11, imagining a Great Britain decimated by a ‘rage virus’, and left to fester and fend for itself. The sequel, 28 Weeks Later (Fresnadillo 2007) shows the Isle of Dogs being carpet-bombed by US occupying forces, alerted to Code Red, in a nod and wink to Coppola’s vision of hell and the very real footage of the Gulf Wars.

Ever since Fat Boy dropped on Hiroshima, the mushroom-cloud of the A-Bomb has become to symbolise a very real apocalypse. A-Bomb beasts became stock-in-trade of low-grade drive-in schlock of the 50s and 60s. Japanese movies especially revelled in noisy battles between garish mutants, men in suits and dodgy models duking it out above mini-cities, Godzilla looming largest of all.  Yet from the 80s onwards, the reality of the Cold War started to appear on the screen in a more ‘realistic’ way. James Cameron, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day featured a famous ‘nuke’ scene emulated in endless substandard films, all starring Nicolas Cage it seems: Next, etc and in Zac Snyder’s Watchmen movie this year.

The Road (2009) starring Viggo Mortensen (dir: John Hillcoat) The Proposition director’s take on Cormac McCarthy’s uber-bleak novel of the same name is still awaiting release – now scheduled for Jan 2010 – was postponed so as not to dampen the feel-good factor in Obama’s America – but also eerily mirrored by the devastating Queensland fires in Australia earlier this year.

Roland Emmerich continues his super-sized assault on planet Earth with his next uber-doom fest 2012, inspired by the Mayan Prophecy – the new source of apocalyptic fever (think Y2K with astronomy…). Yet Emmerich’s big screen armageddons, however spectacular, are ultimately unsatisfying – full of sturm-und-drang, signifying nothing.

The end of the world has always been big business. Expect a whole swathe of Mayan apocalypse movies. Mel Gibson has already got in on the act with his kinetic Apocalypto (2006). Even dear old Auntie has shown her black stockings – with the so-so ‘re-imagining’ of Terry Nation’s Survivors and with another remake of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids ‘heavy plant crossing’ its way onto the small screen in 2010.

Earlier this year, unlucky cinema audiences endured the ill-judged remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (Derrickson 2008). It seems Hollywood is caught in its own event horizon, remaking its own remakes, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

It seems the Apocalyptic Sublime is in danger of becoming Apocalyptic Ridiculous. Maybe The League of Gentleman’s big screen disaster, Apocalypse, was closer to the truth. The world won’t end with a bang, it seems, but with a snigger.

But sometimes, the effect can be deadly serious.

The harrowing near-future Britain of Children of Men (Cuarón 2006), based upon PD James novel, depicting a bleak world of mass infertility, ends with a Viagric dose of Christian imagery. Escaping dystopia, refugee camp UK, the black Madonna and child await salvation, Biblically adrift in a small boat, thanks to the sacrifice of the cynical protagonist played by Clive Owen, Theo, an unlikely, but believable reluctant Messiah figure, who dies to save the gurgling bundle that is the future of humanity. Their leap of faith pays off, as the Human Project boat, the Tomorrow, appears out of the Cloud of Unknowing. This device, the sudden unexpected ‘happy ending’, Catholic writer JRR Tolkien termed the Eucatastrophe.

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of The Rings – notably The Return of the King (Jackson 2004), with its la grande morte climactic plot orgasm at Mount Doom – brought the Apocalyptic Sublime back to the big screen and took it to another level. Here the true poetry and pathos of the apocalypse was finally realised. ‘I am glad to be with you here, Sam, here at the end of all things,’ Frodo says as lava oozes around them. But the eagles come to save the day, plucking the diminutive heroes to safety. The darkest of circumstances are redeemed by an act of grace – which in Tolkien’s Catholic imagination, is Divine.

This is illustrated in Vincent Ward’s visionary posthumous fantasy, What Dreams May Come (1998) (Academy Award winner for Best Special FX). The Robin Williams character has to descend, Orpheus-like, into the lowest part of hell to win back his late wife, who has been consigned there after committing suicide. When it seems all hope is lost, the eucatastrophe occurs, and as the Annabella Sciorra character declares: ‘Sometimes … when you lose, you win.’

Visions of the afterlife – of heaven and hell, paradise and purgatory – have provided movie-makers with inspiration and challenges for decades. There has been early visions of the works of Dante, Milton, the Bible… Although seldom has the technology and vision of those involved been able to do justice to the worlds conjured up by pen and paint, with a handful of exceptions. The sublime staircase sequence in What Dreams May Come was alluding to the famous ‘stairway to heaven’ scene in A Matter of Life and Death (Powell, Pressburger, 1946). In an earlier film, The Navigator: a medieval odyssey (1988), Ward had medieval pilgrims from Northumbria stumble upon an Antipodean Celestial City in the 20th Century, Auckland, NZ. The black comedy In Bruges (McDonagh 2008) despite its down-to-earth tone and bloody violence, ends with a sublime recreation of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It is hard to depict heaven without it seeming anaemic or unintentional comic. No doubt Peter Jackson’s version of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (released December 2009) will take up the challenge with his usual directorial aplomb.

It seems the Apocalyptic Sublime is not going away. In modern cinema it is there to remind us of the frailty of civilisation, the wonder of the world, the folly of humanity … or to sell popcorn.

In Wise’s original, and infinitely superior sci-fi parable The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), the ‘good alien’, Klaatu’s warns humanity:  “Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration…the decision is yours.”

Whether these cinematic visions of doom inspire us to act, change our ways or just change channels, the choice is ours.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) observed that:

When danger and pain press too nearly, they are incapable of any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be and they are delightful, as we every day experience.

Heath and Boreham conclude: ‘Obscurity, vastness and irregularity, whether in mountainous landscapes, Gothic architecture, “romantic” literature or the new structures of industrialisation, gave the individual a “sublime” sense of his own limited capacity, hence his own mortality, and at the same time a vicarious frisson of delight in observing the source of danger from a safe distance.’

From the safe distance of the cinema auditorium modern audiences will (for the foreseeable future at least) continue to watch the end of the world for years to come.

Selected References

Palely, Morton D, The Apocalyptic Sublime, (Yale 1986)

Heath & Boreham, Introducing Romanticism, Icon 2002

Gatherings

Bath Writers Midsummer Picnic, Victoria Bath

Bath Writers Midsummer Picnic, Victoria Bath

‘Summertime and the living is easy…’ Fish may not be jumping and the cotton maybe of an indeterminate height,but Summer is a good time to  socialise – especially when the sun shines. Although July has been hit and miss, we had a good blast in June, and the gods were with us for our first Bath Writers’ Midsummer Picnic in Victoria Park, by the bandstand (above). Regulars to the workshop and other members of ‘Bath’s literary underground’, as Anthony Nanson put it, gathered to share poems, songs and stories and slurp, nibble and schmooze. We had a guest visit from Stroud poets Jay Ramsay and Rick Vick, who gave readings from their new books. Misha Carder, representing the Gorsedd Caer Badon (the organising committee behind the Bardic Chair of Bath) officially announced that much-missed Bath poets, Dave Angus and Mary Palmer were made Honorary Bards of Bath. Relatives were present to receive the certificates and moving poetic tributes were read out in their honour by friends.

Other gatherings have included the book launch at the Star Anise Stroud on 2nd July (mentioned in previous post); various events at the Frome Literary Festival (I went there last Monday to see my old mentor, Lindsay Clarke, talk about his latest novel, The Sun at Midnight – criminally unpublished – though his talk was wise and inspiring); and my new initative, Summer Sunday Soirees – essentially bardic, with the emphasis on awen and good times.

Summer Sunday Soiree, my place, 12th July, '09

Summer Sunday Soiree, my place, 12th July, '09

Monday also saw the second meeting of the Stroud Prose Group, hosted by Anthony and Kirsty. I decided to blat up on the old bike to workshop a chapter from the fourth Windsmith novel, The Burning Path. It was pleasant and productive evening, ‘talking ink’ with fellow writers. Since finishing my bulk of teaching, I’ve been able to make real progress with my own writing – one of the joys of summer – make real headway on my fifth and final Windsmith novel, The Wounded Kingdom, now well over half-way! And I’ve been preparing the third, The Well Under the Sea, for an autumn launch. It’s been a very creative time – now that ‘school’s out for summer’, it feels like a clamp has been removed from my head and suddenly my brain works! The ideas are pouring out. I suspect simply having the energy helps alot. Not being exhausted and brain dead does wonders… I’ve even managed some R&R! Last week spent some time down in delightful Branscombe, East Devon, writing and enjoying the stunning scenery, oh – and the odd pint of beer in Beer!

Beautiful Branscombe, East Devon

Beautiful Branscombe, not in West Devon

In the meantime, I have managed to get an agent for a new non-fiction book proposal … that’s all I can say at the moment, except … exciting times!

A Wilderness is Heaven

A Wilderness is Heaven: A Week on Exmoor

26 June – 2 July 2009

‘…where peace smiles, a wilderness is heaven’ John Clare, ‘Peace’

view from above Culbone

view from above Culbone

After finally finishing my mountain of marking I was ready for a break – or a breakdown – after a very difficult few weeks. And so it was with great relief I packed my iron horse and hit the road. To paraphrase Trevelyan, ‘I have the two best doctors – my front wheel and my back wheel.’

The plan was to head down to the Exmoor Pagan Camp for the weekend and use that as a base-camp for a day out on Lundy Island Saturday, (the ferry, MS Oldenburg left from Bideford, 40 miles away, boarding 8.15am) then head to Culbone on Sunday evening for three or four days’ retreat. This would provide a mixture of landscapes and a healthy balance between community and solitude. My goals for the trip were ‘peace, relaxation, nature, walks, writing, inspiration.’

As I set off, my bike loaded up, it was chucking it down – so, wombled-up in my waterproofs I headed off Friday midday, hoping to have a ‘fine time on the A39’. I headed over the Mendips on my favourite run for Glastonbury – I had intended to stop off the Tor to eat my packed lunch – but realising the festival was on I gave the town a wide berth and stopped off at Hart’s Leap Point just above Wookey Hole instead, a suitable threshold for the beginning of my adventure. I sat in the gentle rain and gazed out over the Somerset Levels. You can normally see the Tor and Steep Holm and Flat Holm from the picnic site, but not today – the Levels were veiled in a rainy haze. I tried to get a brew going but my Gaz stove decided to give up the ghost at that point, in spectacular fashion! Onwards, I ventured, taking it easy in the rain, passing the dismal delights of Street and Bridgwater. Amazingly, when I hit Exmoor the skies cleared and the sun came out! I made it up the infamous Porlock Hill (1 in 4) – a test of skill and my steed’s mettle. Up on the moor and the weather and views were glorious. I had no problem finding the campsite, deep down in Doone Valley, where Blackmoore’s 1869 classic, Lorna Doone, is set.

Exmoor Pagan Camp - by the brook

Exmoor Pagan Camp - by the brook

The camp was small and friendly. I immediately got help with a bit of plywood for my stand – and a welcoming cuppa (and all the cake you could eat). The atmospheric was relaxed and good-humoured. My kind neighbours, Bruce and his partner, shared some of their curry. I bought a flagon of Otter from the local shop to share – and the party started around the campfire. I was tired and didn’t make a late night of it, knowing I had to be up very early the next day for my jaunt to the island…The pleasant camaraderie of the campfire serenaded my to sleep.

Lorna Doone farm, Exmoor

Lorna Doone farm, Exmoor

From my journal on the road…

27 June, Bideford Quay, 8.30am

Woke up at the crack of dawn, lying in my tent, listening to the electrophonic chatter of the dawn chorus. I felt wide awake – full of anticipation of finally visiting Lundy, after wanting to go there for several years (I had booked a week there in Sept ’07, but a week before I was due to go on there was a stomach bug out-break and everyone was evacuated, my trip was cancelled and refunded) a lost island found! I got dressed quickly and had a simple breakfast, felt an almost illicit thrill at leaving at first light. There’s something exhilarating about flitting off while the rest of the camp sleeps off their hangovers. I rode through the ford and struck out along the backroads. The ride through the hidden vales of Exmoor at first light was beautiful and exhilarating. One of the best! It felt a joy to be alive. I made Bideford in good time – the roads were clear. If only riding could be like this all of the time. Arriving early, I went for a coffee. Now I wait to board the MS Oldenburg, sitting on the quayside in the sunshine with the other daytrippers and residentials. There’s a thrill at waiting to cross to such a place. The mild tang of adventure is in the air. It promises to be a beautiful day!

During the sunny, smooth crossing, the 261 passengers were treated to a visit from a whole pod of dolphins, who swam alongside the boat, leaping from the water, the embodiment of joy. It was impossible to have a heavy heart on such day. It felt good to be alive!

Lundy cove - towards Mouse and Rat Island

Lundy cove - towards Mouse and Rat Island

A poem written shortly after arrival:

Blue, blue world of Lundy

glittering constellation of sea,

like a super-computer working on

the meaning behind all things.

sigh of waves, rumble of boat,

skylark and seagull.

hidden rocks, submerged forest of kelp.

Peace among the waves.

Height of the year,

stillness,

a sanctuary from the world’s insanity.

Lundy Island, Devil’s Lime-kiln, 27 June ‘09

Devil's Slide - goat city!

Devil's Slide - goat city!

I sit amongst the goats on the cliff’s edge, the whiff of Pan in the air. Nearby, a dead seagull splayed like a seraphim. I look across to a rock formation resembling a mermaid, perhaps Elen herself (the island’s only church is dedicated to St Helena. The island is exactly equidistant between Stonehenge and the Preselli Mountains, where the bluestones came from, at precisely ninety degrees, forming an ‘L’, and of course, it’s called Lundy, ‘puffin island’, but also the ‘angled place’). Everywhere I look, I seem to behold sexual rock shapes! Monumental stone phalluses, deep vulvas – the land splits open or stands erect. Lundy is the clitoris in the delta of the Severn. The goddess welcomes waves of sailors into her arms. Her siren song causes shipwrecks. Sabrina has a welcome for them all. I look across at the Devil’s Slide, plunging towards the rocks – it is flanked by rocks named after the four apostles, eg St Paul’s Rock, etc. What were they afraid of? This place, with its wandering goats and Freudian rock formations feels about as pagan as it gets. Yet they have to give it Christian labels. Ultimately, of course, it is itself – whatever we perceive it to be.

NE Point, Lundy, New Lighthouse

NE Point, Lundy, New Lighthouse

And now I sit by Virgin’s Spring, at the northwest tip of the island – was the goddess once worshipped here? Elen herself? A small island like this feels ‘virginal’, inviolate in its completeness, its topographical hymen intact. And yet it is ‘desecrated’ by swathes of tourists throughout the summer. Two men passing said: ‘Oh, look – a fresh water pool.’ The other responded, ‘it’s a bit muddy’. The mystery is passed by or despoiled by litter, by exposure. Close by, on the rocks a couple of hundred feet below, I can hear the eerie singing of the seals – lonely, mournful. The song of the siren. The females are mellifluous, high-pitched, plaintive; the male – a guttural snort, a lager lout’s belch! I daydream about tales of selkies…

leaving Lundy - back to Bideford

leaving Lundy - back to Bideford

28 June, Lorna Doone Farm

Just been on a walk up Doone Valley with a small group from the camp led by an ex-Signalman, Richard. We had a pack of lively dogs with us and it reminded me of the opening scenes of After London by Richard Jeffries, with its feral packs of animals roaming over wild England. We passed Cloud Farm, where Blackmore located Lorna Doone. Opposite, a stone raised in the year of my birth, 1969, marked the centenary of the book, which celebrates the beauty of Exmoor – and perhaps enhanced visitors perceptions of the landscape, as Hardy’s books do with ‘Wessex’.

We made our way up Badgworthy Water – an agreeable company of ‘Canterburyans’ chattering away – at a footbridge most decided to turn back but thre of us carried on to the site of a medieval village cradled in the folds of the moors, at a ‘crossroads’ of valleys. Here we pondered on the community that must have existed for generations – with all its characters, professions, feuds and friendships, tragedies and joys – only markings hidden amongst the ferns and grasses remain. No sign even (the dogs seemed intent on running off with a broken one to Brendon Common). It was a ghost village – a weird parallel to our own, where the Silent Ones still gather on moonlit nights. I imagined a ‘doppleganger’ community to each in this world, living in reflection, mirroring the dramas of life, albeit through a glass darkly.

29 June, Culbone

i am a little church (far from the frantic

world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature…

e.e. cummings

Culbone - the smallest church in Britain

Culbone - the smallest church in Britain

Arrived at Culbone – raw and ragged after a precipitous descent down the track – a test of nerve! – but more from the life which has worn me out. I am in sore need of this retreat, away from the madding crowd. At last! Three days at the Exmoor Camp and three days here by myself – a good balance. The inner and outer spiral.

Culbone is the smallest complete Parish church in Britain. It is famously inaccessible (the coastal path is your best bet), nestled four hundred feet up in a wooded coombe above the wild north coast of Exmoor. Hidden in the deep folds of a plunging valley, it feels removed from the world – yet it has been, at times, a leper colony, an open prison, a religious community, and now a popular place for passing ramblers. There is evidence of human activity over six thousand years: its ancient name was Kitnor (from Anglo-Saxon for cave ‘cyta’ and ‘ore’, sea shore, suggesting what might have been the nodal point that originally drew people here – the summer rising sun floods into the vale, as if for it alone). The church is a mixture of styles from different centuries and cultures – Saxon being the earliest. Its name derives from a Welsh saint, St Beuno, (pronounced ‘Bayno’), born in the late 6th Century, died 642: Kil Beun, the chapel of Beuno, became eventually Culbone. Beuno, said to be the most important Welsh saint after St David, follows in a long line of Celtic saints who graced the West of England, leaving their names as relics. The church is still used, with fortnightly services, and an atmosphere of deep peace pervades the place.

Drinking my first cuppa, I read some of The Book of Peace, and instantly related to the poem’ To Mr Izaak Walton’:

Solitude, the Soul’s best friend…

How calm and quiet a delight

it is alone

to read, meditate and write,

By none offended, nor offending none.

To walk, ride, sit or sleep at one’s own ease,

And pleasing a man’s self, none other to displease.

stream by the cabin

stream by the cabin

Arrival at Culbone

A bottomless well

of deep, deep peace.

This is reality,

this is the truth behind the world.

Everything else is white noise and nonsense,

the froth of the mainstream –

enamoured by its own bubbles,

a toddler wanting attention.

This is the source,

a purer course.

Cataract of murmuring peace,

soothing the pilgrim heart.

A wanderer overcome

with weariness

asleep on a bench in a churchyard,

a figure in stone

carved on a tomb,

frozen in the repose of death,

the doomed Gaul caught in his final tragic scene.

Finally I am here,

my road of thirty nine years

has led me to this place.

To sit in this steep wooded vale,

a chalice of sunlight,

sipping a little from its communion wine

of solar solace.

Stopped.

Arrived.

Finding a blessed release

in its stubborn obscurity,

a hidden portal,

a ferny cleft,

a soul fontanelle.

Kevan Manwaring

29 June, Culbone

A 3 hour jaunt to get food – on the hottest day of the year – nothing here you can take for granted: gas lights, a compost loo, a narrow bed and a simple stove. The basics. All you need really. I guest staying here for long would become grim – handbaths and handwashing. After a while one would murder for a hot bath and a washing machine, the odd movie, a cold beer. Yet for now…I have all I need and I am content. Complete unto myself. Not quite Thoreau, but I’ll do.

Porlock always waits – the world always waits. I think about the man from Porlock, who so inconveniently interrupted ST Coleridge while he was working on Kubla Khan (at Ash Farm, close by) – he is a symbol for the world itself, the jealous world of man and matter, always wanting its pound of flesh, banging on your door, never leaving you alone, always clawing for more, clambering for attention, creating patterns of interference to stop the flow, the signal from the Otherworld. The way out. To a transcendent reality far richer, far real, than this one.

Here’s the poem I wrote about the infamous visitor. As I put pen to paper, Barrie and a neighbour had to brush right by humble yard, where I sat in the sun, to gain access to the little foot-bridge by my cabin, making measurements, talking – this was the only time over the three days I had ‘visitors’. Back and forth they went, threatening to break my reverie, but I couldn’t help but smile: men from Porlock!

The Man from Porlock

He was always writing something in that bloody book –

scribbling, scribbling.

What kind of work is that for a man?

Sitting all there by himself,

looking out of his window at Ash Farm,

for hours on end, hours,

wandering the hillside like some mooncalf,

talking to himself, repeating phrases,

exclaiming, cursing, laughing.

He should be locked up in a loony bin.

Not so long ago he would’ve been burnt

for witchery. These days, with the Terror,

for espionage – writing poetry,

sounds a bit French to me.

Not the kind of activity for an English

gentleman. Takes opium you say?

Thought he looked the drug addict type –

all flashing eyes and floating hair.

Tooth-ache, sure. And I’m the tooth-fairy.

Have a mind to go up there,

knock on his door – remind him

there’s a world out here, the real world.

We all can’t sit in our ivory towers –

some of us have to make a living, you know.

Earn our bread by the sweat of our brow –

plough, sow, reap. Gather in the harvest –

the fields of wheat don’t turn themselves into flour.

The mill of toil. Raking muck. Honest graft.

Where’s me boots? Interrupting him?

He can’t be doing anything important.

Kevan Manwaring, Culbone, 1st July 2009

In the churchyard there’s a seat in the top corner dedicated to the Earl of Lovelace. It is known as the Lovelace Seat and has been noted for its powerful energy and inspiring properties. The inscription runs thus:

Let all who rest here give glory to Go and have in remembrance one who loved this place – Ralph, 11th Earl of Lovelace and XIIIth Lord Wentworth, Born July 2nd 1839 , died August 1906.

From notebook:

The ribbons of sound of the stream, the gentle cooing of a wood pigeon. No other noise. Secluded silence. Not a soul in sight. Here at St Beuno’s Cell an underground river from Wales feeds the spring (the only water source) confirming Coleridge’s vision: ‘…where Alph, the sacred river ran through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.’ Pure clear source – Celtic undercurrents, bubbling up in unlikely places, secret outposts of awen.

On the Lovelace Seat: The infinitesimal interlacements of love – I think of my friends, close friends, dear friends and how they enrich me. How I feel connected to them here – Jay, Anthony, Mary. Humans are so delicate, so complex, so astounding – each one is a small miracle and should be honoured as such, yet we seldom do ourselves credit. We seldom live up to the grace given us.

As I sat in the Lovelace Seat felt elevated – not just from the marvellous prospect over Culbone and its small churchyard, but within. My soul seemed to rise up like the yew tree I face – crown level – from deep roots, roots it is said grow through the mouths of the dead, and I imagine I shall speak the ancestors if I stay here long enough…

30 June

Washing out my clothes in the stream (flowing with water from a Welsh source) I have never been happier. I had a blissfully peaceful night, writing and reading Joan Cooper’s wise words, my Book of Peace, Jeffries. Daisy, Barrie’s black-and-white tabby came a-visiting late last night. About 11pm, deep in my solitude, I saw something pushing against my door – I called out. No reply. So I opened it and there she was! She sidled in and had a sniff around then came and sat on my lap, fussed about a lot then finally settled down – falling asleep between my legs. It was pleasant having such an agreeable easy-to-please companion. Cats of knack of picking up energies, of finding comfort zones, of bringing healing. It was a shame I had to chuck her out when I went to bed, but couldn’t have her waking me up in the middle of the night wanting to go out.

This morning I awoke to the sound of birdsong and the stream after a profound night’s sleep. Very peaceful. Made myself some breakfast, listening to some classical music on my little radio. Serenity.

I feel I would be happy living somewhere like here – at least for the summer months. Its nearly perfect – all that’s missing is a place for a real fire and a place to watch the sunset (although I discovered one up the hill later). Other luxuries would be electricity for a laptop, a broadband connection – although it’s nice to be off the grid – and a hot shower. The latter could be rigged up easily enough – solar-powered, fed by the stream. A nearer shop for provisions would be handy … but it’s the isolation which makes this place so special.

Being here, in this pared down place, made me consider the essentials of my life:

  • Creativity – to write, perform, publish.
  • Nature – woods, water, sun, stars. The elements. Landscape and wildlife.
  • Freedom – ride-outs, camping, visiting new places, diverse experiences.
  • Friends – kindred spirits, a cultural scene, gatherings, community.
  • Spirit – sacred places/sacred time, connection with the awen, festivals.

1st July

Asleep in the churchyard on the Lovelace Seat, until disturbed by a trio of lady walkers, congratulating each other on reaching the church. ‘Well done! Well done!’ I read some of The Messages of Sacred Places then realised I hadn’t brought my glasses or any water along (feeling rather spaced out after my siesta). I get up to leave. Passing the two sitting on the stone cross I bid them a good afternoon. Another seems to be trying to cut off my escape route. ‘Are you local?’ she calls after me. ‘Well,’ I hesitantly reply, ‘for a while.’

Hildegard of Bingen coined a term: viriditas, greening power, which seems to sum up the ‘Culbone Effect’. She embodies its voice:

I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all sparks of life.

This viriditas seems akin to Dylan Thomas’ green fuse:

the force that through the green fuse drives the flower

One can feel this power, this viriditas, so lucidly here. It is incredibly comforting – it is like being in the arms of a parent. I feel so languid, overcome with weariness, on the verge of tears or exhortations of joy. A raw place, a vulnerable place – or rather a place to be vulnerable in. It provides the shell so we can come out of ours. DH Lawrence wrote in an essay on the spirit of place: ‘[E]very great locality has its own pure daimon, and is conveyed at last into perfected life.’ Here the genius loci feels hidden, feminine – rivulets of water, deep valleys dripping with lush foliage, silent, soothing, safe. A green womb. The embrace of the goddess. Mother Culbone.

1 July (continued)

Walked up to the top of the track – to check I could make it out! The way down was most precipitous and the uncertainty of whether my bike, laden with me and my kit, could get back up the hill has been hanging over me a little since I’ve been here. This is one of those places that – once you’re in, you’re in! It’s an escape from the world – returning takes concerted effort, a conscious act of will. It’s easy to stay, comforted, cocooned. Why would one want to return to the madness? Yet one must – until it is time to retreat for good. But I must take my ‘vision’ back to the tribe, my renewed enthusiasm and clarity. My rekindled strength and sense of purpose. Though, looking over the ageless landscape, the mighty coast of Exmoor, all else seems vain ambition. Efforts to achieve recognition, critical acclaim, success – so many dandelions scattered on the breeze… Yet I believe in my stories, my ideas, my awen and want to share it, share the beauty. This dramatic Exmoor coast, plummeting in deep green folds down to the sea, dotted with content sheep, so Arcadian – one can see how it inspired Coleridge with lofty, noble thoughts, visions of grandeur, immortal words. It’s the stuff of a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Cue Romantic pose!

I nearly went into Lynmouth, but glad I didn’t –it would have broken the spell. Walking up onto the hill did the trick. It’s good to get a perspective. To see a horizon. I’d been in the valley for three days and was starting to develop early symptoms of cabin fever. I hate feeling trapped, cooped up. On the way back I noticed a lamb caught on the wrong side of the fence – I opened up the five bar gate and let it through. It was reunited with its mother, and I felt a shepherd-like satisfaction!

Culbone

Sitting on the Lovelace Seat,

on a summer’s evening –

the last rays of sun gilded the coombe

with honey. The dusk chorus sings

the Last Post of the day. A wood pigeons

coos its melancholy Morse code

across the shadowed grove.

A river of sky above,

clouds mottled, distant, slowly

drifting. The stream’s constant sigh.

Not a soul in sight, except I

and yet not alone, in this solitude’s bliss.

Numberless ghosts crowd

the humble parcel of land,

angels of place dancing

in the palm of Culbone’s hand.

The smallest church, a grey fist –

open it up to find the people. Thirty, a modest flock.

Each feature, a century.

A steeple like an inverted ice-cream cone.

Its thin iron cross, God’s punctuation.

Gravestones, wafers of lichened rock.

Geological records of lives –

generations of Reds: Ambrose, Ethel – were they ready?

A Welsh Guardsman taken too soon.

Joan Cooper, visionary guardian,

stone tongue speaking:

‘Let not your heart be troubled’.

The slow silent explosion of a yew tree

millennia long,

limbs amputated by a tree surgeon,

bows unstrung.

And peace comes in thick waves,

undisturbed by the ramblers,

preying mantis poled,

who clatter through the gate, stay for a snap,

a plastic cup of tea from a flask,

talk as if to drown out the sacred silence

they have come to seek – afraid

what it might say to them. Perhaps.

Yet they are gone in an automated flash,

the moment digitised,

leaving the vale inviolated, eternal,

itself.

Mantled in the jealous wings of its mystery.

Kevan Manwaring Culbone, 1st July 09

Time to leave…

on my way home

‘And yet his very silence proved

How much he valued what he loved.

There peered from his hazed, hazel eyes

A self in solitude made wise;

As if within the heart may be

All the soul needs for company:

And, having that in safety there,

finds its reflection everywhere.’

A Recluse, Walter de la Mare

May I be a ‘self in solitude made wise’ and may I carry this peace with me – take it back into the world, and not lose my centre. May I always carry myself with grace and act with wisdom – look with the heart, not with the head. Respond with love, not ego. May Culbone’s blessing stay with me.

3 July Leaving Culbone – Bath – Stroud

Culbone at dawn

Culbone at dawn

Woke up at dawn to see the sunrise – watched its virgin light flood the vale. Realised its benediction may have been the original prompt for early man to linger here, to consider it a sacred place. Standing there, a man in a forest, beholding the new sun, felt primal. I felt connected to its earliest inhabitants, and probably looked not dissimilar in my shaggy state, all stubble and grubby clothes!

Locked the cabin and loaded up the bike. Paid a final visit to the church and sat one last time in the Lovelace Seat – paying my respects to the man on his birthday. Wrote my impressions in the church visitor’s book and left. Negotiated the steep hill out of the woods, taking it real slow on the gravel and ruts. Startled a deer, who bolted across the track in front of me, startling me. For a brief moment, still half asleep, I thought it was some kind of dryad, one of Jeffries’ ‘fern maidens’. I kept going, revved it up the really steep bit and … was clear. Relief! I stopped to close the gate and enjoyed the view at dawn, before hitting the road.

off the beaten track

off the beaten track

Paused on Exmoor heights to fix my speedometer (a cable had been pulled out by my tankbag), then it was running the gauntlet of Porlock Hill and along the winding A39 back home. Roads clear at first (I left at 6am) until I hit the rush hour around Bridgwater – but got home in good time. Lots to sort out, but first … a bath! Found a tick still attached, managed to extricate it, but got paranoid about Lyme’s Disease. Caught up with my post, phone messages and flurry of emails. Some OU moderation to do, then it was all sent off (78 scripts) and I was free! Feeling a huge sense of relief, I headed up to Stroud for Jay’s hometown launch of Places of Truth (which features poems about Culbone among other sacred sites – reading these in situ really brought it alive. I gave a copy to Barrie and ‘all pilgrims of Culbone’). Joining him, was Rick Vick – who read from his new collection, ‘A Coat of No Particular Colour’ – Josie Felce on harp, and another lady of fiddle. It was held in the courtyard of the Star Anise Café, around the trickling water feature. I introduced the evening, reading out my ‘Man from Porlock’ poem, and then manned the Awen stall, enjoying the poetry and music. This event brought me back into the world – it provided a clear end-point to my holiday – and it was a pleasant reintroduction. Stayed at Jay’s and we had a good chat. Jay’s wise presence helped my ‘reintegration’, along with his lovely house, and overall, the gentle evening prevented me getting ‘reality bends’.

Jay and Rick's launch, Star Anise Cafe, Stroud, 2nd July

Jay and Rick's launch, Star Anise Cafe, Stroud, 2nd July