Monthly Archives: March 2010

In Pursuit of Spring

Dymock & Daffodils & Days of Song

27-28 March

Dymock Daffodils

Saturday I set off ‘in pursuit of Spring’, alluding to the classic book by First World War poet Edward Thomas, who in 1913 (21-28 March) recorded his literary pilgrimage from Clapham to the Quantocks – the home of Coleridge. My destination was Dymock, where, during a brief time leading up to that fateful conflict, a coterie of poets, their spouses and offspring, gathered: Lascelles Abercrombie; Wilfrid Gibson; John Drinkwater; Edward Thomas; Robert Frost; & Rupert Brooke – the Dymock Poets, as they became known afterwards. Their story, charged with poignancy in the shadow of war and the tragic death of two of their key members (Thomas and Brooke – who enlisted, and never returned), inspires and moves me. Nearly a hundred years on it seems more relevant than ever in the shadow of current conflict and the all-too-common reports of young men and women meeting their fate in a foreign theatre of war. Yet it was with joy I set off early on Saturday, having prepared the night before for a couple of days away. The forecast was good – the early reports were of heavy rain, but the nearer the time came, the more they improved, until I was fortunate to be blessed by a weekend of Spring sun. It made the ride up to just south of the Malverns a real pleasure. It was great to leave the city, and my week of toil, behind. When the sun is shining it is important to – seize the day! A sunny day is not to be squandered – they are ‘golden’, like the heart-breakingly brief days of bliss the Dymock poets shared together: the summer of 1914.

Twas in July
of nineteen-fourteen that we sat and talked:
Then August brought the war, and scattered us.

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

Following the precise directions to the wonderfully named village of Redmarley D’abitot, of Janice – whose writer’s retreat I had booked for the night – I soon arrived at Mellow Farm: a charming cluster of red-bricked and beamed style farm buildings distinctive of the area. Janice’s husband answered and didn’t seem to be aware she was running a writer’s retreat – but eventually Janice was able to pull herself away from her cooking and shown me my room, in Courtyard Lodge, which had lovely views towards Dymock Woods and May Hill – two numinous poetic ‘hotspots’. I was shown the meditation room, but not how to work the shower. Still it was a comfortable roomy place  – all to myself. The charming garden vibrated with daffodils and birches – similarly associated with the Dymock Poets. Sitting in the window seat later, enjoying the late afternoon sun, I wrote:

‘The Spring sunlight – the banks of daffodils – creates a ‘golden’ effect; dazzling after the gloom of winter. Now have the brighter days come!’

View from Courtyard Lodge, Mellow Farm, Redmarley D'abitot

Yet on my arrival, I didn’t have time to linger. Shedding my biker gear, I headed off to the village hall, where the Friends of the Dymock Poets were gathering for their annual Spring Day. The first item on the programme was a walk to Cobhill Rough, the location of the famous altercation between Robert Frost and a gamekeeper.

I entered the hall – which was brimming with Senior Citizens in walking gear, ‘warming up’ for the ramble, ie expelling hot air. Although it’s nice to be the youngest one present, it did feel a little odd. Still, I was warmly welcomed and signed up to the Society there and then. And off we set! The walk wasn’t very far – a couple of miles – but it took somewhat longer than it should have because the narrow track we took was ‘boggy’. This proved a navigational hazard for some and so it was requested the men present offered assistance. And so I found myself up to my ankles in mud, helping OAPs scrambled along the sides, offering encouragement and motivation – like some Assault Course for geriatric poet-lovers. This obstacle overcome with teamwork, we had ‘bonded in peril’ and carried on in affable, ambling manner to the site of the gamekeeper’s cottage in the corner of Cobhall Rough (a sign on the way in warned: PRIVATE SHOOTS Please keep to Rights of Way & Dogs Under Control). Here, Frost and Thomas, while out on one of their customary perambulations, was accosted by a bullish keeper called Bott. Frost didn’t take kindly to his manner and put his fists up in defiance. For a tense moment a kind of standoff took place – between the Old and New World – feudal know-your-place politics vs the Land of the Free. Until, that is, Bott pulled down his hunting gun from the wall. After that, they ‘moved off pretty sharpish’, according to an eye-witness. Frost’s blood was up, indignant and incredulous at such treatment. Thomas felt even worse – as though he had acted cowardly in some way – this, speculated our guide, might have influenced his decision to enlist soon after. The incident certainly ruffled feathers. Apparently Gibson was entitled to walk the lands owned by the Lord of the Manor, Beauchamp, but not his guests – this put Frost out somewhat and spoiled their friendship. Still, it was an iconic moment, echoed in his poetry, e.g. ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The whole incident was described memorably by our guide, Barbara Davis – who knew somebody who had witnessed the incident as a child, (a 10 year old boy, visiting a friend of his grandmother’s) all those years ago! A living link with literary history. We had a stirring rendition of a ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ by Roy, which some joined in with (it is customary for the FDP to pepper their walks with ‘guerrila’ poetry recitals. After inspecting the ruins of the keeper’s cottage, we finished with a stirring reading of a poem by Wilfrid Gibson ‘To John Drinkwater’ – which was interrupted by a man on a quad bike, rattling along like a Gatling gun. The spell broken, we continued on our way. The temperature had dropped and so, woolly hat on, we walked up through Ryton Firs, the setting for another classic from the Dymock Poet cannon, this time by Abercrombie – the first to move to Dymock and the last to leave. Returning there, after the War, he discovered a favourite wood of his had been felled for pit props, leaving a scene reminiscent of the ruined landscapes of the Trenches:

Ryton Firs, like Europe, fell…

At the edge of the woods, before we turned back to the village, our guide speculated on the repercussions of the incident and Wynne read ‘The Road Not Taken’, which had extra resonance and meaning now. As I lingered, gazing at the track. The secretary, Cate Luck, said this could have been the very tracks Frost referred to. Certainly his phrase ‘the yellow woods’ could certainly describe the wood that day, brightened by daffodils and Spring sun. It was a tantalising thought.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken


Poets Path 1, edge of Cobhall Rough

We returned to the village hall, where people dispersed for lunch. I ate my sandwiches in the sun, then wandered to the local churchyard, fond a grassy gravestone, and promptly had a nap in the warm spring sun – a local cat curling around my legs. The early start – and my cold – had taken its toll. I was wiped out!
Yet my cat-nap got me through the rest of the Spring Day – the afternoon consisted of two talks – one about ‘Dymock Poets: Wives and Muses’ by Sue Houseago; and then ‘Swords and Ploughshares: rivals and reputations in pre-war poetry’ by Dr Lynn Parker. Both were interesting, but I started to flag towards the end – despite being shored up by tea and cake.
I left the hall and returned to my lodgings – running the gauntlet of some lively young bullocks, who insisted on seeing me off their muddy field, despite their scaring easily whenever I turned and waved my arms. The two little grey goats in the horse paddock were cuter – as were the two dogs belonging to the family who lived in the main house. I made some tea and sat in the sunny window seat, reading up on the Dymock Poets in Linda Hart’s book, Once They Lived in Gloucestershire – I was about to go to Ledbury to buy a copy when I found one on the shelf in my bedroom, inscribed by the author to the hosts. Gratefully, I curled up with it – recharging batteries for the evening jaunt.
‘Colour and Savour of Spring’ was an evening of ‘Dymock poets and friends in music and words’ at St Mary’s, Dymock. I set off in good time but hadn’t reckoned on the labyrinthine backroads and lack of signs for Dymock – there were signs for Ledbury, Gloucester, and Newent but not my destination. Taking May Hill as fix, I struck out along the most likely lane on my Triumph Legend. It was dusk – the trees silhouetted in the deepening sky. Bats flitted past my helmet – some looked huge! DH Lawrence’s poem came to mind – a visitor to the Dymock Poets:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,

Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

from Bats by DH Lawrence

I eventually found Dymock – lost in its own becloaked timewarp – and pulled up opposite the church, from which a promising glow exuded. I jogged over to the doorway – it was 7.30pm – and burst in: to a packed congregation and a concert in progress. The ‘stage’ was right by the door, so everyone looked at me. There was no way around it – I had to walk passed the performers and down the middle of the aisle to find somewhere to sit. Rather than waiting for a suitable gap – which would have been the sensible and polite thing to do, I strode to the back, hoping to look like I knew what I was doing. A man accosted me halfway – Bob May – the organiser. I gave him a tenner and he handed me the change later. He found me a seat, bless him – a row of ladies had to shuffle up – and finally I ensconced my bardic behind on the hard church pew. The children of what sounded like ‘Am Dram School’ were in full song (turned out to be Ann Cam School) – but I’d only missed a couple of tunes – four seasonal songs by Eleanor Farjeon. This was a May Pole, of all things, set up in the middle of the church – and I surmised the evening must have started with a dance. There followed some cute poems by the pupils. Next up, a little skit on the Friendship of Eleanor Farjeon and the Dymock Poets; then something on a poorly-tuned cello (that’s how it sounded to me) by a lovely young lass; Heroes & Heroines by the St Mary Singers – again, lyrics by Farjeon – and this time accompanied by a ‘fancy dress’ parade of each of the respective historical figures: Devonshire Drake; Grace Darling; Wellington; Florence Nightingale. After an interval – when refreshments were served and I picked up copies of the Poets Walk maps – there was a presentation of prints. Then a reading by a local poet about daffodils – daffodil doggerel – and an extra contribution from another ‘local poet’ of similar quality.

Fortunately, the standard picked up again with a masterful recital of Brooke’s immortal poem, ‘The Soldier’ by actor Peter Thorpe. More tuneless cello. Then the reading of ‘The Golden Room’, once more by Thorpe – but this time he didn’t stand so close to the mike and the power wasn’t carried so well. When I had read this earlier that day I was deeply moved by the vision it presented – of a brief, fragile flowering of fellowship:

Was it all for nothing that the little room,

all golden in the lamplight, thrilled with golden

laughter from hearts of friends that summer night.

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

The penultimate act was a pleasant surprise – a whole bevvy of young lovelies got up (pupils of St Mary’s School, Worcester) and sang Brooke’s trio of sonnets entitled The Dead in haunting falsetto voices. Thorpe returned to the mike for his version of Edward Thomas’ ‘The Sun Also Shine’; and the evening ended with a singalong to ‘A Song for Gloucestershire, by Johnny Coppin. There followed lots of thank yous and the handing out of bouquets – the contributors getting well-deserved applause for their efforts: a fine community event.

Afterwards, I browsed the display at the back of the church about the Dymock Poets – deciding to return the following day to read it when I was more awake.

It had been a lovely evening of poetry, song and music – it was wonderful to see the Dymock Poets honoured in a such a way. They have clearly been taken to the heart of the locals and their words have become also liturgical in the way they mythologize and sanctify the local landscape. And quite rightly so – that is the true poet’s role.

I walked out into the night – taking in the sky full of stars, the moon shining merrily. The interior of the remarkable Norman church of St Mary’s reminded me of the abbey on Iona – and so to did this experience – from sacred space to Sacred Space: the cathedral of the Stella Maris. The change of scale, and interiority to exteriority, brings about an oceanic feeling of amplification. Looking up, it feels like you could fall forever – and be drowned in the night.

Before I floated off into infinity, I popped to the Beauchamp Arms next door for an ale – needing to ground myself and enjoy the atmosphere of human company before I struck out alone once more into the dark (‘Yes I have been acquainted with the night’, Frost).

I supped my pint and made some field notes.

And then off I went, fortunately finding it easier to get back – a needle in a haystack – to my dwellings. I gratefully fixed myself a hot drink and retired to bed with a book – not the liveliest of Saturday nights, but certainly fulfillingly wholesome. I felt like I had drank from a purer font – took a road not travelled (by many) – and that, I hope, makes all the difference.

on the Poets Path

The next day I  visited the various dwellings of the Dymock Poets, (Gallows Cottoage – Lascelles Abercrombie; The Old Nail Shop – Wilfrid Gibson; Little Iddens – Robert Frost; Old Fields Farm – Edward Thomas) which was particularly moving – from such humble, unassuming places came words of such power. No blue plaques adorned their walls – all were private residences – no tourist signs pointed snap-happy hordes to their doorsteps. At Old Fields Farm, Thomas’s residence, a woman came over to see what I ‘wanted’: ‘To pay my respects to Mr Thomas’, I said. She was friendly enough after that. I said they must get fed up of all the people traipsing by – some do think the footpath runs through their garden, which it doesn’t. But she replied that ‘surprisingly few’ walk in the area.

An English heaven - Old Fields Farm, with Little Iddens and Glyn Iddens in distance (homes of Thomas, Frost and Farjeon).

I made it to Dymock in time for the afternoon ‘Daffodil Walk’ – a permanent marked trail that has become an annual tradition – a way of seeing in the Spring. Dymock is very proud of its daffodils. At one time there used to be a special train between Gloucester and Ledbury called the Daffodil Line, which was popular with Spring spotters (local lads used to collect bunches of daffs – a bakers’ dozen in each posy – 39 would get a tanner). First I had stow my togs – I couldn’t walk in my leathers now, could I. I found a place to stash them in the church – my helmet, trouser,s and jacket – in the pulpit! I joined the group of two dozen tourists just as they set off from the lych-gate of St Mary’s. We went on a relaxing hour’s amble to simply … go and look at daffodils, as though we don’t see them anywhere else (they’re coming out in my garden). Folk took photos – and yes, I did too, caught up in the herd instinct and photo-frenzy.

Daffodils ... this way!

We bimbled in a long, lazy line back to the church. I went to get a cuppa at the village hall, where the Spring Fair was taking place – realizing my change was back in my bike trouser pockets I went back to the church, and found, to my surprise – a young waif curled up asleep on top of my togs. He drowsily awoke. ‘Sorry to disturb you,’ I said. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Ryan.’ I gave him my hand and introduced myself. I asked him where his folks were. His mum was in the Spring Fair next door – good, he wasn’t homeless then! Perhaps still rumpled from his nap, he did look a bit of a ragamuffin: like Master Robin Goodfellow, in fact – the spirit of Spring himself – awakening from his winter’s sleep! I said I didn’t mind him using my things as bedding – the pilot jacket, with its thick fleece lining, would make comfortable bedding, as I know. I apologised by disrupting his siesta – his afternoon nap, I explained – and went on my way, charmed by this lovely encounter. How special!

St Mary's Church, Dymock

I got myself a drink from the pub – the thirsty walkers had all arrived and there was quite a queue – and sat in the sun, preparing for my journey home. It had been a very pleasant weekend and I felt very relaxed. Peaceful. Dymock had worked its magic on me – I had something of an epiphany of the hill overlooking Thomas’ place: I had a glimpse of an ‘English heaven’ – as Brooke put it; here was a little corner of England, to paraphrase his classic poem, that will be forever sanctified by the lives and words of the remarkable Dymock Poets. Briefly, during that last summer of peace, the sun did shine in the golden glow of friendship and inspiration.

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

Edward Thomas, ‘The Sun used to Shine’


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Shamrocks and Motorbikes

St Patrick’s Day

17th March

St Patrick’s Day has become a global phenomenon – Ireland’s day of national celebration becoming a celebration of all things Irish. On one level it seems nothing more than a promotional campaign by Guiness – ‘turning the wheel’ honoured by downing as many pints of the black stuff as possible: seldom has getting pissed been so patriotic. Yet fortunately, there’s more to it than mass appeal alcoholism. There’s the legendary elusive ‘craic’, as seen in the countless ‘sessions’ going on in pubs around the world, and of course the Cheltenham Races (on Monday at the Bath Storytelling Circle, in front of BBC cameras, I had told the story of Macha and the horse race). In Bath, I was running the Bath Writers’ Workshop until nine. Afterwards, feeling very thirsty I took a couple of mates to one of the two Irish pubs in town. The first one – Flann O’briens was so packed out you couldn’t physically get in the doors. Besides which, it looks rather boirish – lots of yobs in silly hats – and so we went up the street to O’Neils, less trendy perhaps but more civilised. There was still a merry atmosphere, without it being like a rugby scrum. Nevertheless, it took about 30 minutes to get served – in which time I had got talking to a lass from Galway. The ambience was pleasant. The Guiness was even pleasanter. But my mates left and I went home – wiped out from my class. I wasn’t disappointed, because the next day I was going to another Paddy’s Day celebration with my friend Marko, a man you don’t meet everyday, at the Weston.

I was teaching another evening class, but blatted over there from Trowbridge afterwards. Got there at ten and luckily hadn’t missed any of the entertainment. Not only was there an Irish band playing (Yon Canny) but a whole troupe of Irish dancers were up from Dorset – The Yetminster Irish Dancers. When I entered (still in my biker leathers) their lads team was dancing. Then the girls came on. Then, finally, the mixed dance. I hailed my friend Marko across the bar and ordered him a jar of the dark stuff. A table became available and we ensconced ourselves, imbibing the lovely atmosphere. The Weston had been recently taken over by new management – no longer the dodgy dive it used to be – it felt like a really nice family pub, a community pub. Whole generations were present for that special night. The staff wore plastic bowler hats. Green crepe bunting decked the ceilings. Shamrocks and cardboard leprechauns festooned the walls, but there was still something authentic about it all.

When Yon Canny went into a rendition of ‘black velvet hat’ Marko got up and jigged about. Always well-turned out, he looked particularly splendid that night, in a smart black jacket with all his silver bling. He struck up the bones at another reel. Normally, he’d be playing along – as he was with them on New Years’ Eve – but with a bass player in the band, he couldn’t compete. But he acted like the unofficial ‘fifth’ member, in fine spirits. I didn’t overdo it, since it was a school night, and I was riding, but still enjoyed myself. My friend Richard was over in Dublin, seeing The Waterboys perform Yeats poems set to music at the Abbey Theatre – I tried not to be envious, but I’m sure that was magical. Instead, this was a fair substitute, on a schoolnight in the middle of term. Elsewhere in town, there was an evening of poetry readings, The Harp and the Unicorn, at the BRLSI, and an evening of Romantic poetry at the Chapel Arts Centre – but tonight, having had my quota of words, it was nice just simply to listen to merry music and watch the dancing. To be sure!

21st March

Sun and Steel

At Compton Abbas airfield - chocks away!

Cobwebs blown away, I have just returned from a 200 mile ‘blat’ to the coast and back with a bunch of bikers – a great way to see in the Spring, on what the RAT group Swindon called the Mad March Hare run. This named proved to be prophetic. Though I set off in good time, with everything prepared after a (much-needed) quiet night in, I managed to miss the rendezvous at the Little Chef on the edge of Chippenham – finding it trickier to find than I’d anticipated (no luxury of Sat Nav for me, just a leisure map of ‘Wessex’). I missed the group by about five minutes. Determined to catch up, I set off anyway – following the backroad route south along the B3092.

It was a beautiful Spring morning on the day of the Vernal Equinox and it felt good to be alive, roaring along the country lanes. Although at first I was somewhat annoyed with myself and a little anxious to catch up, I decided to enjoy the journey – they’ll be at Compton Abbas airfield (the destination), and I could connect with them there, and ride back with them. When I realised what was happening was entirely appropriate – half of the day riding alone/half with a group – I relaxed. This seemed to symbolise something uncannily equinoctial: the balance in my life – which seems to veer from industrious solitude to being in the public domain. The day was one of beautiful contrasts – from the land to the sea; from the flat to the rounded; the bare to the wooded; from going at my own pace to following the pack; from enjoying the scenery to concentrating on the road.

The route passed through beautiful towns and villages: Corsham; Bradford-on-Avon; Beckington; Frome; Maiden Bradley; Mere; Gillingham; culminating in Shaftesbury – the hill-top town sitting like a giant Hovis loaf on the verdant platter of the land (I pulled up next to a model one, donated in honour of the restoration of Gold Hill, immortalised by before-he-was-famous film director Ridley Scott in the classic Hovis ad of the 70s – one could almost here the brass band. At least I didn’t have to push my bike up the hill like the baker’s lad! Ee, by ‘eck!)

On Gold Hill, Shaftesbury

Snaking down the steep serpentines lanes on the south flanks of the town, I made it in good time to Compton Abbas, but could not find the airfield (no signs). I tried calling the pack leader, Iain, to no avail. I returned to Shaftesbury to ask at Tourist Info … but it was closed. Then I passed a bunch of bikers at the garage – I pulled in. There was a guy on a Triumph … but he was the only one. It turns out they were just off down to Weymouth. Could I join them, I asked? Sure. The pack leader – Steve – filled me in on their system: the riders are topped and tailed by a blue bike (his) and an orange one (a KTM). If you are behind the leader and he turns at a junction, you must stop until the tail-man catches up. Simple. I quickly filled up and grabbed a Mars bar – no time for coffee – and off we went at a brisk pace! It was like keeping up with the White Rabbit as Steve whizzed down the backlanes. He had picked a cross-country route. What had I let myself in for…? But I loved the serendipity and spontaneity of it – they were going to end up at … Compton Abbas airfield. Since I hadn’t met the other group yet one lot of bikers was as good as another. Once we all have our helmets – some with tinted visors – on we become pretty anonymous. It was a thrill to ride with a group of thirty bikers, all in a line behind you (I spent alot of time at the front with the leader). The ride was pretty but hairy – lots of gravel and tight bends so had to focus. It wasn’t as relaxing as riding at my own pace, and we past some places I would have loved to have stopped (eg Maiden Castle). But this was a butch biker blat – no time for such ‘feminine’ distraction! Following on from Shaftes-bury, we passed ‘masculine’ places like King’s Stag and Cerne Abbas – appropriate it seemed for this petrolhead machismo, although there was a mixture of riders, and they all were pretty sensible (it turns out they were an Advanced Motorcycle club – WaBAM: Wiltshire and Bath Advanced Motorcyclists!). In a line of headlights, we roared on, passing the best of England – timeless, heavy-eaved thatched fastnesses; golden stone and wooded dells; the deep winding lanes of Dorset; bristled barrows on the rounded Downs, with rude giants gazing on.

lunch on the beach at Weymouth with WaBAMThe quality of light brightened as we neared the coast. The hills softened. And suddenly – there was the sea! We made it to Weymouth – having lunch at the Cafe Oasis. I tucked into a veggie breakie, sitting on the beach, gazing at the sea. Hadn’t expected to see that today! It was a great feeling – made me feel anything was possible. The Triumph Legend has grunt and eats up the miles. Feels like I could go anywhere on it. Lunch over, we headed north – to Compton Abbas airfield. A scenic cross-country route thru Lawrence of Arabia country (images of Peter O’Toole roaring along…) took us there in an hour. Before we knew it we were sitting having a cuppa looking at the light aircraft take off.

Compton Abbas airfieldStunning views over the Dorset countryside, towards golden topped Shaftesbury. The sun beamed down, warm on my skin. It was good to be alive. Started chatted to a couple – a pilot and an older woman biker – but it was soon time to go. These guys don’t stop! I bid adieu, deciding to head back the more direct route home. It was a relief to ride at my own pace again – but I was certainly going faster and feeling more confident. Some of those advanced biking skills have hopefully rubbed off on me! It was a lovely ride home in the late sun and I truly felt I had blown away the cobwebs of the week. After lots of mental work it was good to do something so ‘in the body’ and ‘in the moment’. The wheel turned – and the brighter days have returned!

big boys toys

The Green Fuse

Garden of Awen: The Green Fuse

7th March

Lighting the Green Fuse at Garden of Awen

Last Sunday I hosted the Garden of Awen at Chapel Arts Centre – now in the newly opened Live Arts Cafe: the place to be for bohos in Bath.

We kicked off with Chloe from the Midnight Storytellers raising some energy with an African chant we all joined in with. Then Ursula Toher created a lovely atmosphere with some fine fiddle playing.

I started the ‘open mic’ part of the evening with my favourite Yeats poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus, then we had folk come up from the audience to offer a poem, song or story on the theme of the Green Fuse.

After the break we had an excellent set of poetry from Dawn Gorman, who runs Words and Ears – a poetry night in Bradford-on-Avon – it’s had a break for a couple of years, but is being relaunched next month (April 27th, Georgian Lodge, 7.30pm) with yours truly as the first guest poet, reading from my new collection, The Immanent Moment.

We had some more ‘green shoots’ from the floor, then we finished off with a set of sublime melodies from The Children, over from London.

They were my guests for the night and we wound down with some wine back at mine – the next morning I sent them off with a hearty breakfast  (could start my own business: Bard and Breakfast).

Crysse wrote a lovely review of the event on her blog:

Garden of Awen has cornered the Poetry Cafe market for laid-back bohemian eclecticism, it seems.  Sunday’s event, affably hosted by Kevan Manwaring, was the usual unusual pot-pourri of words and music, mingling poetry with story-telling and song, with bread & cheese free at the end of the night. In the relaxed setting of the Chapel Arts Centre we heard Irish reels on the fiddle, children’s poetry from Iceland, a fable from Japan, WB Yeats recited and William Blake strummed, as well as poetic ‘green shoots’ from the audience. Very pleasant. http://crysse.blogspot.com/

The next Garden is on Easter Sunday, 4th April – the theme is Tricks and Fools – and we’re launching a new book (The Art of Self-Publicity from David Lassman), via Awen Publications imprint, Writers’ Workshop – the first in a series of practical guides for writers and artists. Also performing will be fabulous poet, author, and fellow Skyros teacher, Crysse Morrison from Frome (where she runs the popular poetry nights at the Garden Cafe); and Ali George – singer/songwriter (who I came across, jamming in the Star one night – his version of a Van Morrison classic blew me away and I had to book him). Once again, there’ll be floor spots – arrive early to register.

I’ll certainly be hanging out in the Live Arts Cafe as much as possible. Awen Publications have a dedicated bookshelf there – where you can browse and buy our titles.

This week I’ve been proofing my new non-fiction book, The Way of Awen (published by O Books, June 25th). In between that and teaching I’ve somehow managed to send off a proposal for a TV series and write a film script – a Victorian horror for Realm Pictures. I seem to be courting both sides of the cameras these days – tomorrow night I’ll be hosting the Bath Storytelling Circle, at the Raven – and the BBC will be there filming … (they had rang me up when planning to do a feature on Bath’s literary heritage, past and present). If you want your 3 seconds of fame – practise your party piece and come on down!

The Tides of March

Severn Bore

2nd March

Severn Bore from Stonebench, 2nd March 2010 by KM

The Severn Estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world (up to fifty feet), and at high tides – notably the Neap Tides of Spring and Autumn, around the equinoxes, this creates a natural phenomenon called the Severn Bore, a wave that increases in size as it is squeezed up the winding bottleneck of the estuary. This year the highest of these was due on 2nd March (8.55am at the Severn Bore Inn) – and despite it being a ‘schoolday’, Tuesday, I decided to go up. Happily Monday and Tuesday happened to be two days of spectacular Spring sunshine. I rode up in the late afternoon sun on my Triumph after class to stay at my friend’s Miranda’s place overlooking the Severn plain. This meant we could set off at a sensible time the following morning, as it was only a few miles from her lovely cottage. The frost was on the fields when I looked out first thing, but the sun had already flooded the plain and would soon burn it off. We quickly got ready and set off – dropping off Miranda’s son first in Stroud, which meant we hit the rush hour traffic there, and then on the way into Gloucester. Realising we probably would miss it if we ran the gauntlet of that city, I persuaded my driver to try the backroads and find a viewing spot on this side of the river. We struck lucky, following a car which hared along the lanes – clearly on a mission to catch it as well. We ended up at a place called Stonebench, parking up on the roadside along with the many other cars and walked to the riverside, finding it hard not to get caught up in the excitement – some were running, desperate not to miss it. But we needn’t have worried – it was a little ‘late’ (it can vary up to twenty minutes either side of the scheduled time, apparently). We had time to find a spot, by a large houseboat and tuck into our breakfast of coffee and chocolate croissants. The atmosphere was good-humoured. A group of guys next to us where sipping on cider. Alot of families were there. Men with serious cameras. It had the wonderful English air of something faintly ridiculous that we all find ourselves doing in public – fully aware of how daft it is.

A speedboat caused some excitement – we expected it to be preceding the bore, but it was just a group of surfers in wetsuits, maybe the ones featured on the BBC News that day, looking cool, surfing the bore in the early morning sun. I spotted a paraglider – a great way to see it. A couple more boats came up and this time, the wave was close behind. Everybody got excited as the level of the river suddenly surged – you could see the wave breaking against the shore opposite. It roared past us – as it approaches there’s a moment when you don’t know if it’s going to stop, or completely drown you. A feeling of the raw power of nature. Humbling. A taste of what locals experience four centuries ago…

In 1607 what became known as the ‘Great Flood’, possibly caused by a tsunami, sent a massive wave up the Severn Estuary. It is estimated 200 square miles (520 sq km) of land were covered by water. Eyewitness accounts of the disaster told of “huge and mighty hills of water” advancing at a speed “faster than a greyhound can run”. It caused massive destruction and the loss of two thousand lives. At its peak it was travelling at thirty miles an hour and sending up waves over twenty five feet, reaching fourteen miles inland to low-lying parts of Somerset.

Today was far gentler – a pleasant day out. We could all go home or to work having witnessed one of nature’s wonders. Most of the crowds dispersed immediately afterwards but we sat and watched the waters, changed ‘from a river to a sea’, as it observed – surging angrily like a stormy harbour. The levels were still rising – in an hour, when the tide’s at its peak we were told it breaches the river bank and floods the lane where several cars were parked. The bore carried alot of flotsam with it. At one point I spotted what looked like a head – turned out to be a football. I joked it was an unlucky surfer who hit a low-lying bridge. In the gap between the boat and the quayside we noticed a large pike flapping about – clearly dying. The bore carries alot of salmon upriver, who use its energy to return to their spawning grounds up in the Welsh hills. The owner of the houseboat seemed stoic about the whole thing. ‘I just let it happen’. Miranda had spotted some little paw-prints in the silt – we asked him about them. He hadn’t a clue – possibly rats? As Ratty said in The Wind in the Willows: ‘Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ And Moley had an epiphany, watching the River for the first time:

‘He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before–this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver–glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea’

An event like today’s bore makes us see the river again as if for the first time. It suddenly becomes like Eliot’s ‘strong brown god’ – a force to be respected. Let’s hope the planners of the proposed Severn Barrage and the Hinkley Point development realise that too.

BBC article

The largest River Severn bore in eight years has been surging through Gloucestershire.

Hundreds of people from all over the country have lined the river bank to witness the spectacle.

The huge wave, caused by the incoming tide being funnelled up the narrowing Severn Estuary, was expected to reach more than 5.4 metres (17.7ft) high.

Scores of surfers tried to ride the five-star bore as it headed upstream earlier.

The Severn Estuary experiences the second highest tide anywhere in the world and the bore’s average speed is 10 mph.

Bores can range between one star, measuring 4.5 metres (14.8ft) to 4.6 metres (15ft), and five-star, measuring 5.4 metres (17.7ft) and above.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said the last five-star Severn bore on record was in March 2002.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/gloucestershire/hi/people_and_places/nature/newsid_8545000/8545308.stm

Bard on a Bike - about to set off home in the Spring sunshine