Out Now!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

There is a tide in the affairs of men . . .

'There is a tide in the affairs of men' sounds better as a title than ‘displacement activity.’ I can’t say language has improved over the years. This morning I woke up ready to slip into my usual routine until the realisation that my ‘usual routine’ had gone. I had just finished a book (yet to be edited) It was something I’d been looking forward to – finishing the damn thing – and I had all these other projects seething in the background, shouting out ‘Me next! Me!” These include several short stories and a more serious work on Anthony Trollope. The latter I thought I’d finished until it dawned on me I had yet to read two of his Irish novels, novels that might modify my general thesis. I'm currently finishing Castle Richmond with the Land-Leaguers yet to come.

 So, lots of stuff, but when I woke up I realised I wanted none of it. Not burnout exactly, more a need for breathing time and space – and activity. Above all activity.

This morning I transplanted an ailing Rhododendron bush from its pot into the garden. It had once stood guard over the front door but was appearing steadily sicker as the weeks passed. Each time I slipped the key into the lock I sensed or imagined a stern, reproachful stare. So this morning I wrenched it from it’s  very large pot—no easy thing—dug an even larger hole in the garden and bunged the damn thing  in.

 It still doesn’t look very happy, as you can see but much the same thing happened to its ‘parent’ three years ago, and its transplantation brought it back from the dead. I’m expecting great things.

Next I noticed ivy taking over what we laughingly call a lawn. ‘Bastard,' I muttered and went to it, digging out leaves and stems and leaving a substantial stretch of bald earth. Bulbs have been planted and the baldness re-seeded.

And now, marginally refreshed, I’m blogging about the whole miserable business because, at the moment, it’s the only thing I think I'm capable of. After this I'm off to tidy my desktop and organise an army of photographs, perhaps even cull my inbox of emails read and forgotten. 

As George Harrison said in one of his finest albums, ‘All things must pass.’
Post script:
Just to show my life has a little more excitement than digging holes I've included some more photos from our last visit to the Cotswolds, a small village known as Upper and Lower Slaughter. 

Lower Slaughter has been inhabited for over a thousand years and is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Sclostre’. Its name comes from the old English for ‘Muddy Place’ which is not surprising since the River Eye runs right through the village. In a sense it epitomises the old saying ‘Where’s there’s muck there’s brass’ for nothing has been built or changed there since 1906 and now it’s a honeypot for Japanese tourists and eccentric Englishmen.


Saturday, 7 October 2017

Earstoday, all my troubles . . .

It had been a hard morning at the gym made worse by my final session on the treadmill. Dylan’s Isis came up on shuffle, which I like. The song takes me on a journey, there are some juicy soundbites, my favourite being: ‘The snow it was outrageous,’ but it doesn’t last long enough. The tune that came up next was Scott Joplin’s The Entertainor – only four and a half minutes but it exhausted me keeping up with the bloody dancing piano.

I was ready for my Waitrose Coffee and banana.

I didn’t know there was worse yet to come.

Part of the ritual is choosing the banana, preferabley large and just touching ripeness. At the counter I’m always greeted with: ‘Your usual, sir?” which makes me feel grand, like I belong to a venerable gentleman’s club somewhere in the vicinity of St James’ Square. Admittedly there are no roaring fires or plush leather chairs, and the illusion lasts a mere second or two, longer if I close my eyes and slop coffee all over the place.

I sat near a window, giving me a view of Monnow Street and the bus station, which, to be honest, is geared more for stagecoaches. The question now was which to to first: peel the banana or open the newspaper.

At that moment, she spoke.

It was Princess Margaret or someone channelling her spirit.

I read somewhere recently that the late Princess had a distinctive diction, pronouncing ‘yes’ as ‘ears’ and ‘no’ as ‘nyah.’ Try it some time. It becomes quite addictive though everyone around you will think you a prick.

Anyway, one of those was sitting behind me, holding forth in voice like a corncrake only louder. In the space of twenty minutes I knew – along with half of Waitrose – her views on Brexit, her eldest child’s schooling—he’s dreadful at maths but he has a very poor teacher, and that she thought the recent tornadoes in the Americas were really quite dreadful. 

I couldn’t understand how she was able to breathe and talk with such speed without the hint of a break. I wondered who she was talking to, and why the hell they didn’t say something, anything—like 'shut up woman'. I risked a casual glance round as though inspecting the air. Her companion was another woman who nodded a lot and occasionally brushed crumbs from her jeans.

Princess Corncrake possessed a toddler neatly encased in a pushchair . Like me, he was approaching the end of his tether and risked a small howl.

“Really, Jasper, that is quite unacceptable!” She threw him a crayon, one of a few she had on the table, and returned to commenting on the weather: ‘perfectly beastly for the coming weekend.’
Jasper, not unreasonably howled louder, which earned another rebuke. “Jasper, that is quite enough!  You really must exercise more social control.” She spoke to him like he was a badly behaved dog, but used bigger words. ‘He can be a little anti-social at times,” she said by way of apology to her friend and the cafĂ© in general.

When I got home I was asked the usual question. ‘Gym good?’

“Ears,” I said. “Waitrose, Nyah.” I started humming Earstoday and wondered what other songs might be similarly improved 


Friday, 29 September 2017

Hide and Seek gone wrong

The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall
And as it once would have looked
courtesy of English Heritage

Sir Francis Lovell had everything, but he had no concept of ‘cutting his losses.’ Born in 1465 he became a ward of the Yorkist Edward IV and later an ardent supporter of Edward’s brother Richard III. In exchange Richard made him ‘Butler of all England,’ Privy Councillor, and Lord Chancellor of the King’s Household. Richard’s Lancastrian opponents penned a sour little couplet: ‘The cat, the rat and Lovell our dog rule all England under a Hog.’ The cat referred to William Catesby, the rat, Richard Ratcliffe, the hog, King Richard whose emblem was the White Boar. The dog referred to the dog on the Lovell heraldic crest.

The great Wheel of Fortune moved at some speed during this period, great nobles losing their estates and sometimes their heads as the wheel turned. In 1485 Richard III lost at the Battle of Bosworth and was hacked to death on the battlefield. Lovell however escaped and took sanctuary in an Abbey near Colchester. In 1486 he escaped and led a revolt against the new Lancastrian king Henry VII. The revolt was easily crushed and Lovell escaped again, seeking refuge in the Netherlands (the court of Margaret of Burgundy.)

You’d have thought Francis Lovell might have got the message by now, but the following year he took a leading part in another revolt. This was ‘led’ by Lambert Simnel, a young pastry cook who tried to impersonate one of the young princes in the Tower. His small army of mercenaries were thrashed in the battle of Stoke Field in 1487, and Lovell escaped yet again. 

Some observers saw him swimming on horseback across the River Trent and galloping away on the other side. He was never seen or heard of again . . . until 1708 when workmen discovered a secret underground vault in the Lovell ancestral home: Minster Lovell. In the vault were two skeletons, a man sitting at a desk, pen and paper to hand, and at his feet a dog. The skeletons along with the paper crumbled in the fresh air but rumours abounded. Was it in fact Sir Francis Lovell who had taken refuge there before planning another escape – or revolt? Had he been inadvertently  locked in and there died alone with his dog? Whatever the case Minster Lovell is said to be haunted by an armoured knight on a flashing white horse galloping through the ruins on dark wintry nights.

Minster Lovell had a habit of dealing out tragedy. In the C16th a newly married couple decided on a game of ‘hide and seek.’ The bride vanished and was not seen again until some years later when the family was moving. A large, very heavy trunk was being carried and on opening it the young bride was found. The longest game of ‘hide and seek’ in history. The tune and lyrics are here and here should you have the uncontrollable urge to sing along.
St Kenelm's Church can be seen in the background of the two pictures above. Here it is in all its glory

It's a C15th church named after an C8th boy-king of Mercia murdered on the orders of his sister and made a saint in recompense. His feast day is on 17th July and celebrated with 'Jerkum' (rhubarb wine) distributed free from the nearby Old Swan Inn - a practice sadly discontinued.*

Below is the tomb of Sir William Lovell who died in 1455. At least he was dead when they buried him.

And finally some lichen just because . . .
Stairs leading to pulpit

I shall celebrate St Kenelm next July with some homemade rhubarb gin.