For some photos of the natural beauty at Westonbirt arboretum take a look at another of my autumn posts at: http://wp.me/p2gGsd-rc
For some photos of the natural beauty at Westonbirt arboretum take a look at another of my autumn posts at: http://wp.me/p2gGsd-rc
In Gloucester Cathedral there is a new stained glass window created by Tom Denny, which is a memorial to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney. Like Will Harvey, whom I have written about before, he was a pupil and chorister at the Cathedral school before joining the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the First World War. Indeed, they were great friends. Gurney was a talented musician firstly, but in the thick of war, poetry became his creative outlet. Like Will Harvey he survived the war but was drastically changed by it. So much so that his fragile mental health was totally destroyed, and he spent many years in a mental asylum where he eventually died before he was 50. Gurney is buried at Twigworth, where his gravestone commemorates him as ‘poet composer of the Severn and Somme’.
Gurney’s poetry is beautiful and reflects his love for the Cotswolds, the countryside and the beauty of nature. I’d like to share 2 of them with you that touch me deeply for different reasons.
Firstly, To His Love which is a poem thought to be written by Ivor Gurney when he thought his friend Will Harvey had been killed.
To His Love’
He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.
His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.
You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
The second is The Bugle, written after Gurney returned from the war, a sadder and wiser man. I include it as my grandfather was a bugler in WW1, and also because it speaks to me loudly of how ordinary life and commerce still goes on while soldiers suffer and die ‘out of sight, and out of mind.’
High over London
And high, high, high,
Harsh bugle notes
Rend and embronze the air.
Triumph is there
With sombre sunbeams mixed of Autumn rare.
Over and over the loud brass makes its cry,
Summons to exultancy
Of past in Victory.
Yet in the grey street women void of grace
Chatter of trifles,
Hurry to barter, wander aimlessly
The heedless town,
Men lose their souls in care of business,
As men had not been mown
Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme
Never again home
Or beauty most beloved to see, for that
London Town might still be busy at
Its sordid cares
Traffic of wares.
O Town, O Town
In soldiers’ faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.
There are many learned websites with information about Ivor Gurney, but my wish today is simply to share the beauty and poignancy of the new window and explain a little of its background.
There are 8 lights or panes overall and each reflects something from the life and writing of Ivor Gurney. The notes are a precis of those that appear in the Cathedral by the window.
Light 1 ~ Glimmering Dusk ~ a figure walks at dusk in a Vale landscape. there are dark pools of rain on the white road and May Hill can be seen in the distance.
Light 2 ~ The Stone Breaker ~ In Flanders a chance encounter with some road menders reminds Gurney of a much earlier meeting (“Oh years ago and near forgot”), in the fresh beauty of a summer’s early morning, in a landscape of Vale orchards.
Light 3 ~ Brimscombe ~ Gurney remembers a night-time walk through the fir trees of the steep-sided Brimscombe valley near Stroud. The “pure clemency” of the moment enables him to forget the “blackness and pain” of France.
Light 4 ~ Severn Meadows ~This was written in March 1917 at Caulaincourt. As the sun sets over Severn meadows, a figure, in the shadow of a willow, looks back at the river and the willows.
Light 5 ~ Pain ~ Gurney recalls the grey-white Somme battlefield.
“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….
Grey monotony lending
Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes
An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows
Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.
Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,
Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,
Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.
The amazed heart cries out to God.
Light 6 ~ To His Love ~ Probably drafted on the Somme battlefield, Gurney reacts to the news (false as it turns out) that his great friend, the poet Will Harvey, is presumed killed. A couple walk on the Cotswold hills as their dead friend lies among the violets.
Light 7 ~ To God ~ In the intense suffering from mental illness, surely aggravated by his experiences on the battlefields, Gurney cries out for death, “I am praying for death, death, death”.
Light 8 ~ Song and Pain ~ A more optimistic end to the window as a figure emerges from an understanding of pain to enter “The House of Joy”.
As I stood and gazed at these incredibly beautiful but harrowing windows, there were people around me moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered. Tom Denny is a wonderful artist. He has captured and honoured Gurney’s genius, his love of Gloucestershire, and his suffering in that dreadful war and in his mental distress.
Today I went to Gloucester with a dear friend, the artist Anne Bate Williams.
We went to see the newly opened Crucible 2 exhibition of sculptures, which is set in and around this beautiful medieval Cathedral. It was a warm, sunny day which made the experience even more enjoyable.
There were small groups of people around the Cathedral enjoying their lunchbreak. Some were eating, some taking photographs and some rebellious types sitting on the sculptures!
The first sculpture we saw was a huge arm with a giant hand stretched upwards in a grassy space behind the Cathedral. This is “Reach for the Stars” by K Armitage. At the front there were some of confusing sculptures called Battersea 11 and 111. But the huge “Sitting Couple on bench” by Chadwick was beautiful.
Cleverly placed in the beautiful grounds around the cathedral where children and passers-by can see them, are wonderful lifelike sculptures of animals including a giant bull, a beautiful hippo and its baby, “Siberian Tiger” by Bugatti, as well as “Tortoise” and “Snail” by Cooper. It was wonderful to see little children climbing onto the sculptures and I wondered if they expected them to move.
We were already impressed and excited before we even entered the Cathedral. But once in the entrance, we were greeted by an arresting sculpture called “Pilgrim”, by D Backhouse. The body is shrouded in white but the face is stunning in its beauty.
I won’t bore you by describing every one of the 100 sculptures, but I will add a link so that you can see some of them yourself.
If you do live close enough to get to the exhibition, which is free, I would encourage you to come along. It is on until 31st October and it will be worth the journey. There are over 60 artists represented here. Some are world famous like the local Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Antony Gormley and Kenneth Armitage. But there are lots of less well known artists too.
Enjoy my gallery of photos from the exhibition…
I recently wrote about our concert at the Tuckwell Open Air Theatre. For several weeks before the concert we rehearsed in a room above a pub in one of the older parts of Cheltenham. Right opposite the pub, on the corner of Hewlett Road and Fairview Road, was an ugly modern telephone box. I will never understand why the powers that be got rid of our lovely red telephone boxes and replaced them with these ugly grey plastic things. But I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
However, I digress. The telephone box was attached to the side wall of a very insignificant rented house. Insignificant that is until one Saturday night in April this year when a van turned up and a man covered the wall of the house with tarpaulin. He then proceeded to paint a mural around the phone box which showed three men apparently using listening devices to hear and record the conversations of people using the phone box. The trenchcoat-wearing men were obviously meant to be spies. Now this was clearly a reference to the fact that GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, is based in the town. GCHQ had been controversially in the news because of Edward Snowdon’s revelation that they listen in to private telephone calls, though quite why anyone is surprised by that I fail to see. I may be missing something, but if this is done in the quest to prevent terrorism and serious crime ~ isn’t that their job?
When the tarpaulin, the man and the van left, there appeared an amazing piece of very professional street art or graffiti, depending on your point of view.
It was quickly established that the art was the work of the world famous elusive Bristol based artist known as Banksy, which made it extremely valuable to whoever owned that wall. Banksy owned up to the work, which is now known as Spy Booth
People came from miles around to have their photograph taken inside the Spy Booth including my daughter and my grandson!
Of course all of this attention had negative consequences too. The painting was very soon badly vandalised, which is tragic, but also rather ironic as it was originally an act of vandalism itself.
The debacle which has rumbled on ever since verges on the ridiculous with the owner, the tenants, the council, local business people, millionaire prospective buyers and art experts all proclaiming their views loudly in the local newspaper. But most residents agree that it livens up a rather dull area, is a tourist attraction and definitely belongs in Cheltenham. It would be irrelevant as a political statement if it were not linked to the phone box and the home of the Government communications Headquarters.
Banksy himself has said, “As a kid I always dreamed of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood”. It seems now his street art is so valuable that he doesn’t need to steal from the rich. They are queuing up to buy his work! Today I heard that another of his paintings, Mobile Lovers, attached to the side of a community building in Bristol has been sold for a six figure sum and all the money is going to secure the future running of the premises as a Youth Club.
When I was a student in the 1960’s I started collecting nursery rhymes and poetry which I could use once I started teaching. I built up quite a collection in a folder. I also got into the habit of cutting poems out of the daily newspaper if they appealed to me. One poem impressed me so much I have treasured it for the last 50 years. I still have the original cutting. Brown with age, I’ve now laminated it so that it doesn’t get damaged. It is called Miss Margaret’s New House and it chimed with me really strongly.
As regular readers of my blog will know, my much loved mum died in 2012. She lived just a couple of doors away from me, which was really handy when I was caring for her. But once she had died, the house being so close was a constant source of sadness which I could not escape.
The house was empty and forlorn for months but now new people have bought the house to ‘do up’ and live in. It seems to me that there will be nothing left of the original house soon. It now has a huge extension on the back, the lovely hardwood window frames have been replaced with white plastic and the leaded lights are gone. The kitchen has been ripped out and a new one built in the extension. The wall between the bathroom and toilet has been knocked through and all the fittings have been replaced. The climbing roses have been cut down and the rambling hedgerow tamed and trimmed. All the carpets are gone and modern wooden flooring installed and the walls have all be painted in neutral tones.
I’m sure it will all be lovely by the time they move in, but no longer will it be ‘my mum’s house’. This is a blessing in a way as I will no longer feel those pangs of sadness as I pass by on my walks with the dog or my grandson. Every trace of my mum’s taste and personality has gone from the house now, along with her fixtures and fittings, into the skip.
Her style was plain and simple. She loved the soft pink on the walls, pale green on the floors ~ always Wilton, always 80/20 wool. She loved roses in the garden, flowers in the house, and dark oak Ercol furniture. She loved soft cushions and silver ornaments. Her door, like her heart, was always open to visitors, especially her family. She never forgot a birthday and was generous to a fault. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.
Now to get back to the poem! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
She never liked The Firs. She said
‘Give me simplicity.
Pretentious roofs and leaded panes…
Lord, how they sicken me!
I’ll have an honest house one day.
Clean-shaped outside and in.
Where need shall take its dues, and oust
The merely finikin.
A downright house, a compact house;
A small house – I am small;
The lone pea in its vasty pod
Is not my role at all.
Nor yet for me pert painted doors,
Flame yellow, scarlet bright;
A low house with white window sills,
And trees to left and right.
A quiet house, a peaceful house…
Cool in the August heat,
But snug and safe when parching winds
Drive brown leaves down the street…
This will I have’, she said and let
It cost me what it may
I shall not grudge that dwelling’s price…
She moved in yesterday.
It took the sum of all she had,
But well content she seemed;
She has them all-the sheltering trees,
The quiet that she dreamed;
The low pitched roof, the straight bare walls-
All hers, and perfect, save
For the white window sills. There are
No windows in a grave.
By Ana Jackson
August has been challenging to say the least. We needed a new gas boiler ~ expensive but not a disaster you would think. However…one thing leads to another … a burst water pipe in the loft filled up the loft space and soaked the insulation; water came through the ceiling and the loft door soaking all the carpets in the hall, bathroom and airing cupboard. Water then came through all the electric light fittings and the alarms. The gas fitters trying to stop the water managed to put their foot through the ceiling and made a hole in the bathroom wall. We then had a gas leak where the pipes were connected to the meter!
Result ~ 2 regular gas fitters to fit the new boiler, 2 emergency gas fitters to fix the gas leak, 2 emergency electricians to change all the fittings and make it safe, 2 plumbers to change the pipes, 1 handyman to fix the hole in the wall, 2 builders to take down the ceiling and build a new one, 2 decorators to repaint the ceilings and walls in the hall and kitchen, 2 carpet fitters to lay new carpets to hall and bathroom, 1 carpenter to make new loft door, 1 man to replace loft insulation, several insurance assessors and surveyors and a very frazzled housewife!
As if all this weren’t enough my husband then had a nasty fall and injured his leg. It will take some weeks to recover and he is in a wheelchair until it does. Undaunted we decided to go away for a couple of days as it was my birthday on Monday. Not being used to worrying about access I booked a hotel which involved getting said husband and wheelchair up and down several stairs countless times daily. Finding this rather awkward I managed to jam my little finger causing a deep gash, and losing copious amounts of blood in the beautifully tiled reception.
And so dear reader as August draws to a close I am busy getting my little bungalow back in some kind of order. I had to empty the glass cabinet so I could move it for the carpet fitters and today’s job was to clean it and put everything back.
I realised as I put things back that this glass cabinet is a treasure trove, preserving significant moments and key memories spanning almost my whole life.
There are the two little pixies that I bought in Woolworth’s on Felling High Street in 1952 for my mother with my sixpence pocket money. When she died and the house was cleared they turned up amongst her possessions. She had kept them for 60 years and I will keep them now.
There is a nativity scene with a painted card background and little plastic figures. This is a poignant reminder of the traumatic Christmas of 1952 when I was in the children’s hospital at Rothbury in Northumberland. It was given to me by a kind visitor and has attained a ridiculous level of significance in my life.
There are treasured Christmas cards from friends as far afield as Africa, Russia and Poland. For many years I was involved in an inter-cultural linking charity called Global Footsteps/Rendezvous.
We organised Conferences where young people could interact, learn from each other, share their cultures, have fun, and generally get to know each other. This led to many close friendships, and a couple of marriages, between people who would otherwise never have met. It is a joy to me that I still receive cards from some of the youth and I treasure them.
There are little things from my children such as extra items for my Christmas crib scene, glass angels, and maple syrup bottles! One of my daughters lives in Vermont where the maple syrup is tapped right from the trees outside her barn.
There are glasses from Anjou and Vezelay, which we collected during a wine tasting holiday in the Loire and Burgundy regions of France.
There is a decanter given to me by a very dear friend when her husband died. He used to write beautiful poetry and was a very holy man. So I put a little verse inside the decanter in memory of him:
Life is only for LOVE
Time is only that we may find GOD
There are lots of mementoes from Lourdes, candles, Icons, Rosary beads, statues, crosses. Some of these were given as gifts, some were my mothers, and some I bought myself. I realise that many of my readers are of different faiths, or none, and I respect that. But today I feel strongly that, although I no longer belong to any particular church community, my faith is very important to me. It has been a constant in my life, a comfort in hard times, my anchor, the rock my life is built on.
Then of course there are the assorted glasses that I have gathered from jumble sales, trips to the Welsh Crystal factory, or as gifts. All have a safe home in my glass cabinet…
As long as my little grandson Stanley can’t find the key!