Poems of Place: At Shotover

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Inspired by the Fantasia On A Theme by Thomas Tallis: Ralph Vaughan Williams

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Sunlight scouts the forest’s weak points

And glints through dark birch parapets

Across the late morning,

This late Easter morning.

We came looking for hope,

To pause our dissertation on sadness and despair

For those we have lost;

To smell the Spring, all sweet and fecund;

To see the evidence of resurrection.

In the clearing, a process and a place today,

We hear that chord: strident, promising

Flattened and incomplete,

Then, from somewhere deep within the earth

The baseline heartbeat canon,

Which pulses strong again as if from nothing,

And shows we can indeed rise up from beds of death.

Then I see the bluebells, boisterous, on the march,

In rampant progress across the forest floor.

Thus re-connected to my optimistic self, I smile,

Past, present, future are in communion once more.

 

Easter Sunday, 2017

The search for lost Roman roads

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It began one night in Autumn Term at John Anderson’s flat in Lichfield Street looking at old maps. The quest soon took us to the desolate old fort at Tomen y Mur near Llyn Trawsfynydd and finally to the frozen hills of the Nannau estate at Brithdir.

We were looking for the road that connected a networyk of forts that was used by the Romans to secure their supply lines and the Empire’s western frontier. Throughout the 70s, there had been significant local resistance to Roman rule and the Ordovices had massacred an entire regiment of cavalry. In AD 78, the celebrated general Agricola was appointed Governor of Britannia and one of his first priorities was to finish the conquest of Wales. Tacitus tells us he quickly exterminated the Ordovices, and then struck north to the island of Môn where the druids were rounded up and the inhabitants forced to sue for peace.

Sadly, through the mists of time, the Editor cannot say with any certainty if his search was ultimately successful, but he can attest to the quality of John Alwyn Dickson’s roast chicken dinner that was the highlight of a second visit to find the lost legions of Rome.

Click for more at the Marians on the Mawddach webpage

 

Marians on the Mawddach

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An English School’s Love Affair With an Estuary in Wales

Conceived and compiled by Paul Christopher Walton

“Traditions and stories, the salt of life, are passing away, because there is no one to tell them in a way that busy pre-occupied people have time or inclination to listen to.”

T.P. Ellis Dolgelley and Llanelltyd, 1928

Marians on the Mawddach

In one eventful weekend in November 1963, the President of the United States was assassinated, The Beatles launched their second album, Dr Who exited his Police Box to confront the Daleks for the first time and a convoy of Walsall grammar school boys arrived on the Mawddach to spend their first weekend at Farchynys. This was Queen Mary’s newly acquired adventure centre, an old coach house on the Mawddach estuary lying in the shadow of Cadair Idris, just 4 miles from Barmouth and its iconic railway bridge.

Every week for the following fifty years, successive generations of QM folk have made the hundred mile journey to the coast and have promptly fallen in love with this special place, discovering that estuaries can be wonderfully productive eco-systems for personal growth. Marians on the Mawddach tells the stories of pupils and their teachers and also of the people they meet as they explore this highly contrasting landscape to their home in Walsall.

Marians on the Mawddach

A Social History of Farchynys, The Welsh Centre of Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall

Published, May 2017

For more click on the Marians on the Mawddach page

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Poems of Place: Lunch with Tory

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We said it would be the Luberon,

Perhaps mid-September

When the crowds had left? Or mostly.

We’d find a table with a view:

Oppède Le Vieux, perhaps? Or better at Sénanque

In the hollow, amongst the purple

We’d drink Domaine Ott – barely pink, well chilled

But elegant like you

We’d banter with black olives

Or the tapenades with fig you liked

Then the smell of roast chicken would

Demand the group’s attention

And with it, we’d bring out salad leaves,

And beef tomatoes, the primed burrata.

After, some would contemplate the madelaines

And lavender honey ice creams lying in wait.

But then comforted and comfortable,

We’d pause and think of you –

And feel once more the warmth you brought.

Poems of Place: Promenade des Anglais

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(Elégie en bleu)

 

You always wore a smile

And welcomed us with warmth,

You were always best outdoors

So genial alfresco.

You loved the noise and buzz

You lived for food and friends

You were my Empire of Blue,

This elegy’s for you.

 

It took one summer’s night

To wipe away your warmth

Bring silence to your mood

And shadows to your shine

When Death crashed into you

Devastating

My Empire of Blue.

This elegy’s for you

 

For now those chaises are empty

The vélo racks are full,

The promenade is silent

Yet the sky is azure blue;

 And the sun breaks through our darkness,

As waves kiss the shore

Galettes forever treasured

As music sounds once more.

 

You’ll always be our zest,

Our carnival of joy,

The Nissa of pizzazz,

The goodness that adds life.

You’ll always be our star,

The magnet of our dreams,

The Côte within our hearts

Our Empire of Blue,

This elegy’s for you.

 

2016

 

 

60@60 Finale: Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

Babs and Paul at the rocks, Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes

Babs and Paul at the rocks, Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, November 2016

Poems of Place: Hen Domen, Montgomery

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Surrounded by the rolling hills of debated lands

Hatched verdant and yellow brown,

And shadowed yet by galleon clouds,

The castle rock stands weathered by winds

That blow through elms and ash

Even on uncontroversial days;

And bastions slighted by the hand of men are left monument

Picked at by crows who scale the rickety finger heights

Of accidental crenellations.

I sense a magic here inside the motte,

As sentinel rabbits sniff the air and leap or run

To leave me caught in time awaiting ransom.

15 August, 2016

The Pestoration

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Twenty five years of Saclà and Pesto, the aspirational ketchup

Allora, ragazzi,

You have a little hunger?

But haven’t met this jar?

Well you’re no Columbi – you can’t have travelled far.

So genovate your palettes,

And pimp my primavera:

Crush garlic, salt pine nuts, blend basil,

With two noble cheeses – both alike in dignity

To wrestle and pestle in Ligurian oil.

Then will I spoon in and swoon up your pasta,

Drizzle con brio across butterflied breasts;

Get clammy with clams

Upgrade that ciabatte

Bring zip to your pizza,

Lounge in lasagna to access all areas.

And just when you think you know me,

I’ll lead your mash astray, spike your meatballs

And be the ultimate trofie wife.

Welcome to the Condominium of Saclà!

Fantastico!

On Quality Street

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This tin, wherein

You rustle, bustle

Shake and share,

Is where you’ll find

An invite of the formal kind

To connect and get confected!

 

Our costume ball

Will now enthrall

Your senses.

We’ll wrap and twist

And strut our stuff

And boil up toffee

Till you’ve had enough.

Perhaps, a little nudge

Of good behavioural economic fudge

Might tempt you?

 

If not, just there in damask rose

Is posed a strawberry blonde for your delight.

Another more exotic, draped in

Sapphire chiffon wrap

Promises a deeper bite of paradise.

How long, indeed, can you resist a complicated

Love triangle intensely rich and green?

 

La Belle Dame now in your hand:

The Purple Empress with the hazel heart

Oozes as she smoozes all around you;

Deluxed and crunched, gold fingered:

You’re left penniless once more.

 

Dappled papers lie abandoned now

Amongst the bent metallic foils,

And in the swirling sadness, once more you mourn

The coffee cream, the peanut cracknel,

The ghost of nougat from Montelimar.

Their fate of course is bitter sweet:

These live no more on Quality Street.

 

 

 

Poems of Place: Adventurous Training

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Coach House Cuisine, Farchynys, Gwynedd

Friday was the dangerous day: tea came with us on wheels,

Our minibus smelling of boys and batter and non-standard tomato sauce;

Perhaps not exactly Mrs. Watkins’s Taste the Difference fish

Was stored precariously under seats in scratched Aluminum and threatened,

As we climbed the heights of Dinas.

 

Saturday often brought surprises after long fresh air days

Like Geoffrey’s Boeuf Stroganoff and the dark brown slush of

Poires au vin du Bourgogne,

The sight of which tested the saporific nerve of even Alpha boys

But nevertheless soon passed our eager invigilation and was gone.

 

On Sunday, the reward for finding long lost Roman roads

Was JAD’s Brithdir Roast: a great golden bird

Displayed with squadrons of spuds and roots

And plattered to fill us up and lift our hearts for

The journey back to Mocks.

 

The Kitchen spick once more,

The light falls in the Dayroom,

Refectory tables are stacked,

The Coach House stands empty

Yet full of the aromas of our histories.