The Power Place: A Seasonal Story

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We met on a copper-sunned afternoon in early October – and only because I managed to avoid the mayhem which closed the Shrewsbury ring road. I had soon reached the long hill at Dinas Mawddwy, cruised past Cadair at Cross Foxes and arrived at the Finches in time for a cup of tea and a stroll on the headland. I was planning to meet friends in Barmouth later for supper and a chat about the new campaign to save the bridge.

It had been unusually dry for days and the path outside The Coach House which led upwards to the headland’s peak was clear and easy. I headed instinctively to what my school grandly called the Gazebo. In reality, it was more an uncovered semi-circle of stones perched precipitously at the summit on the edge of the cliff. But with a commanding view to the southern shoreline of the estuary, it made a perfect spot for a picnic or even more atmospherically, a reading of gothic tales by candlelight as the English department had been known to organise. It was no surprise that the Gazebo was one of everybody’s favourite places at Farchynys, my school’s adventure centre in an old coach house on the Mawddach estuary in Snowdonia.

I sat and scanned the long, sharp edge of Tyrau Mawr directly opposite and then looking down below, enjoyed the sand art: the constantly changing patterns left by retreating tides. Apart from a group of redwings feeding on rowan berries before heading off, there was an intense silence here: it was the perfect antidote to the noise of Brexit London which I had left behind.

I took some photos with my phone and then took the other path downwards and noticed storm damaged trees lying forlorn and waiting their appointment with the Warden’s chainsaw. Through a more vigorous tree’s accommodating branches I could see The Clock House, the iconic building positioned right on the water at Coes Faen, a few steps from the bridge. Soon I was heading down the path through overgrown bushes towards the Boathouse and the beach.

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Technically out of bounds, the Boathouse was just too tempting an opportunity not to relive my youthful memories. Energised by the walk, I was humming enthusiastically along the headland path when I spotted a

figure on the beach sitting quietly near the slipway, head turned towards the sea. It was a woman of about forty, with strawberry blonde hair worn up in a French pleat. She was wearing a long summer dress. As I approached her, I saw she was holding something across her lap. She remained perfectly still, staring at the beach towards the bridge. The stillness was a little unsettling.

“Lovely afternoon!” I paused. “Everything well?” I added with deliberate fragmentary vagueness.

Her ornately embroidered dress was the colour of corn and the item sitting across her lap, I realised, was actually a drawing board on which a picture was taped down. She remained impassive for several more seconds before she turned towards me.

“Forgive me, I was captivated by this landscape. The viaduct somehow has improved what Nature already gifted to us.” Scattered around her on the sand, I could now see a painter’s impedimenta: a wooden box of tubes, brushes in various sizes and shapes, a square palette, rags and jars of water.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how special places can evoke emotion,” I replied.

“That’s why I am here,” and she pointed to her picture which consisted of a big wash of flax yellow laid across her pencil sketch of the estuary.

“Perhaps I should break the ice?”, I said, “I’m Paul Walton and I’ve just driven up from Oxford.” She gave a small puff and a smile.

“What a small world, then” she said, and began to tidy her clutter.

“I’m sorry, I mustn’t disturb your concentration,” I suggested, perhaps a little after the event.

“I think I’m finished for today; the light and warmth are going, and my next wash will not dry in time.” She placed her canvass into a pouch and turned to me: “I’m Amelia. Amelia Reid, and my sister’s husband was a Latin scholar at Christ Church. Are you staying at Farchynys Hall? I’ve met the new people there and I should tell you that they are happy to let me loose on their headland to paint.”

I laughed and folded up her stool.

“No actually, I am staying at the Farmhouse with the Finches. And you?”

“Across the way at Plas Caerdeon. With my sister and brother-in-law. My brother-in- law has been working at St Philips’s over the summer and I’ve been lucky enough to stay with him and my sister. We all like to paint in watercolour and this summer has provided many opportunities.”

She had now packed all her gear into an elegant wicker basket and placed its goatskin strap on her shoulder. “The sun is fading fast now, and I should be on my way back. It was good to meet you. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!”

We heard the pic pic of a woodpecker.

“I have to get back too, Amelia, perhaps I could walk with you?”,

and we walked back through the meadow towards Farchynys. When we reached the drive, we said our goodbyes.

Later that evening before I left for dinner in Barmouth, I was enjoying a glass of beer with Dennis in the Farmhouse, and as was his custom with his B&B guests, he asked what I’d been up to. I told him of my encounter with Amelia Reid, the lady of the boathouse, our conversation about painting and the church at Caerdeon where her sister and brother were working for the summer.

“She sounds something straight out of Millais, my dear boy, and interesting to hear about St Philips’s too. Have you ever been there? It’s built in the Basque style and while it’s certainly non-standard C of E or W, it’s certainly worth a visit – if you can find it.”

“I’ve never been, Dennis, and in fact, until today, I hadn’t even heard about it.”

“Well how about a walk there tomorrow after breakfast? It may be closed, it often seems to be, but we can burn off some of the Farchynys calories in making the attempt and we may learn more about your new friends at Caerdeon.”

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The following morning, after one Margaret’s epic Full Welsh feasts, Dennis and I set off down the road and then up the path into the forest like Hobbits marching into the Misty Mountains. The lane corkscrewed several times and after what seemed like a couple of miles, I spotted a Lychgate and behind it, a big rectangular building with plain rectangular windows. We went up to the entrance.

“Lucky boy, it’s open,” said Dennis, and I went inside whilst he took a look outside.

Inside, it was definitely lighter than other more ancient Welsh churches I’d visited, but it felt damp, didn’t smell like it was in regular use and there was no sign of any people or works in progress. At the crossing on the nave I noticed there was a large metal wheel with a rope connected to the four bells above me in the open belfry – an ingenious device which probably made bell ringing possible by one person. It appeared to be in working order. I was now thinking this was indeed a real curiosity of a building, half-way up a mountain on a dangerously steep incline.

“Paul,” a voice came from behind me in the porch, “I think you ought to come and look at what I’ve found.”

I followed Dennis outside and watched as he manoeuvred carefully down the overgrown slope of the graveyard. I followed.

“See what’s written on this? How’s your Latin, dear boy?”

We were looking down at a weathered memorial stone, half sunk into the slope.

            Amelia Reid, sister of Louisa, taken from this world October 5th, 1868.

Non hodie Quod heri.

 

I murmured a translation: “I am not today what I was yesterday,”

 

 

 

Author’s Notes:

 

  1. Philip’s Church also known as Caerdeon Chapel is indeed situated off a steep lane in a dramatically sloping churchyard not far from the Farchynys Coach house.
  2. Built in 1862, three years before the opening of Barmouth Viaduct, it had a somewhat controversial early history. It was built by the Rev William Edward Jelf, a Classics Tutor at Christ Church. He conducted services for his Oxford students in English rather than the official Welsh and thus fell foul of the local Church of Wales big-wig, the Rector of Llanaber. Matters were resolved in Jelf’s favour by The Court of Arches.
  3. The Church was designed by Jelf’s Oxford friend, the Rev John Louis Petit who was descended from a Huguenot family which had settled in Lichfield. He was also a one-man campaign against the overuse of neo-gothic Church design. Petit travelled widely exploring Mediterranean and eastern ecclesiastical styles and painted many watercolours. As did his wife, Louisa and her unmarried sister, Amelia Reid.
  4. I did take one major liberty in the story: whilst John Louis Petit died in 1868, apparently from a chill caught while sketching, Amelia lived to a fine old age and became with her sister’s sister-in-law, Maria Jelf, leading lights of the Ipswich Fine Art club. Amelia last exhibited in 1896.
  5. Maria Jelf’s painting of St Philip’s, the Mawddach and Cadair is below (Courtesy of Somerset and Wood Fine Art)
  6. My friends at The Circle of Petit (www.revpetit.com) have also made available for sharing two other studies in watercolour which can be found below. One is a splendid view of St. Philip’s, the other, a powerful study of the estuary from Rhuddallt.

 

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There’s more at: www.mariansonthemawddach.com

 

 

 

A Love Song to a Merry Wife of Waitrose*

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Entranced by the elegance

I found amidst these shelves

I stand burrated:

Your beet-rooted servant

Who contemplates the promise

Of a kimchi smile.

Let’s picnic now!

I long to dance the tapenade with you

Clink glasses at the golden hour

Sip Miraval

And partner with appropriate toasts,

Beachcomb for salt and seaweed

To crust and bake our love;

Let’s merge like tagliata

And rocket parmesan,

Before the blowtorch sun retreats

To burn the sugar and so hide

The cream of deep affection.

 

 

*From the collection: Brand New Poetry

 

Cynicus Historicus @Oxford and Yuste

I The Party at Brazenose

Poured house white from green bottle

Onto slaked lips

In the fizzle

Forgot the effects those

Sips would force

 

Liz and Pete

-Enthusiasts!

Danced like drunks in the rain

The bitter sweat of seduction

Increased the pain

I smiled –

But they looked rather mystified

At me

And my green shadow.

 

II Charles of Ghent

Charles of Ghent,

Dubbed by successive men

Of little wit and less sense,

Failure –

Sits in a parched glade at fifty

How pointless his struggle with

Valois, heretic and Turk seems

Compared to this

Unfathomable, but no less

Fundamental act.

 

New Inn Hall Street

Hilary, 1976

Poems of Place: 60611

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When I think of you, I think of food:

That first steak – huge and bloody,

The chophouse brown ambience

Haunting the bridge;

The cheesy Wheel of Death

That defeated even Brian,

The Filet-O-Fish and fries we ate in Oak Brook and enjoyed,

The ribs we sucked and gnawed on Sheffield’s garden walk

The Fat Tires we swilled

To debrief and to decompress…

 

When I think of you, I see the Lake,

That seems not to be a lake,

Deep frozen, or mist-bound beyond the lighthouse

Arctic still even on dog-days.

I see my love braving the cold and

Apparently bound for Canada.

I remember late-night emails at the W,

Preparing for the deal that

Changed our lives for ever

 

When I think of you,

I see Lake Forest luxe

And Gold Coast widows,

The mid-western smiles,

The summer vibe

The caps and Cubs at Wrigley Field

The early morning chugging of the L

The forest of your architecture

And all that jazz;

I think of Wabash and the Wackers

The Magnificent mile

The palace of heels at Nordstrom

The smell of books at Powell’s

The shady avenues of the park,

The laughing with the friends we love,

I think of all these things you mean

And the moments you made for us,

Chicago.

 

June 13th, 2018

Poems of Place: At the M&S Café, Walsall

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Poems of Place: At the M&S Café, Walsall

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Sitting amidst the rich and zingy,

Zesty feast of flavours that is

The Marks and Spencer Café,

I think of you and me.

 

And as I scan my ebbing latte’s tidal art

I think of places in this town, our town

Where post-school, we met

To court, hold hands and play.

 

I wrote you soppy poems,

Buttressed with pilfered fragments, yet in homage,

Treasured the hour before our haven closed

And the moment came to walk you to the ‘bus

 

Back in town today, ours – but not,

I’m close to where we sat and laughed

Not knowing nor imagining then,

The rich and zingy zesty love we’d share.

 

 June 2nd, 2018

 

 

The Uselessness of History? Historian, Engineer, Brand Man

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Reprinted from The Oxford Historian, Hilary Term, 2018
I arrived in Oxford by train from Walsall on 10 October 1974. It was Election Day, the second within the year, and the talk in the JCR was of another hung Parliament. In that event, the Tory champagne chilling on ice would be mixed with Socialist stout to make Black Velvet, a name that promises more than the product delivers. The pundits were wrong, of course, and Wilson narrowly beat Heath, winning a wafer- thin majority of three seats. But this all passed me by, because that night was my first ever Hall at Brasenose College where I had arrived from Queen Mary’s Grammar School to read Modern History.

As pleased as my father was to see me win a place at Oxford, he made it clear that he would have preferred me to become an engineer in Cambridge. “What’s the point of a history degree? Isn’t it useless these days?” he’d said – a provocation that over the years I have been happy to confront. But for now, apart from the immediate anxiety that came from forced immersion in Anglo-Saxon Latin for Prelims held at the end of my first term, the daily regime of the Oxford historian seemed to comprise more carrot than stick.

Paul Walton at Farchynys, the Welsh Centre of Queen Mary’s School, Walsall
The red thread of the Oxford course was the history of our islands from the departure of the Romans to the beginning of the Great War: ‘a king-a-week’, we joked whilst time travelling at a brisk pace through feudalism, bastard feudalism, rising gentry and a declining aristocracy. Producing plays was my first love, but I much enjoyed forays into the Radcliffe Camera and beyond.

I was lucky enough to study the Thirty Years War with Robert Evans, to read the command-and-control papers of Pierre Séguier, Richelieu’s enforcer, under the patient gaze of Robin Briggs, and to spend many an hour trying to fathom out the causes of sundry Tudor rebellions with Penry Williams. On my way to Schools in June 1977, it seemed there was little of significance I didn’t know about the reign of Edward VI, the consumptive boy Tudor with the stunted reign. Three months later, I had forgotten it all because on the same day that Elvis died, I had become an advertising man.

A student career that combined producing plays with writing weekly history essays, sometimes under the cosh, was the perfect training programme for a job in advertising. Life at the agency normally consisted of a hectic scramble for a new angle on an old problem and then pitching it to clients. I’d also learned from the best that some historians are expert in the art of magnifying minimal differences. This, I soon discovered was also a very important skill for successful admen.

I enjoyed my work and seemed to do well at it, working on campaigns for Swedish cars, German beer and British Intelligence. I developed a particular knack for creating new brands, and in 1986, with a friend – another historian, we launched our own shop. This was one of the first agencies to specialise in innovation and new brand development. With more than a nod to my father, we called the new agency The Value Engineers. Thirty years later, it is still going strong, with offices in London and New York and some of the world’s biggest brands, including BP, BA and Unilever among its clients.

So many of the historian’s skills have proven useful to us over the years. For example, analysing the reasons for success and failure of a new product, building timelines for fast developing new markets or assessing the likely impact of trends, especially those involving social and technological change. We have reviewed the rise and fall of empires: Kodak, Blockbuster and Nokia. We have tracked our changing eating habits and seen brands like Quorn grow from a niche into the mainstream and even onto the menus of Oxford college lunches!

In 2005, The Value Engineers became part of the Cello Group plc. Since then both the Group and The Value Engineers have prospered, and in 2011 I was able to begin a strategic withdrawal from the world of marketing and to return to university to study for an MA in Creative Writing. One of the projects I started researching brought me back once more into the service of Clio. This involved writing the history of an English school’s relationship with a Welsh estuary. Again, I knew my time in the Honour School of Modern History had not to been completely wasted.

This story began one eventful weekend in November 1963. On a weekend when the President of the United States was assassinated, The Beatles released their second LP, and Dr Who exited a Police Box to confront the Daleks for the first time, a small convoy of cars carrying boys from Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Walsall, arrived on the Mawddach Estuary in Mid Wales. They were to spend the weekend in a converted old coach house. This was Farchynys, the school’s newly acquired adventure centre in southern Snowdonia, situated in the shadow of Cadair Idris, four miles from Barmouth and its iconic railway viaduct.

Every week for the following fifty years, successive generations of Marians, as Queen Mary’s folk are known, have made the hundred-mile journey to the coast and for the most part, have

Marians on The Mawddach (Strategol Publishing, 2017)
fallen in love with this special place. Their adventures have shown that estuaries are wonderfully productive ecosystems for growing both things and people. My new book, Marians on the Mawddach tells the stories of pupils and teachers, and the people they have met in a landscape that is dramatically different from that of their hometown in the heart of the Black Country.

As an Old Marian who loved the Mawddach, I jumped at the chance to help with the school’s campaign to raise funds to modernise the facilities at Farchynys. Writing a book seemed a good way to generate support and I wanted it to be as much of a celebration of people and place as it was a social history of a West Midlands grammar school at the end of the twentieth century.

So forty years after first arriving in Oxford, I found myself back in the Radcliffe Camera chasing down sources and finalising text. I came across a book by T.P. Ellis, another historian who wrote a history of Dolgellau and Llanelltyd in the 1920s. He seemed a little pessimistic:

“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.”

I thought about my father’s provocation to my eighteen-year-old self and smiled. I was very happy to be an historian. History, the salt of life, is important work. I was also happy to be an engineer and a brand storyteller; the symbiotic twist of these career threads I know now to have been powerful, stimulating and not unlucrative.

Paul Christopher Walton

Born in Staffordshire, Paul took his BA in 1977, co- wrote Bluff Your Way in Marketing and helped unleash Quorn upon an unsuspecting world. It was inevitable that some of this biomass would return to fuel his first novel, Historyland, a dark comedy set in a future England that has become a giant theme park owned by bigtech.

Marians on The Mawddach

By Paul Christopher Walton

 

Strategol Publishing, 2017

ISBN: 978 0 99579 190 9

http://www.mariansonthemawddach.com

 

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Another Job for Cyril (1925 -2018)

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Who’ll scan my job and scout

The strategic challenges that lie ahead of me?

Who’ll be my hanging wing-man

And place the pencil cross with laser touch?

Who’ll choose the tools and chide

My lax preservation of lithium cells?

Who’ll patiently banish rust from contacts

And soon revive the power-tool’s insistent torque?

Who’ll select the bit to bite the wall’s recalcitrance?

And guide my angle of attack and steady, steady it

Against the white emulsioned concrete?

Who’ll be the matchstick man

To plug the mortar of my unreliable first attempt

And safely hang the artwork from its helix thread?

Another picture sorted in the gallery of life!

But one job you left undone before you went,

Was how to fill the hole you’ve left us with?

 

Poems of Place: The Halt, 1967

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Revising on railway line, post Beeching Chris Sheffield c 1967 c Chris Davies (2)

 

Dr. Beeching arrives at Dr. Williams’ School in Dolgellau

Somewhere on the Mawddach, excavating

The sedimentary layers of my youth

I found your smile.

In sepia, framed transgressive

And lounging between

The empty parallels of stark infinity,

You spoke:

Confident, optimistic and open

Even at a point of closure.

Full of possibilities,

You signaled encouragement and hope

Amidst the dissolution,

And with that look, advertised

The essence of youth’s big adventure

Which fifty years later I savoured once more.

 

October 3, 2017

I am grateful to Jennie and colleagues at Dr Williams on the web for permission to feature the photograph from the website which inspired this poem.

Please discover more at http://www.dwsoga.org.uk

 

 

David Bernstein: The Philosopher of SPIV

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Lines written in 1982 to celebrate the award of the Mackintosh Medal to David Bernstein – being also a brief exposition on the theories of Advertisement Effect in one canto

Nil posse creari de nilo. (Lucretius)

Lucretius wasn’t always right!

 

Sing, O muse of modern epic themes,

Of selling soapsuds, and of selling dreams:

Behold that world of commerce set apart,

An inexact science in a bastard art!

And in this nexus, let us list with care

Those philosophies which are practised there.

With surgeon’s skill and knife we will dissect

All admen’s Theories of Effect.

That sacred word, enough to make the client pay

His artwork and production bills with less delay.

First, in this field, the keystone of the arch

We sing, with pride, of Doctor Daniel Starch.

“All ads to be successful”, he nearly said,

“Must of course be seen and read

But more than that, before your chance has gone

It must be remembered to be acted on”

Great sage, O Starch, your greatness sits

In teaching us, good puff persuades in bits.

Another chap (Anon) reworked Dan’s law

And summed it up with letters four.

“Let our darling AIDA take her bow,

To gain attention and our interest now;

But after, when desire is raised in lieu

Her call to action entices you”.

Of all the men whom darling Aida met,

There stands a group especially in her debt.

The men of Procter, so the bards do tell

Liked her rubric and loved her well

Too much, in fact; consumed by lust

All Aida’s wisdom has been ground to dust.

For all the best becomes the worst at last

When madmen play the rules too hard and fast!

Day-after-recall’s not the best of tools

Except for client knaves or research fools!

Too much!

Let us sing of greatness once again:

Of Joyce and Channon, of Segeula’s men!

Of Rosser Reeve’s USP

Of charming, wily David Ogilvy

“At sixty miles an hour, all you’ll hear

Is the sound of chasing taxmen coming near.”

And last of all, we sing of D.E.B

(Who, it must be said, as yet employs me)

In his book, (so the one who’s read it said)

“All art, with science, is nice ‘n’ neatly wed”

And so, all admen who seek out effect,

With page one five five your eyes connect:

“All ads to convince must visible be,

And pregnant stand with identity

But without simple promise, they’ve far to go

Along that line to positive cash flow”

With words like these, he won old Tosh’s crown

So was it then for this,  that David wore that gown?

 

September 1982

 

Post Scriptum:

David died in August 2017 aged 88.

He had a profound effect upon so many people, especially me.

PCW

 

 

 

 

 

 

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