Conjuring the summer alone

Like most people, my plans have had to change a little over the last few months. I had hoped to be accompanied by various like minded souls on my travels around the river. Instead I have had to opt for isolation and introspection rather than conversation. One day maybe that will change. I have not been well of late but of course I remain untested as we cannot seem to do that properly in this country. May 1st has long been a date seared into the Meanderthal calendar. An early start and a walk to local beauty spot where there will be friends and dancing. Where we will join with Jack In The Green to conjure the summer. Obviously that was impossible this year. So I went there unwell and alone, (observing social distancing rules,) and I was in bed for 4 days afterwards. But the summer is coming and I played my part…


… There are officially three phases to the rising of the sun. Astronomical Dawn occurs when the geometric centre of the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. It is the first leavening of the absolute darkness that hid me and so much else as I left the house on past May Days and made my way through The Heights. The older terraced buildings at the bottom end of Palmerston Road are lent a certain grandeur by the weak streetlighting placed at eave level, a gilding that they do not possess in daylight. The golden glow of more hopeful times 120 years past.

I am late away today as there is nobody to meet and no event to join with. It is probably past the point of Nautical Dawn (12 degrees below the horizon), where there are still stars for old navigators to sail by. Civil dawn (6 degrees below the horizon) is giving way to actual sunrise. The light is growing in the crack between a flat grey duvet of cloud and the slate rooftops giving the street a faint corona if you like. Like the goddess Isis that word will never be used again for such elemental ekphrasis without some qualification, or maybe not be used at all. It will never polish up now.

covid19bench


Extract from work in progress – Meanderthal, May Day 2020.

366 Second Hand Songs

It occurred to me, while watching Eddi Reader interpret La Vie En Rose at new year that some of my favourite versions of songs are not by the original artist. So I started posting one a day. Obvious ones. Not so obvious ones. Some mad ones and some plain bad ones. As John Peel might have said once, “I don’t like it but you might”.

Very quickly people started following them and commenting on them, we found that we had different memories of the same songs. They mattered to us. So now I have to carry on and finish this thing. The list that follows is as much for me to remember where I’ve been (in life as much as in this project) as it is for you to maybe find a piece of magic that you never knew existed. Have a listen. You might uncover some memories you never knew you had…

See the list in full >>lps

The year turns in the Eye of England

 

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Tonbridge School

The place: Tonbridge, UK. 

The time: 31 Dec 2019 to 1 Jan 2020

“England readies for the ’20s, waiting for a train. 3 boys, 1 girl playing Smurfette, happening, becoming something tonight. Pinked knees bulging lattice from faded denim. Flasks flashed and put back. Might be Ribena for all she knows. Just boys putting on the show, college cut, joshed high above the ears. Going there soon in chimekiss dreams.

3 lads kneeskin still visible at the joint. Woman flashed on phones, hip movements, copping a stance. Hair still joshing but time is running out for the crown. Compensating at the chins. Been there done that fart gags and macbluster. Learned at so many stations before, flashing the flask themselves.

The night is young for all of them, younger for some, their expectations meeting in the middle of nowhere. The eye winks and the rite is calling.

Three carriage edge-express comes to collect. Takes them to the promised land. Darkest England plays tonight.

Ladboys never change until life changes them. Cans pop and crews relax into filmy night, nod to other crews, bantzing about futureshags and sexlies, random trivia. Wahaying their words seasoned with irony, reminiscing about school days, who got hitched, who has kids.

Rolling in the deeps through Beltring and the Farleighs. Yalding under water again…”

(Extract from Tonbridge circuit walk, 1/1/20)

 

Bristol November 2019: graffiti and poetry

I was invited to perform at the Barclay Square Poetry Revue on 26 November.  (Images and film by Chris Watson, Music Eye.)

Here is a link to some video footage of ‘Fossil Fuel’ a poem from my book, England, my dandelion heart (available from Wordsmithery) and a new poem ‘Headless John walks the field of fire in September’.

Bad air and opium

barry_cliffe

Up until the end of the 19th century malaria was a scourge of the eastern marsh areas of England, and the peninsula was no different. The stagnant brackish pools and creeks that abounded here were the perfect environment for the Anopheles mosquito that carries the virus. Not that anyone knew that then. Mal-aria literally means “bad air”, the miasmic theory of disease still holding sway.

Across Europe, particularly in Italy, malaria was very common, and necessity bringing invention, wealthy cardinals and such required relief from its effects. My father remembers makeshift signs erected around the Bay Of Naples during World War 2 warning troops that they were entering a “malaria area”.  Quinine obtained from Cinchona bark brought back from Peru by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century became widely used for that purpose. It may well have been used in the Kent marshes also but the cost of obtaining it and protestant antipathy to the “Jesuit Bark” may have hampered its acceptance as a remedy here. At least until it was used to cure Charles II at any rate.

The sweaters and shiverers of The Hundred preferred the more English prescription of ale and opium. It has been noted that throughout the 17- and 1800s there was an established tradition of Kent brewers producing opium based beers. Many local people grew hemp and self-administered that. As one Cliffe cleric remarked “the poor do not attend church from the use of spiritous liquors which the bad air seems to render necessary as a protection from agues”. The botanist Thomas Muffet (he allegedly of the nursery rhyme beginning with the words Little Miss…) suggested the eating of spiders. It’s no wonder the people of the wetlands turned to drink and strong recipes.

(Extract from Cliffe to Cooling walk, 30/10/19)