Bad air and opium

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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)

Walking the Medway

2019 is coming to the end with the exciting news that I have been selected to receive a grant from Arts Council England under their highly competitive Developing Your Creative Practice scheme.

The grant will enable me to take a year to experiment in a new form: novelised memoir. I will walk the entire Medway, writing about it as I walk. Writers will join me on this walk to tell me their stories of the Medway which I will add to the narrative.

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Our words on your lips – poetry cd

poetry_cd I have a poem on this, alongside 9 other Kent poets.
Produced by Lenny’s Studios – this is available from the studio shop, and can be posted for an additional £1.60.

Poets: Dave James Horn, Mark Holihan, Faded Scribblings, Connor Sansby, Setareh Ebrahimi, Matt Chamberlain, Barry Fentiman Hall, Henry Madicott, Neanderthal Bard, Sam Rapp.

You can buy a CD on Facebook.  Or download on itunes.

Vicar’s Picnic poetry

I performed a few favourites and new poems at the Vicar’s Picnic, a 2-day Kent music and arts festival, on 15 July.

Here is a poem about the festival (also published in Crack the Spine 218).

ENGLAND FORGETS

England forgets
And gets loose
On scuffed golden
Fields of wilt and weeds
It bares its back
And shows its best
Side to the sky
Pleading the beams
To fall a little longer
Mizzed by rain
For long months
We get high on heat
And we love each other
With an honesty
That cannot be bottled
And kept for when
The clouds return
We are knocking back
The now
A song we know
Is the breath of trees
We take it way back
And laugh at anything
Not embarrassed
To embrace, we part
Slow till only fingers tip
And let go
Walking like myths
On familiar streets
At midnight
That smell of honeysuckle
Or some such
Longing out the high
We glow still for a while
Until the heat leaves us
And life goes on as
England remembers itself
With half a smile
Until the next time

 

 

 

Recent homes found for lost writings

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Margate Gals

Here are some of my poems that have found homes in a host of lovely websites.

SELLING ELIOT BY THE POUND in Thanet Poetry Journal Volume 1.

THE ROAD TO DOMESTOS in Picaroon no 8.

BIRDSONG on I am not a silent poet.

EBORACUM MON AMI on Stories for homes online edition.

April’s Gigs

This month has been a busy one with poetry performances.

Roundabout Nights presents Paint it Black – as part of the Paint The Town Festival. 

On 24th April, I hosted a showcase of poetic talent from the Medway and beyond, riffing on issues of mental health as part of the Paint the Town Festival.

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Wordsmithery and Keely Augustus from Paint The Town Festival

Soul food and sonnets at Olby’s Soul Food Cafe, Margate. 

My first performance at this event on 27 April, thanks to the host Neanderthal Bard.

Fringe Poetry at Maidstone Fringe Festival at the Style and Winch.

29 April, a really enjoyable afternoon with a really great bill, thanks to the host, Jon Terranova.