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Month: June 2015

Walking through history

On Saturday we joined a group of about twenty five of our friends to spend a leisurely day in the region of Windsor Great Park and Runnymede, exploring various monuments before the crowds descend for the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta on June 15th.

IMG_0642Our first stop was at the Air Forces Memorial at Englefield Green, where the names of all the airwomen and airmen of the British Empire who were killed in World War II – all 20,456 of them – are recorded, carved in stone. The monument was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, who was also the architect of Guildford Cathedral; and as I know that building extremely well, it was fascinating to see many of the same motifs and architectural vocabulary here as in that other building. A spiral staircase led up to the roof of the monument, from where we had stunning views down over the river, the reservoirs, Heathrow airport and even Windsor Castle.

Our next stop was the Magna Carta Memorial itself – also designed by Maufe. The full name, Magna Carta Libertatum, gives a little more clue as to what it was all about. Sadly, though, no one took much notice of the original charter after it had been sealed, rather than signed, by the king; and it was repealed and reinstated several times through history. It didn’t really have much to do with democracy: it didn’t affect normal people, but just the relationship between the king and the barons. And yet we uphold it as some sort of founding document of our rights and liberties.

I think this is because it has become a symbol rather than an historical record. Although it didn’t really survive the vicissitudes of royal misbehaviour, or that of the aristocracy in the form of barons, much of what it signified has passed down to us in elements of, for instance, habeas corpus, the American constitution and our very ideas of what is a decent society. So, for instance, it established the fact that monarchs had to abide by the law as much as commoners, that miscreants should be tried by jury and that punishment should fit the crime.

We found ourselves whisked forward in time travel as inscribed into the stone were the words ‘This plaque was unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal, 15 June 2015’. As we were visiting on 13th June, we thought this solid assertion was a little premature, and we were left hoping that the princess did not suffer any mishaps between then and her appearance two days later.

Our final stop of historical importance was the John F Kennedy memorial. Here we entered the United States, as an acre of land was given by Britain to the US for a fitting memorial to their assassinated President. We climbed up the path through a peaceful glade to the memorial itself, which wIMG_0650as designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. Part of the inspiration for his work is said to have been Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the experience of climbing up to the monument had a contemplative feeling. I found myself reflecting, sadly, not only on that crazy death, but on so many other areas of violence and killing in the world today.

In between these visits, we watched pleasure craft on the Thames, relaxed under a huge oak tree in a meadow for our picnic lunch and, of course, engaged in constant conversation and general merry-making.




Moor art and poetry

We spent last weekend savouring two of the lesser-known delights of the South West moors. We started on Friday on Dartmoor and then moved on to Bodmin Moor that evening.

H at DelamoreDelamore House is on the edge of Dartmoor, and is of special interest to us because it used to be owned by the same family as lived in the house that now contains our apartment. Although it is considerably grander (our house was the family’s ‘summer house’), there were similarities and common features, including a tholos, or cromlech. tholos


‘Brick chair’ by Amy Cooper 

Every year, for the whole of May, Delamore House hosts an art and sculpture exhibition, and we just managed to get there before the end of the month. Both the ground floor of the house, and a stable block across the meadow, were full of paintings; and everywhere we went in the garden we found fascinating sculptures. Peacock, Dot Kuzniar

‘Peacock’, by Dot Kuzniar


‘Dancing meadow’ by Nicola Crocker

Dancing meadow, Nicola Crocker figure


I really liked this head sculpture, and its companion piece which was a sadder face. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to discover who the sculptor was, so if any of you know, please send me a message.


As one might expect with so many exhibits, they were not all of the same high quality, but in general the standard was good, and some works were excellent.

‘Floating glass sphere’ by Sue Smith
Sue Smith, Floating glass sphere

Quite apart from the art, the gardens were exquisite – and this is probably one reason why the month of May is chosen for the exhibition.

burning bush




more beauty

The reason for our visit to Bodmin Moor was that I was reading at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. David Woolley and Ann Gray have been running this excellent festival for the last four years, and have created a very special atmosphere with a stunning line-up of poets. On the Friday evening we had a launch party, then settled down for the first reading, which in terms of quality and excitement set the tone for the whole weekend. The two poets this first evening were Sinead Morrissey and David Harsent, the latest two winners of the prestigious T S Eliot prize, and the festival could not possibly have got off to a better start.

Sinead MorrisseySinead led a very good workshop the next morning. The event sparkled from start to finish, both because of Sinead’s stimulating input on abstract and concrete writing, and also because the fifteen participants all had intelligent, sensitive and lucid contributions to make.

My reading came next, shared with two lovely Oversteps poets: Elisabeth Rowe and Mark Totterdell. We were in a conservatory room at this stage, and the sun was beating down; but both we and the audience stayed awake and everyone was ‘warm'(!) and appreciative.

Logo_BMPFThis was followed by readings by Matthew Francis and Anthony Wilson, which I very much enjoyed. I knew both of these poets a little, but had not heard them read before; so it was a great pleasure. Unfortunately I had to leave after this, as I had another appointment the next morning. I therefore missed a number of other treats. If the programme is anything like as good next year, I recommend that poetry-lovers make the journey to this corner of England, as Bodmin Moor is a festival that is well-worth attending. I shall have to hope that I get another invitation!

The venue for the festival is the Sterts Theatre at Upton Cross, and the theatre itself is a large amphitheatre covered by a giant awning. As the temperature at night was still a little low front coverfor the time of year, we were relieved to discover that the poetry festival actually takes place in adjacent buildings, complete with walls and roof.

We, of course, spent the night in our camper van, where we were both snug and peaceful. As I included some poems from my latest book (Notes from a Camper Van) in my reading, this was appropriate.

Congratulations to Ann and David on a wonderful festival.