Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Nearer To Thee...

I park in a layby and step out into the Essex sun, pick up my disposable camera, and look around at a place I have never before graced with my ephemeral presence.
A small hamlet, a couple of miles east of Harlow.
I stroll along the side of a country road, maybe a hundred yards, before halting and gazing across at the row of mature oaks and yews, concealing what lay behind. A small white gate is visible at the end of the row, and I cross the road and enter the grounds
The trees block sunlight, shadows, moss and earthy scents pervading my senses. I move beyond the trees, into the sunlight, onto soft but damp grass that quickly soaks my trainers, moving among the stones, their Victorian etchings gradually fading with the onslaught of time and lost memories.
The tomb stands in the diffuse morning light, a solid rectangle covering a notable family, now resting in their pastoral slumber here in the peace eternal. A mile away, traffic pours its perpetual rumble into the atmosphere, sounding in these secluded bowers like the humming of a Deity.
I squat, trace out the name of the youngest daughter, dead in 1848 at the age of 43. Above her name I see the epitaph 'Nearer My God To Thee'.
I wonder how many tombs that line has appeared on. Possibly thousands, considering its significance to the recently departed. But on this marble monument, ivy beginning its serpentine crawl toward the stark words, it truly has relevance. 'Nearer My God To Thee'.
The hymn was played at the funeral of the assassinated President, James Garfield. Its first two lines were the last words of a later assassinated President, William McKinley. It was the last song played by the band on the RMS Titanic as it slid inexorably toward its doom. It was the hymn written by the actress and poet buried below the monument before me.
Clearly it holds considerable relevance to our cousins across the ocean, and indeed the words on this tomb were restored by an American Christian organisation shortly after the Second World War.
I hold my camera, peer at the words through the claustrophobic aspect of a small lens, and press the shutter. I lower the camera, staring with my own eyes at the age-worn words.
Sarah Flower Adams, I briefly snap my eyes shut, visualising the pencil drawing of you I know, the lovely brunette with a smile of intelligence and innocence. Did you know, could you possibly have imagined, the effect of your song upon future generations of your fellow believers? When you wrote your words, could you see ahead, to their whisper on the lips of a dying President, their resonance filling a freezing Atlantic air in the midst of hopeless screaming and groaning, tortured metal?
Of course not. Which is why you rest in such sylvan peace, away from the vissicitudes of a world that barely remembers your name
I move away, the camera returning to my pocket, noticing the lack of any faint trails snaking between the surrounding monuments, the proof that this place is rarely disturbed by the modern world.

Goodbye, Sarah. Your moment of inspiration has made you immortal through your words.
Sarah Flower Adams 1805-1848

The Book That Changed The World

...was On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin, although its follow-up The Descent Of Man raised equally many questions. The challenge this presented to the doctrine of Creationism, so central to the idea of faith in a Christian society, was immense. Scholars still debate its points now, and the Catholic Church did not recognise the theory of evolution until 1996. It took Darwin himself 20 years to publish, so nervous he was of the profound impact that it would have.
Darwin's home, at Downe in Kent, is the size of a manor house (it was enlarged to house his wife, seven children, various servants and a large flow of family and friends visiting) yet seems surprisingly homely. Many of the rooms have been restored to their Victorian state, and contain much of the Darwin family's paraphernalia. A piano in the drawing room. Croquet and tennis equipment in a cupboard by the back door. Drawings and paintings of the family adorning the walls.
A balance is struck between Darwin the family man and Darwin the scientist. His cluttered study is viewable, containing many of his scientific effects - microscopes, specimen collections, notes. It's a very strange feeling, to stand there and visualise the man himself sitting in THAT chair, hunched over THAT table, writing the words that would change the world. And yet he would happily allow the children to run up and down the corridors, to treat the house as a playground, to move in and out of his scientific inmost sanctum when the needed to borrow some of the equipment for their own ends.
History is not about places, or events, or even time. It is about people. The people who built the places, shaped the events, marked our progress through time, as the human race developed. Evolved, you could say.
Downe House is about family. That is what makes it so special and, as my children ran through the orchard and played games on the cracked rectangle of concrete that was once Charles Darwin's tennis court, I could see a reflection of humanity that 'History' can often overlook. Perhaps that's why I continue to take them to places like this, and will continue to do so until they're old enough to go out in the world and make their own history.

Past Imperfect: 1985 - Pimlico

...the youths traversed Green Park diagonally, bypassed Buckingham Palace and found themselves in the district of Victoria. The tower of Westminster Cathedral dominated the area, and presently they ambled past the religious edifice and turned left into a road called Carlisle Place. And here, in this unassuming road, did their day's adventure truly begin.
Carlisle Place: a quiet road of terraced, three-storey Georgian-style houses, most of which had been converted into flats or offices. The youths had strolled half the length of the road when Jason broke from the group and stepped toward the front of the nearest building, briefly inspecting a brass plaque screwed to the facade.
"What's up?" Lea asked when the curious one returned to the group.
"Nothing much," Jason sighed as the strolling resumed, "Just wondered if it was a flat or an office." An inquisitive expression crossed his face. "How much profit do you reckon you could make if you bought one of these gaffs, converted it into flats, and sold them separately?"
"It's an expensive area," Mark conceded.
Jason nodded. "I reckon you could make a fortune."
"Better stop talking about money," Mark smirked, "You know how much it upsets Lea."
"Up yours," snorted Lea, whose perpetual lack of funds was something of a standing joke. Jason idly retrieved his black marker pen from his pocket and, as he walked, ran it across the equally black mews railings they were passing.
"The ink isn't showing up, it's black on black," Lea pointed out.
"Doesn't matter, "Jason sniffed, "The pen's making a lovely 'drrrr' sound."
Mark shook his head in mock sadness. "Little things please little minds."
"Little minds, big meat."
Lea gazed at him in affected innocence. "Is that true?"
They had, by now, traversed approximately three-quarters of the length of Carlisle Place and, at this point, Mark happened to glance over his shoulder. What he saw caused him a high degree of alarm. A big, hirsute policeman was about fifty metres to their rear, striding at a disturbingly fast pace, his glaring eyes bulging from a face that was virtually all beard.
"Plod's behind us," Mark told his companions, "Speed up a bit."
Jason and Lea knew better than to follow his rearward glance, knowing that to do so would advertise a collective guilt complex. Suppressing this instinct, they increased their pace, reached the end of the road and turned left at the T-junction. The policeman fell out of sight as the end-terrace of Carlisle Place interrupted their view. Mark gestured for his companions to stop, then cautiously peeked back around the corner.
The policeman was now haring along Carlisle Place in their wake. For a second Mark stood frozen, transfixed by the ludicrous vision of the policeman's helmet bobbing frantically as he ran. Then he found his voice.
"He's running! Leg it!"
Nobody stopped to wonder why they should flee; it just seemed to be the most natural course of action to employ. They sprinted across the junction and into a diverging street, their trainers slapping the pavement in a rapid staccato rythym. They were now in the Pimlico area, unfamiliar terrain for all three, but the fact that they were running blindly did nothing to check their pace. The group priority was to elude the officer. Once that task had been accomplished, they could take the time to figure where the hell their flight had carried them. As they neared the end of this second road, Mark once again looked back to verify the progress of their pursuer. He saw the policeman at the bottom of the road, having lost ground, but still running and now barking into his radio.
"He's calling reinforcements!" Mark yelled as they reached the end of the road, "Turn right! Turn right!"
They turned hard to starboard and there, stretched out in front of them in all its gargantuan glory, was Vauxhall Bridge Road - a monstrous urban highway crammd with buses, taxis and a plethora of assorted civil traffic. On the other side of this road stood the closest that Pimlico could boast for an inner-city sprawl: the Lillington Gardens Estate. The youths weaved their reckless way across the potentially lethal road and immersed themselves in the concrete sea of the Estate.
Hearts slapping alarmingly in their chests, senses of direction thoroughly disorientated, they forced themselves to slow down and walk.Their converstaion was rent with stress.
"Where are we?" Jason pleaded.
"Dunno," Mark told him, offering no comfort.
"Where are we going?" came Lea's interrogative.
Mark shrugged helplessly. "Dunno that either."
"In that case," Jason spat with mounting fear, "What are we gonna do now?"
Mark simply shot him a look of baffled indecision, and Jason knew that this would be the only answer forthcoming. They were fugitives in an alien area, and possessed no knowldge of the geography or nature of that area. From this moment forward, luck would be the only relevant factor.
They broke out of the concrete labyrinth and faltered on the kerb of a thin service road that traversed the centre of the Lillington Gardens Estate. Looking left, they saw that the service road flowed into Vauxhall Bridge Road in much the same way as a ditch might flow into an estuary. Looking right, they saw a considerably quieter byway called Tachbrook Street. Had they known the topography of Pimlico, they would have also known that their only chance of escaping detection would be to run to ground in the Estate and wait for the helpful cloak of night. Neither did their knowledge extend to the fact that a plain-clothed copper on Vauxhall Bridge Road had seen them dive into the Estate and, alerted by the message panted across the airwaves by the hirsute pursuer, had immediately raised the alarm.
Mark, Jason  and Lea stepped into the open and onto Tachbrook Street, where they turned south. Their ignorance continued unabated, shieding them from panic. A walk of a hundred metres would take them to Pimlico Underground Station and consequent freedom, but they were not aware of this fact. They were equally ignorant of the fact that the Metropolitan Police, foreseeing this particular escape route, were circling the Estate like Indians round a wagon train. Relying purely on luck, that most capricious of fortunes, they began to walk.
They covered about ten feet.
An unmarked, scarlet police car drew to the kerb alongside them. "Hold it, lads," the driver ordered as he bounded energetically from his seat and flashed his ID. The faces of the young men dropped. So did Lea's marker pen, clattering to the pavement next to Mark. Hardly a bat of an eyelid later, the law enforcement buzzards swooped upon their cowering teenage prey.
They homed in from every feasible direction. Marked and unmarked police cars, accompanied by two vans, closed on the point of apprehension in Tachbrook Street, Pimlico. Fifteen constables, four sergeants and an inspector were on the scene. Tachbrook had transmogrified from a peaceful road into the scene of a Major Incident. The three halted young men were, to use a mild term, completely overwhelmed.
The big, hairy officer who had begun the pursuit stormed into the chaos, grabbed hold of Jason, bundled him into a nearby doorway and started to snarl his ire. Lea was hurriedly packed into the back of a van for interrogation and a young, smooth-faced constable accused mark of possessing the discarded marker pen.
"I'm afraid that pen's not mine," Mark refuted, meekly yet truthfully.
"You were seen to drop it," the constable elaborated in a tone that suggested Mark had better start telling the truth. Mark, realising the futility of arguing with somebody who was absolutely convinced of his own infallibility, pulled his own pen from his pocket. "That pen's not mine," he insisted quietly, "This pen is mine."
The policeman frowned and promptly relieved Mark of the offending article. The writing accoutrements of Lea and Jason were likewise confiscated.
An inquisitive crowd gathered, and some of the police were employed to keep them at bay. Jason, still being bawled out by the yeti, took his mind briefly from his predicament by noticing that the crowd seemed to be comprised mostly of young blacks from the Lillington Gardens Estate. he mused upon how novel this situation must be for inner-city London - a crowd of blacks gathering to watch three whites being arrested in a dramatic case of Metropolitan Police overkill.
Still stunned by the scale of the swoop, the trio were carefully kept separated from one another and were compelled to explain their motives for peeking in windows. Were they burglars? Were they vandals? The accusations were strenuously denied, and eventually the youths were brought together, pushed into one of the vans and driven away from the scene.
They sat quietly in the van, under the watchful eye of a copper with a bored expression. Lea clasped his hands together in his lap, stared blankly at the floor of the van and attempted to predict the next development in this bizarre event. He and his friends had committed no crime - at least, no crime that could be proven - so no repercussions should be forthcoming from that quarter. On the other hand, they had run from that first policeman, so a natural assumption of guilt would have been drawn, and that assumption had led to a considerable utilisation of resources and manpower on the part of the Met. They were bound to feel a little aggrieved about that. Lea confronted himself with the possibility that the three of them were going to be driven to a quiet alley and professionally beaten up. No great lover of pain, he felt what little remained of his spirit enervate to a distinct low. Half a minute of a good, sound walloping, and he knew that he would even admit to being on the grassy knoll.
Jason gazed at the roof, too deep in self-contemplation to consider any forthcoming surprises. For once, his famous habit of mouthing off to coppers had eluded him. He could only ascribe this uncharacteristic muteness to the sudden and shocking way in which events had soured. His natural effrontery had been crushed into dormancy. He had been so sure, upon stepping out on Tachbrook Street, that they had once again slipped from the clutches of their natural adversaries. Christ, had that confidence been thoroughly disproved.
While Lea cogitated upon the future and Jason reflected upon the past, Mark pondered the present. Seated by the back doors of the van, he watched external activity rush by. Twilight had descended, and lights blinked into existence across the mighty city. The gaudy neon glow of the Apollo Victoria theatre, triumphantly proclaiming the presence within of Starlight Express, moved into his perspective. His eyebrows raised in confusion. Surely they had passed that same theatre a minute ago? He switched his attention to the interior of the vehicle. Lea and Jason remained silent, immersed in their musings, and the policeman seemed indifferent to his surroundings. Mark returned his attention to the world outside the van, and began to scrutinise passing landmarks.
After less than a minute the large, illuminated herald of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rollerskating musical once again crossed the vista. Mark felt his facial muscles relax as his thoughts began to coalesce. The van was driving in circles, and he understood why. The police were waiting. They were waiting for confirmation of the three youths' names and addresses, after which they would certainly be released.
Sure enough, instructions were presently relayed over the radio and the van drew to a stop opposite Victoria Station. The rear doors were opened ffrom the outside, and there stood the tall and impassive Inspector.
"I don't know if you were telling the truth or if you were just plain lucky," the Inspector snapped, "but I want you out of London now. I don't want to see you again. Get yourselves back to Basildon."
His feelings were reciprocated, and the young men nodded in enthusiastic agreement as they gratefully alighted from the van. Foregoing a final, backward glance at their brief and mobile prison, they navigated the width of the road and entered the bustling yet comforting ambience of Victoria Station.
"I don't particularly want to see him again, either," commented Jason as they cut a path to the turnstiles.
"And the rest of his advice?" Mark mentioned, pulling his train ticket from a pocket, "Fancy getting out of London?"
"No chance," Lea snorted, checking his watch, "Kevin'll be finishing at the store soon. Let's get ourselves to Oxford Street.'

Poe Faced

The lemur considers carefully. The girl is offering food - should it take it, or sit on its tree in disdain?
It decides... and leaps, adhering to the wire of its cage with sharp, sure claws, taking the long stem of grass being offered and chewing on it with instinctive passion.
"Nice one," I praise while watching on the small screen of my camera phone. The episode has now been captured on video for posterity, or until I get a new phone. My daughter smiles in delight as the animal feeds from her hand.
I turn and observe the next cage. A large raven sits on its perch, observing me with beady eye. I move closer, holding the camera phone close to the mesh. The raven observes, waiting for its close up, Mr DeMille.
It strikes, beak scything through the gaps in the mesh, knocking the gadget out of my hand. I catch it nimbly before it hits the floor.
The children laugh.
I stare at the raven. The raven stares back.
I ponder for a moment.
I slowly bring the camera phone up, holding it against the wire for a second time.
The raven strikes; I pull back, reaching out with my other hand and giving a dry slap to the inch of beak protruding through the mesh.
"Quark," says the raven indignantly, flying to the back of the cage and settling upon another perch.
I gaze at it in grim satisfaction. It stares back with quiet menace.
Quoth the raven nevermore.

Past Imperfect: 1986 - 'Twas The Night Before Sport Aid...

Replete with alcoholic beverage, the quartet headed West, drunkenly jaywalking the Bow Flyover while on their merry way to the nearest Underground Station at Bow Road. The West End, when they reached it, continued to be as busy as always, and the visitors spent money in various Soho amusement arcades until the early hours of Sunday morning. Eventually tiring of dispensing good money into fruit machines, they departed for Green Park. A unanimous decision had already been reached (halfway across the flyover) to use the Park as a dosshouse. 'Borrowing ' some deckchairs from a closed hiring point, they settled themselves in a dark spot below some low hanging trees and listened to the relaxing rhythm of the perpetual traffic on Piccadilly.
Jason, feeling the tension of the day disperse, clasped his hands behind his head, fidgeted himself into a comfortable position in his deckchair, and turned his head to gaze at Lea [recently returned from the States after working at a Summer Camp].
"So, Lea, what was it you got chucked out of America for?"
Lea groaned and buried his head in his hands. "I didn't get chucked out," he mumbled through his fingers.
"Oh no, that's right," Jason continued smoothly, "You left of your own free will. Why was that, exactly?"
"You were never clear about that business," Kevin chimed in accusingly, enjoying Lea's discomfort, "Come on, Lea, tell us. There're no secrets among mates, surely?"
Lea raised his face and sighed in resignation. "Okay... if you must know... I belted a kid."
"Lea!" Mark frowned in mock reproach, "Child abuse is a very serious offence, you know"
"It wasn't child abuse," Steve snapped, "The little fucker pulled a butterfly knife on me. I was well within my rights to give him a slap."
"Pity your bosses didn't see it that way," Jason drawled, keeping up the castigation.
"Look, the day it happens to you is the day you can mock," Lea warned, "What would you have done, eh? In all seriousness?"
"A kid, eh?" Mark murmured, "You could have offered him a sweetie if he'd put the blade away."
"A sweet!" Lea snorted, "The only candy these little toerags were into was nose candy."
"So if he brandished a knife at you, how come you carried the can?" queried the curious Kevin.
"Apparently I was supposed to just walk away, instead of which I gave the little oik a good clout. The camp got terrified of possible litigation."
"Another career bites the dust," Jason commented.
Lea shook his head with amusement. "It was just a Summer job, never a career. I only did it for the chance to see America. Now I'm back, I suppose I'll go back to my old lifeguard job."
They fell quiet for a moment, their musings underlined by the distant traffic.
"What time is it?" Mark asked presently.
Kevin checked his watch. "Two."
"I'm not in the least bit tired," Lea complained.
Jason stared in agreement. "Neither am I."
"So what can we do to pass the time?" Kevin asked, "I mean, we've decided to spend the night in Green Park, but it's not exactly crawling with nightlife, is it?"
"We could go for a walk across the road, check out Hyde Park," Mark suggested.
"Don't know if I can be bothered," Jason grumbled.
"Fine by me," Lea claimed, rising from his deckchair and stretching his arms, "There's nothing to stop you from staying here and chatting to any drunks or junkies that stroll through the Park. Who's coming?"
Kevin and Mark signalled their willingness by standing from their deckchairs. Jason swore quietly to himself. As much as he wished to stay here and doss in his deckchair, he had no desire to remain in the unfamiliar environs of the Park by himself. With an expression of saturnine reluctance, he assumed a vertical position and snapped, "Come on then, lead the way."
They stumbled across Green Park and departed through a gate in the north-western corner. Before them lay the great junction of Piccadilly, Park Lane, Constitution Hill and Grosvenor Place: the junction known as Hyde Park Corner. In the centre of this space stood a large bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington, sitting astride a regal stallion.
"Surely it would have been more appropriate for a statue of the Iron Duke to actually have been cast in iron?" Mark noted, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
"Yeah, but by now we'd be calling him the Rusty Duke," Jason grinned.
As he and his friends gazed at the impressive sculpture, Mark thought of an excellent way to pull a fast one on... Lea. Yes, Lea was the only one likely to fall for this particular prank. Grinning mischieviously, Mark bounded up the statue's plinth and began a clambering ascent. Just as predicted, Lea - never one to shy away from proving who was the best climber of the bunch - also sprang forward and commenced to scramble with considerable alacrity up the bronze titan, sweeping rapidly past the more sluggish Mark. He scaled a large portion of the Duke before glancing earthwards... and noticing that his companions had all absconded. Lea cursed and wildly checked his surroundings - and there they were, sprinting across the road, on a direct course for Hyde Park. Lea cursed again, feeling immensely foolish at succumbing so easily to one of Mark's silly pranks, and descended the incongruous bronze with as much haste as personal safety would allow. The instant he felt solid ground beneath his feet Lea began to run, aware that his friends had already vanished into the black sanctuary of Hyde Park. He fearlessly pounded the ground in their wake, plunging unhesitatingly into the forbidding gloom, losing their trail completely.
Several minutes elapsed, during which the Park remained peaceful and the circulating traffic continued its eternal droning. The three tricksters then reappeared at their original point of entry into the Park. After a quick visual scan of their environment, they crossed the Corner, returned to Green Park, sank back into their deckchairs and confidently assumed that Lea would soon come scampering back with his abashed tail between his legs.
They waited fruitlessly for quite some time, tiredness gradually permeating through and numbing their faculties. Restless slumber approached. Mark's chin dropped to his chest and his eyelids drooped... then an instinct deep within clamoured for his attention. His eyes sprang open and his head lifted.
One of the concrete lanes that meandered across Green Park passed within ten metres of the leafy nook where the young men dozed. Approaching along this lane, still some fifty metres away, was a large luminous spectre. Mark blinked clarity into his squint. The phantom prowler solidified into a white motor vehicle.
A police van.
The vision automatically resurrected the recent and frantic memory of Pimlico. "Pigs!" cried Mark, leaping to his feet. With typical curses, Jason and Kevin sprang upright. In a fraction of a moment, they assessed the situation - police coming! - and, without even bothering to reach a verbal agreement, accompanied Mark as he started to make rapid southward progress.
A flashlight, mounted on the roof of the van, seared its brilliant beam through the trees. White light played across the abandoned deckchairs. The van then accelerated, swung right and sped along a perpendicular lane... the lane toward which the teenagers, sprinting through trees, were now heading.
Kevin, with Mark and Jason close alongside, saw the lane looming ahead. He glanced left, took in the approach of the two dazzling headlights and realised in a flash of perspicacity that the van and themselves had inadvertently plotted an intercepting course. As the scything glare brought artificial daylight to the entire area, Mark and Jason reached the same conclusion as their companion. The trio slowed to a halt by the side of the lane.
The van decelerated to a crawl as it reached them. The copper in the driving seat shone a handtorch across their faces, picking up the blank expressions of the three young men who watched him from merely feet away. Jason braced himself for another round of belligerent accusations. Instead, the copper disinterestedly withdrew the torch and the van sped away.
The teens stared at each other in thorough confusion. "What the hell..." began Jason.
"He didn't even ask us what we were doing, running around at three in the morning," Mark stated in disbelief.
Kevin's visage, normally impassive, displayed profound relief. "Let's just be thankful.  Maybe they got a call ordering them somewhere else." As mystified as the next man, he stared at the receding vehicle. "Come on lads, I reckon we should go. I don't really fancy staying here if the filth are gonna be lurking around."
"Let's take a slow walk to Liverpool Street," Jason suggested, his mind still reeling from that somewhat surreal encounter, "By the time we get there, the trains might've started running."
Mark and Kevin nodded in vigorous compliance, and shortly afterward the trio left Green Park and undertook the laborious walk through the garish neon of the West and the concrete solemnity of the City. Regarding Lea, they felt concern... but not so much concern that any of them wanted to hang back and wait for him.
Meanwhile, during the course of his aimless lurking around Hyde Park, Lea experienced problems of his own. On a dim and lonely path, two concerned gentlemen had approached him and asked if he were okay. Lea distrusted them at once. Although not a bigot, he was not in a habit of consorting with homosexuals and these two were clearly of that persuasion. If he replied in the negative, they would take him as a runaway and invite him home. Lea had heard about the predators that lurked in the darkness of the city's green spaces at night. He replied, politely but firmly, in the positive and then tactfully cleared off. He left the Park, crossed Hyde Park Corner and returned to Green Park, uncomfortably aware that his acquaintances followed at a distance not quite discreet enough to be unnoticeable. His friends were no longer occupying the deckchairs, so Lea used the cover of the trees to give his followers the slip, then returned to Hyde Park. He accepted that he would be spending the rest of the night here alone, and found the concept thoroughly annoying. Bloody Mark!
While meandering through the Park in search of a shady spot, free from staggering junkies or creeping homosexuals, Lea fortuitously located a bandstand. The charity event 'Sport Aid' was due to commence in Hyde Park later that same morning, and the bandstand had been literally plastered with wooden boards emblazoned with the event's logo. Lea decided that one of these boards would make an excellent souvenir of his night up West.
As dawn broke across the slumbering city, Mark, Jason and Kevin arrived at Liverpool Street Station and instantly suffered a glitch in their proposed homeward journey. The ticket inspector on the platform barrier was polite but insistent: no way were Mark and Jason getting on a train with yesterday's tickets.
"Looks like we'll have to fork out for new ones," Mark sighed.
Kevin smiled and produced his Season. "One of the advantages of working in London, suckers."
"Let's hurry," Jason urged, "The train leaves in a few minutes."
"I'll get us something to eat," Kevin informed his companions, and the group split up - Mark and Jason to the ticket office, Kevin to the station's burger bar.
With noisy haste, Mark and Jason purchased fresh tickets and hurried back to the concourse in time to see the train preparing to depart.
"Quick!" cried Jason.
"Where's Kevin?" panted Mark as they leaped onto the train. The railman on the platform blew his whistle, and the train began to rumble off.
Seconds too late, Kevin hared onto the platform, laden with paper bags. He staggered to a stand, staring at the departing train, then his eyes fell to the three take-away breakfasts that he had just purchased for his friends and himself.
"I'll pig out myself then," he declared defiantly.
A short distance to the west, an exhausted figure sat slumped on a seat in the rear carriage of a Tube train. His head rested back on the glass of the window, his mouth hung agape and issued gentle, rythmic snores. Resting askew on his lap, clutched firmly in his sleeping hands, lay a rectangular wooden sheet with the phrase 'Sport Aid' splashed across its face.

The Unluckiest Pier In England

During a trip to Brighton this weekend, to meet up with friends and see a very loud rock band, I happened to notice the notorious West Pier. It was hard to miss, being situated opposite our seafront hotel. It was built in 1866 by the naval architect Eugenius Birch, who was also responsible for the neighbouring Palace Pier. The picture above shows the West Pier in its heyday.
Sadly, it no longer looks like this. Years of neglect led to the Pier's closure in 1975, as local authorities were concerned about public safety on the increasingly ramshackle structure, and the West Pier Trust was set up to promote the structure's eventual renovation.
Renovation plans were opposed by many local businesses who, presumably disregarding the historical importance of a Grade 1 listed building in their environment, resented the competition that a refurbished Pier would provide. Since then, the structure has been hit by a catalogue of disasters, some natural, some deeply suspicious.
December 2002: The walkway between the Concert Hall and the Pavilion collapsed in a storm.
January 2003: The Concert Hall collapsed, having been destabilised by the same storm.
March 2003: Despite being seabound, the Pavilion at the end of the Pier was destroyed in an arson attack.
May 2003: The collapsed Concert Hall also burns down.
June 2004: The remaining walkway collapses in high winds.
The future of the West Pier looks grim, considering its current condition.
In the 1980's, the IRA attacked the Grand Hotel in Brighton in an attempt to wipe out Mrs Thatcher and her Cabinet. Despite serious damage, the Hotel was restored and remains in use today. The equally venerable West Pier, however, is a tumbled, skeletal wreck, a blot on the seascape. Perhaps it could have been saved were it not for the objections of  the so-called locals who wished to keep the contents of the tourist wallet to themselves, rather than see the town's Victorian heritage celebrated.
Who needs Terror, when we already have Mammon?

As Long As I Gaze Up At Watership Sunset

It's been a long Sunday, I'm cream crackered, but the kids aren't. I've driven over a hundred miles already, travelled twenty miles on the Watercress Line through Hampshire, dragged by a locomotive called 'Bodmin', appropriately enough.... walked along the River Arle, seen the tombs of Napoleonic POW's in Alresford Churchyard, and enjoyed a latte and croissant. Then, as I was getting ready for the long haul home, I mentioned that we were only a few miles ffrom one of the kids' favourite high points in England, and that was it. We HAD to go there.
Bright but cold, the earlier fog having lifted itself back to Heaven. A cutting breeze scything across the high ground as we park in a layby between White Hill with its radio mast, and Cannon Heath Down with its Gallops, then strike west.
The view along the ridge is blurred through our watery, wind-blasted eyes. A kestrel hovers and swoops, seemingly immune to the wintry Hampshire gusts. A flock of crows wheel across the Imbolc sky before settling in a twisted, hardy tree perched precariously on the upper slope of the Down. We soldier on.
At the end of Cannon Heath Down, the footpath between the Gallops kinks and widens. Before us, the beech hanger where Richard Adams settled his lapine characters thirty years ago. A squat, concrete trig point sits lonely in a field of fallow verdance. Beyond, the lumpen contours of the Ladle Hill ramparts, the hillfort grey in the haze. Beacon Hill in the distance like a ghostly, rounded hulk. Far, far in the distance, the cold nectarine sun droops, bisected by a string of cloud, the shadows around us lengthening as if to greet the impending dusk. 
It halves, falls to a quarter, disappears behind the distant and vaguely definable line of the Marlborough Downs. I look around, at the children romping in the February air, as dusk gathers around us here on Watership Down. The lights of Newbury are winking into existence to the North. It's time to go. Homeward Bound, a stop at the M4 Reading services, then the tedious drag around the M25.
It doesn't matter. We still have the steam from the train in our hair, the scent of the river and the earth, the image of the sunset and the darkening Down.
We'll always have that.

Sacred Spring

Despite the many visits to the immense and magnificent Neolithic landscape around Avebury and West Kennet in Wiltshire, I have never shown my progeny the sacred spring. This is not due to neglect - until the landscape was opened up as part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, it was situated on private land. Nowadays, however, it is reachable without having to skulk around the landscape avoiding irate and protective farmers.
The spring is one of the focal points of the area, one of the mystical reasons that our prehistoric forebears invested years of effort and patience into creating one of the most remarkable landscapes in the country. They built the Avebury Ring, a massive stone circle almost a mile in circumference. They built the West Kennet longbarrow, a tomb stretching along the ridge of its hill like a huge earthen slug. They built Silbury Hill, the closest we have to a pyramid (and contemporary with those Egyptian structures), a conical mound of chalk dominating the valley floor. The entire complex, stretching over the Goddess landscape, seems - as I read once - to have been built by giants.
The answer is in the location and the etymology. The ancients worshipped water. They could not live without it. It was the fundamental element of their existence. They worshipped it, sacrificed to it, blessed it. Even today the country is dotted with sacred springs and wells, many of them craftily Christianised in medieval times by a growing church that knew it could never truly beat the old traditions.
Here, in the Kennet valley, two rivers dominate: the Winterbourne, which as its name suggests, dries up in the Summer months and returns in the Winter. It flows under the A4, that ancient Roman London-Bath road, and divides a field south of Silbury Hill before veering east as it hits the headwaters of the River Kennet. And here may be found the Swallowhead Spring, source of the Kennet, one of Southern England's most sacred rivers.
The A4 rolls on to Bath, another ancient and venerated spring. The Romans named it after the water Goddess to whom it was dedicated, Sulis. Here at Kennet the same Goddess holds sway, her name found in Silbury and Swallowhead. The Spring is the uterus of the Goddess, the pouring of life onto the landscape, the Kennet a corruption of the Latin 'cunnit', its modern contraction a vulgar slang expression with the same meaning. Here, the cone of Silbury is her womb, its shape an inverted image. Here, Sulis/Sil/ Suil enriches the land as she has done for millenia.
Moving toward Swallowhead Spring, we follow the course of the Kennet, carefully picking our way across the floodplain bloated by the recent thaw and the persistent drizzle. This is appropriate - water both hinders and caresses us as we move toward the sanctum of Sil. We find stepping stones, crossing the river and guiding us to the spring. We cross with difficulty, the newborn river torrenting between the sarsen footholds.
'I believe I can fly!' one daughter sings as she slides down the soft earthen bank next to the Spring, its immediate environs a riot of Pagan votive offerings.
'I believe I can sink,' her brother responds warily, watching his trainers pressing into the unstable soil. He moves away, back to the stepping stones, bounces onto one, then two, then slips and goes into the water.
His sister to the rescue, navigating the stones like a startled gazelle, reaching down and dragging her sodden, upset brother from the embrace of the Goddess
No sacrifice for Sil THIS day.
The Kennet can roll on, meandering east to its Reading collision with the mighty Thames, without our help.

Mother's Day

A windy Mothering Sunday in Norwich. After being blown about the medieval street pattern until we fetched up at one of the gates to the Cathedral Close, we decided to treat ourselves to Italian dinner, and strolled into the snappily named Zizzi's restaurant
The children always eat well on our daytrips, they need the energy. Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico for the Eldest and me, Margherita Pizza for the other two. Digestion aided by a casual stroll around Norwich Cathedral and its environs.
It started to go pearshaped when the time came to return home. At Norwich Station, we were greeted with the announcement that our train's departure would be delayed by 40 minutes due to overhead line problems at Stratford.
I sighed quietly. Never mind, we weren't in much of a hurry. We visited a small shop on the concourse for sweets to pass the time, and I noticed a small electronic Sudoku toy on sale for a fiver. "That'll help pass the time," I decided, and made the purchase.
Outside the shop, we sat on a bench on the concourse. I wrestled the game from its plastic packaging, and noticed that batteries weren't included.
I sighed quietly, again. I returned to the shop, purchased batteries, walked back to the bench. I picked up the Sudoku machine, and observed that the cover to the battery compartment was held on by a small crosshead screw.
I cursed quietly and returned to the shop. They did not sell screwdrivers. I bought a small penknife and returned to the bench. I unfolded the penknife, placed its point into the head of the screw, tried to turn it by exerting a little pressure. The penknife attempted to snap shut, thwarted in its design by the obstacle that was my finger.
I cursed, rather loudly this time, and wandered into the Station toilets, grabbing some tissue which I wrapped around my finger to stifle the bleeding. I returned to the bench and my increasingly bemused offspring, and after a deal more grappling, manage to complete my mission to get the Sudoku machine working.
We played it on the train, all the way back to our home Station, where we bundled ourselves onto the platform into what was now the cold night. My wallet remained warm, snug on the train seat, minding its own business as it commuted toward London.
It was discovered by the train's conductor an hour later, shortly after I cancelled my cards.
Happy Mother's Day!

My Favourite Road

...splits from the Oxford ringroad just north of Wolvercote, and strikes northwest into the fecund Oxfordshire countryside. It passes through the delightful Woodstock, a village in the shadow of the mighty Blenheim Palace. The distant facade of this World Heritage Site can be glimpsed briefly as you drive past, built by Vanbrugh for the triumphant Duke of Marlborough and his pushy Duchess Sarah, generators of the legendary Churchill family. A few miles along, you pass through Enstone, with its picturesque riverside pub on the right, the very epitome of pastoral charm.
Swing left then right through Chipping Norton, just missing its market square, steeped in oolite richness. This ubiquitous limestone lets you know that you've arrived in the Cotswolds, and in a few miles you skim Warwickshire before passing into Gloucestershire.
The road twists through Moreton In Marsh, another evocative name, where your journey crosses the old Foss Way, the Roman road from Exeter to Lincoln and a one-time border of Brittania, and climbs steeply up to Bourton On The Hill. The road from Stow On The Wold joins at an acute angle, and on the ridge above Broadway, as you enter Worcestershire, you are treated to one of the finest views in England. The Vale of Evesham sweeps below you, the Malverns defiantly rising in the distance, the high ground of Powys visible on the skyline where the falling sun will later bathe the view in orange and scarlet. Wind down the ridge, bypass Broadway, move toward Evesham. Here it is best to leave the road for a while to take the A4084 through the busy Abbey village of Pershore, before speeding around the Worcester bypass. Below, the Severn floodplain stretches. I remember a severe Winter, transforming these fields into a lake, as the confluence of the Severn and the Teme rose and swallowed all but the steadfast trees on the field boundaries. Glance right to see the Gothic tower of Worcester Cathedral, resting place of the illfated Arthur Tudor and the much derided King John.
Back on the road as it heads west, to Broadwas, the Malverns looming on the left and Elgar's birthplace to the right. Our great composer, now usurped on our currency by a Scottish economist. The road peaks, dips, veers and twists and bisects the western part of Bromyard, the small town where I once had a great meal at an Irish themed pub, and through which I was travelling a few years back at the moment my divorce was granted.
Through to Leominster, its church reflecting on past importance in medieval times, then a clean run through to the rounded peaks of the Radnor Forest, the hills becoming crags, the half-timbered monochrome of Pembridge beckoning you into a different world. Cross the denuded border called Offa's Dyke, Croeso Y Gymru, the buzzard replaced by the infinite wheeling grace of the red kite, welcome to the stronghold of the Britons, welcome to the ancient land of the Ordovices and the Silures, welcome to Powys.
The A44. A perfunctory name for a road that is a journey through time, space and experience. Everyone should travel it as least once in their lives, just for the joy of seeing the landscape evolve and change before your eyes.

Beltain 2007

The sun sets over the Feast of Beltain. We roam through the crowds, through painted faces, ivy torcs and clay figurines on sticks. The mummers call and trumpet, the daughters of Ishtar shimmy and sway, the hawks hop between delighted children. A group of Morrismen warble a cappella, an old English drinking song. Woodsmoke fills the air, the odours of pig roast and burgers. We nibble at honey fudge and sip tea from polystyrene cups.
Buzzards soar aloof in the dusky Hampshire sky above as we make our way to the enclosure, to where the Wicker Man stands proud, his sword cleaving into the soil, his posture relaxed as he towers over the revellers. The Druids chant their blessings, the expectant crowd dotted with the small bright screens of mobile phone cameras, the drummers beat their rising tattoo from the climbing gradient to our right, and the torch is cast.
The flames climb slowly at first, his feet enveloped in heat and smoke, and the hungry tongues of amber creep up his legs, to his wickerwork ribs, to his innards of packed hay.
With a surge of victory, the flames fill him, burst through him into the darkening sky and the crowd gasps, roars with delight at the conflagration. His head boils with fire and slumps, as if to acknowledge the awesome power consuming him. His ribs open and his innards spill into the night with a belch of sparks and rolling heat. The crowd is ecstatic, whistles, trumpets, drums, cheers vying with the crackle and rumble of the blaze. As he succumbs to his destruction, his limbs crumbling and his sword finally bursting into a pillar of fire, the ancient pact with Nature is complete, and the gods of the fields are sated for another year.

Water Break Its Neck

A shiny black Ford Focus thrums along the A44. I hold the steering wheel in a relaxed fashion as I glance at my surroundings, the bleak beauty of the Radnor Forest. My car is named Vixen, partly because of the arrangement of letters on the numberplate, and partly because it's an appropriate name for the Vulpinemobile. I washed it shortly before setting out, knowing that the coming week will see it getting streaked with the rain of Powys and marbled with the dust of Bodmin Moor, and attempting to minimise the coming dirt.
I glance at the dashboard clock and sigh. Despite the breakfast stop at Leominster, I'm two hours ahead of myself. I told my friends that I'd reach Llandrindod at a certain time, now I need to slow down as I'm only twenty minutes drive from them. The village of Radnor moves past on the right, a Norman motte towering over small winding streets and a large memorial to a local dignitary. After another couple of miles, I make a sudden decision and slow down, steering onto a track to the right, ascending part of the way up a hill to a small car park.
Striking north from the car park is a track, once dirt, now cindered thanks to the generosity of the Welsh Assembly. It's an easy ride so long as I don't go too fast, and I set off along it, knowing that I only have to cover another kilometre before parking near the banks of a small Radnor river.
Something's coming. A grey object is hurtling along the track toward me, a smaller pied object bringing up its rear. A sheep, escaped from its flock, border collie in hot pursuit. I brake to a halt and watch with amusement as the two beasts approach, the canine exerting itself to overtake and control the ovine.
My smile freezes somewhat as I realise that the oncoming animals are making no effort to swerve around my car.
'Go round,' I murmur. Then, 'Go round!' a little louder. Then, 'Go round go round you soppy woolly bastard!'
My widening eyes meet the vacant expression of the sheep before it briefly drops from sight, masked by the front of the car's bonnet. There is a thump; Vixen shakes briefly as the animal makes contact with the bumper, then I twist my head to the right and watch as it bumbles past the car, none the worse for wear for the impact.
I look in the rear view mirror as the sheep continues its wobbly gait, kicking up cinder and dust as the streak of border collie follows close on its tail. They shrink in my vision. I shake my head in wonder.
Is Vixen damaged? If so, what am I supposed to do about it? I hear myself telephoning the insurance company, telling them 'I'd like to make a claim. My car has been attacked by an absconding sheep.'
Feeling somewhat weary, I open the door, step out of the Focus and begrudgingly inspect its bumper. There is a smear of dirt, a smudge of lanolin, and that is all. I wipe them away with my sleeve and return to the driver's seat.
Half a kilometre later, I park in a small layby and exit the vehicle once again. I lock and immobilise it, just in case some of the animals around here fancy a spot of joyriding. I no longer trust sheep, and will not put anything past them. I walk for a short distance along the bank of the little river, until I hear the welcoming roar of what I have come to see, and gaze with admiration at the astonishingly beautiful cascade of aqua, pouring down the mountain as the river refuses to allow such things as precipitous drops to impede its flow.
'Water-break-its-neck' is its name, and if there is a better name for a waterfall in the British Isles I would like to hear it. I whip out my mobile phone and switch to camera mode, holding it up and taking a self-portrait with the fall in the background. That'll look good on the Myspace homepage, I reckon.
Lush ferns and mosses cling to the rocks around me. The trees overhead let through dappled light, just enough to infuse the scene with a sense of natural harmony. I breathe deeply and smell green.
Waterfalls, clean air, marauding sheep. It's good to be back in Powys.

High As A Kite

We park in one of the available spaces next to the country pub and spill out. Yes, this seems a pleasant place for Sunday lunch - there is a small play area in the garden which will suit the boy, and the girls will sip drinks at one of the garden tables as they await their macaroni cheese, chips and salad.
To the south, a view of Watlington Hill, an outcrop of the Chilterns and property of the National Trust. A curious chalk-cut hillfigure graces this part of the escarpment, the spire-shaped Watlington White Mark, supposedly carved into the hillside in 1764 by one Edward Horne of Greenfield Manor. It is purely ornamental, one of the follies popular at the time, and easy on the eye as one sits in a pub garden sipping cola.
On the other side of the pub, surrounded by a hedgerow, is the Watlington village carpark, and above it the kites are gathering. My eldest grabs her camera and heads for them.
Red Kites are the Gods of the British sky, and before the 70's were virtually driven into extinction. Their re-introduction to the Chilterns is one of the greatest success stories in national conservation, their colony here the largest in the country. A trip up the M40 to Oxford is infinitely improved by the sight of these beautiful, graceful creatures gliding across the countryside.
 There is a man in the carpark, an associate of the Hawk Conservancy near Andover, and he is thowing chicken skin into the air. About two dozen Kites are now wheeling above, and as Eldest crouches and watches through the eye of her camera, a couple of them swoop. They do not land on the tarmac, they grab the scraps without stopping then arch back into the sky, their wingspans up to six feet, a heart-stopping vision as they glide over our heads.
Lunch is ready and we munch our food in the garden, the Hillfigure watching over us from Watlington Hill, the call of the Kites serenading us as we eat... and the day is far from over. A few miles away, across the border in Buckinghamshire, the Hellfire Club are waiting for us...

The God Of Hellfire

Vixen motors into West Wycombe, the children peer from the passenger seats and spot the church on the hill. The eldest recognises it from a previous visit, years since; the two younger children do not.
We park across the road and make our way up the steep hill. It is a historic spot, capped with a rampart built over 2000 years ago by our Celtic ancestors, I think the Catevellauni tribe that caused Julius Caesar so much trouble and whose greatest son, Caratacus, defied the legions of Claudius for seven years. The churchyard that crowns the hill is the site of a vanished village, Haveringdon, which had disappeared by the end of the eighteenth century. The building is surrounded by the lumps and bumps of graves, rather than the lumps and bumps of ancient  habitation such as I've seen at Hound Tor, Carwether and Cefnllys.
No surprise, really, that the Eldest recognised the building - it is somewhat noticeable, thanks mainly to the golden sphere that perches atop the tower. The sphere was added in the 1760's when the church was remodelled under the auspices of the nobleman Francis Dashwood, whose grand home at Wycombe Park is visible across the valley. A curious gentleman indeed, was Mr Dashwood, the founder of the group known as the Monks of Medmenham, the Order of St. Francis, and most popularly as the Hellfire Club. Half a dozen men could squeeze into the hollow globe above the church, the core members of the Club - but they were more likely to use the network of caves that wind through this hill, the chalk quarried out for the building of the road, the subterranean labyrinth now a tourist attraction with its own cafe and gift shop.
Clambering laboriously to the top of the Tower, we can see the stately home across the valley, we can see the red kites now soaring below us rather than above. We can see the Dashwood Mausoleum, that curious structure perched below the churchyard, and we can see High Wycombe stretching into the distance. In a tree beside the Mausoleum a family of Little Owls roost, and Eldest uses her camera on them a little later as we circle the Mausoleum, gazing through its iron gate at the names carved on the walls, the memory of Dashwoods past.  I try to imagine what debaucheries the rogueish Francis Dashwood and his friends got up to on this peak, with their female company, and their guests of honour such as Ben Franklin. The sacred and the profane sit side by side, the holy and the eccentric, and the owls call and the kite soars and the church looks down on us as if to defy us with its secrets.
Dashwood Mausoleum; church tower visible behind

Rocky Valley Epiphany

The little River Trevillett rises just west of the Camelford-Boscastle road, and meanders for a couple of miles before spilling into the broad Atlantic. Despite - or, perhaps, because of - its all too brief journey, it is possibly the most special little river in Cornwall.
A twig dropped into the source of the river would reach the Ocean in about half an hour or so... but what would it experience along its voyage? The current would push it through a couple of fields, the stark pasture of North Cornwall, before dropping into a wooded valley known as St Nectan's Glen.
Arboreal dampness pervades this place, the trees on the slopes huddling close as the river passes an ancient hermitage, now a chapel and a teashop for the visitors determined enough to find this spot. Then, with a gush and a roar, water drops downward, scything through the rock, its timeworn passage creating a series of basins known as kieves. A sacred spot, the foot of the waterfall, replete with votive offerings, the Pagans leaving behind a kaleidoscope of colour, small piles of pebbles, coins in every crevice, photographs with the ink running in the perpetual dampness. Here, Maclise painted his Girl At The Waterfall, and he was not the only Victorian artist to become entranced by the passage of the Trevillett.

Your twig might struggle here, caught up in the tangles of natural weirs, branches that have fallen from the canopy above and clogged parts of the flow. If it can get through those, it will continue its descent through densely overgrown foliage, eventually reaching the point where the river passes beneath the coastal road, near the hamlet of Trethevy. Near this crossing can be seen a small, rustic chapel of ease, and a Holy Well - this one dedicated to St Piran, the patron saint of Cornwall. A neighbouring building contains a Roman milestone, one of the few remains of that period that proves even the Romans had an interest in the mineral wealth of this wild corner of Britannia.
Passing beneath the road, the river leaves the Glen and enters the Valley. It babbles past Trevillet Mill, a wonderful building which, until recently, was a restaurant but is presently a private dwelling. My eldest has said that, if she ever won the lottery, this is the building she would like to buy and live in. This was painted by the landscape artist Thomas Creswick R.A., underappreciated nowadays but famous in his Victorian heyday for his pastoral scenes.

A footpath follows the course of the river, opposite the Mill... and after a short distance, you will come across a second building, the path cutting straight through it, the derelict and protected Trewethet Mill. The mysterious aspect of Rocky Valley. Here, carved on a quarried wall at the rear of the building, are petroglyphic symbols of the type usually associated with Ancient Greece. They were probably carved by a bored miller but, in the absence of proof, they have become a Cornish mystery, a local legend, a possible link between the world of Ancient Greece and the Cornish peninsular which they knew as Belerion.

Another Pagan haunt, the cracks in the rocks filled with rusting coinage, bunches of twisted plants and small heaps of slate on every ledge. I visited in the Summer of the year 2000, and here experienced my epiphany. Alone here, the sun dappling through the trees above me, the soothing babble of the passing stream, a curious peacock from Trevillett Mill watching me from the opposite bank, and the soft tinkle of wind chimes left by a previous visitor. Beauty filled me, warming me, calming me, leading me into a state of meditation that mellowed me for months afterwards.

The path crosses the river via a wooden footbridge, a replacement for the bridge damaged in 2004 by the flash flood that swept half of Boscastle Harbour into the Atlantic. The twig, nearing the end of its journey, would shoot below this bridge, carried with increasing urgency as it twists through the canyon, beneath the Coastal Path, flying over small waterfalls before reaching the maelstrom, the point where the flow of the river collides with the tidal push of the Ocean, and the twig is out, bobbing into the Atlantic, ready to begin its long westward journey to America.
On a sunny day in Cornwall, there can be no more fulfilling, no more exhilarating task to undertake than to follow the course of that imaginary twig. Rocky Valley, canyon of legend, the place where the last of the Cornish Choughs are supposed to have nested, firmly imprinted itself into my heart and soul on that day seven years ago, and the River Trevillett itself now runs through my veins.

Dolphins In The Bay

'There are dolphins in the Bay!'
There are ravens in the sky.
There's a rainbow on the moorlands
There are Perseids flashing by.
There's a Poet in the churchyard
Behind the shifting sands
There's a carving in the Valley
Water flows through speckled bands.
There's a tin mine on the skyline
In solitude it rests
There are choughs inside their coddled cage
In safety they will nest.
There are embers in the campfire
There are pirates at the Inn
There is comfort in the Cobweb
Where the raging floods have been.
There are spiders at the springhead
There are buzzards at the door,
There's a steamboat down at Fowey
There are starfish on the shore.
There's a castle on the headland
Where a King of legend dwelt,
Or so Lord Alfred told us
When he lionised the Celt.
There are pasties in the morning
There are cream teas every day,
There are kayaks in the harbour
There are dolphins in the bay!

A (Doggerel) History Of England

written in 2002-3 for the Time Team Forum Friends
1066 and William sees his chance for invasion
One battle later, we're ruled by a Norman
Then Rufus, and Harry, then Stephen and Maud
Next thing you know, there's a Plantagenet horde.
Starting with Henry, second of that name
...and Dicky The Lion, with his crusading game.
King John he came next, greedy for dosh,
but managed to lose it, under The Wash.
Third Harry was next, he lost at Lewes
but Evesham reprieved him, when Montfort got headless.
And here comes Longshanks, the Hammer of Scots
He hated those Scottish, and the Welsh lots!
Then Edward the Second, bit of a joker
His bum was impaled on a red hot poker.
Then on the throne was Edward the Third
He was victor at Crecy, so I've heard
His son the Black Prince battled to fame
By rampaging through France, he made his name.
Next up, young Richard and the Peasant's Revolt
Wat Tyler got stabbed,'twas Mayor Walworth's fault
Young Dick was a dandy, and popular not
So Lancaster Henry said 'Right, that's your lot!'
Henry was opposed by Glendower and the Percys
At Shrewsbury, Prince Hal showed Hotspur no mercies
So Bolingbroke's reign was chock full of strife
His tomb's at Canterbury, next to his wife
Next Henry the Fifth, warmonger par excellence
Yet another King who declared war on France
Agincourt,on St Crispins, great victory was seen
Soon after, he made Valois Katherine his Queen
His son Henry Six was pious and meek
Wed Marge of Anjou, but remained pretty weak
Under this King most of France was lost...
And two Houses warred, no matter the cost.
The White Rose, the Red Rose, battles galore
The lush fields of England, swimming in gore.
When Warwick switched sides, brave Edward held fast
After Tewkesbury, into the Tower Henry was cast.
Ed's son, also Edward, succeeded as a boy
About his fate the history books are coy.
Alongside his brother, he vanished in the Tower
His uncle Richard took the reins of power
The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our Dog
'Twas said - ruled all England under a Hog.
The Battle of Bosworth, King Richard lay dead
The crown was placed on Henry Tudor's head.
Warbeck and Simnel, they both tried their luck
But steadfast Henry did not give a ... hoot.
His heir was Prince Arthur (Harry came last)
Wed Katherine from Aragon, then breathed his last.
So Harry succeeded, amid rejoicing and fun
Married his bro's widow, and awaited a son.
But Kate's only living child was a girl
So Henry decided to give Anne a twirl.
The Church disagreed, Hal said 'Stuff the Pope
Dissolve the monasteries, I'm sure we'll cope'
Anne too had a girl, costing her head
And Henry got frisky with Jane Seymour instead.
She died birthing Edward, and Henry did despair
He briefly wed Anne of Cleves (Flanders Mare)
And a couple more Katherines, Howard and Parr
Then young Edward succeeded, but didn't get far.
'I'm the Kings Protector now,' Lord Somerset said
'Chinny reckon,' replied Northumberland, and severed his head.
'Oh dear! Ed's croaked, could be Mary's day...'
'...but I'd prefer the Protestant Lady Jane Grey'
But Mary prevailed, and soon won her crown
Then began burning heretics across country and town.
She torched archbishops and married Philip of Spain
Lost Calais, which was something of a pain.
Her sister Liz succeeded, to the Catholic's rage
Her reign is seen as a Golden Age.
She flirted with Dudley and the Anjou Duke
The Armada's fate made the Spanish King puke.
Her spies were Walsingham and Cecil the sage
And Shakespeare wrote 'all the world's a stage'.
Under Liz, England's star was bright not dim
The kingdom was inherited by her cousin Jim.
Gunpowder Plot tried to blow him sky high
Planned by Bob Catesby and someone called Guy.
So Jim was succeeded by his Cavalier son
An Alec Guinness lookalike known as Charlie One.
Chas thought that he had a Divine Right
The Commons said no, and began to fight.
The fields of England, again soaking in gore
At Edgehill, Naseby and of course Marston Moor.
The Roundheads found victory, and the Cavaliers failed,
King Charles lost his head as Cromwell prevailed.
In the Commonwealth the Puritans took a stand,
Churches were whitewashed and then Christmas was banned.
After this, Charles Two was brought back in
The Merry Monarch, with eyes for Nell Gwynne.
First came the plague, then fire hit London
'Twas the age of Wren, Locke and Newton.
Charles' brother succeeded, Jim Two as he's known,
His Papist sympathies were met with a groan.
At Sedgemoor, young Monmouth was forced to fly
Judge Jeffreys passed sentence, the rebels hung high.
Jim was forced to swallow a bitter pill
When ousted by Mary and spouse Orange Bill.
A direct male heir, though, did not come to pass...
A mole killed King Bill, by tripping his horse.
Queen Anne was next, the Stuarts' last chance,
While the Old Pretender kept grumbling in France.
An Elector came next, from Hanover most posh
His name was George, he only spoke Bosch.
'Twas the time the rich got into trouble
By over-investing in the South Sea Bubble.
The Jacobites, at Preston, fought bravely but lost
Later, at Culloden, they again counted the cost.
Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to challenge George Two
But fled when the Cumberland Duke said 'Shoo!
George Three's reign lasted a mighty sixty year
'Tho his brain occasionally slipped out of gear
The Industrial Revolution, and America's Independence, took place
And at Waterloo, poor old Boney lost face
In the Regency, Jane Austen showed some wit
Six novels describing a gentry full of... themselves
The Regent, George Four, was quite a rake
His marriage to Caroline was clearly a fake
History considers him a bit of a clown
He built a Pavilion in Brighton (a very gay town).
Silly Billy succeeded, he was the fourth Will
During his time, we got the Reform Bill
Workhouses were introduced, enough to make you chunder
And the Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported Down Under.
Vicky came next, and to save some bother
Took husband Bert's name of Saxe Coburg Gotha.
The British Empire left a huge global mark,
The Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park.
A time of Disraeli, Pre Raphaelites and Dickens,
In Whitechapel, Jack the Ripper found easy pickings
King Teddy succeeded, a rake in his youth,
At his coronation, already long in the tooth.
Refused to count Kaiser Bill as a pal,
His visit to Paris led to Entente Cordiale.
George Five succeeded, and the Titanic went down,
And an Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo town.
Off to trench warfare, our lads to fight...
Easter Rising, and the Irish showed some bite.
After the war ended, votes for women came
And a General Strike, Depression was to blame.
Ed Eight succeeded, but soon he stepped aside,
And with Wallis Simpson the knot was tied.
George Six's turn, and then came a tour
of Europe by Hitler, which meant another war!
The Luftwaffe did the East End some harm,
King and Queen visited (Gawd bless ya marm).
After war, our old Empire was virtually erased
Attlee got in, poor old Winnie replaced.
The King passed away, Liz's Queen for now,
Then came a crisis at the Suez Canal.
Then came the Beatles, and the Sixties swung,
A law was passed, criminals stopped being hung
An oil crisis led to a three day week,
Then a Winter of Discontent, things seemed bleak.
Mrs Thatcher came to power, diificult to shift
Galtieri invaded the Falklands, we were rather miffed
Then yuppies pervaded all, saying greed is good,
The Nineties saw recession, as expected they would
Millenium celebrated, with a Dome and an Eye,
Then a pair of great towers fell from the sky.
The future is here, everyone is online,
Let's all party on, England will be fine!

A Tale Of Two Toes

I Lose A Toe
Monday 4th August 1986
I glance across to my workmate. He is about fifty feet to my left, at the other end of the grassy bank, dutifully dragging his lawnmower across the overgrowing herbiage. I push my own mower forward, to the bottom of the bank, then swing it round and start to drag it behind me as I begin to ascend the short gradient.
The grass is dampened by a recent rainfall, although the sky is currently clear and the weather friendly. My right foot slips on the moisture and slides down. At the same time my flailing arm, gripping the handle of the mower, pulls it towards me.  Under the mower, a disc spins at 3600rpm, two triangular blades jutting from it. The impetus of my foot ceases as it slides beneath the mower and strikes the disc.
There is a truly Godawful grinding noise. My leg below the knee instantly numbs, my hand instinctively opens and loses its grip on the machine, and I collapse on the grass. The liberated mower trundles down the gradient, crosses a footpath and carves a track through the front garden of a terraced house before halting.
I sit up, somewhat stupified. What the hell...? I look down at my paralysed leg. My trainer is shredded along its right side. I feel a wave of nausea hit me, a rush of adrenalin and fear. I reach down with a quivering hand and gingerly - oh so gingerly - slide the destroyed trainer from my foot.
The blade of the lawnmower had not stopped at my trainer - it had made a useless rag of my sock. And then, reaching my skin, had kept going.
The spinning blade had struck halfway down the right side of the foot, carved through the flesh and bone, then exited above the fourth toe, carving an arc two inches deep and two inches long. I could see inside my foot. I could see bone and sinew and mincemeat. There was, however, surprisingly little blood. A familiar aroma assailed my nostrils, the smell of a butcher's shop. My little toe, unscathed,  hung limply an inch away from its neighbour,  attached to my body by a thin strip of gristle.
Abstract thoughts crowded my head as the shock struck home. What was going on here? A couple of days ago I had been in the local Sports Centre, watching my friends Lea and Jason play badminton. Jason had lost. Yesterday had been his eighteenth birthday. Only an hour ago I had been at home, only a mile away, eating soup for lunch. Now I'm sitting on a grassy knoll with one of my feet in pieces. Well, that's Summer fucked.
My workmate has finally noticed that's something's wrong, and is now running toward me. In six hours time, I will undergo surgery several miles away to repair the damage. In six hours time. The natural anaesthetic, those endorphins that kicked in when the foot was struck, will begin to wear off in TWO hours time.
It's going to be a very long afternoon.
21 Years Later...
I Gain A Toe
Saturday 1st September 2007
Dusk, the magic hour where Night and Day achieve a brief and diffuse harmony, falls across the City of London. It is relatively peaceful, the commuters having left the previous evening, the air cleaner than usual and the soft twilight casting an aura of expectation as the City prepares to light up.
I wander aimlessly along the line of the City Wall, the Barbican and the Museum of London at my back, passing the office blocks that stand on the site of the disappeared Silver Street. Shakespeare once lodged there with a family of Huguenots. Some scholars suspect they may have provided him with the French dialogue in Henry V. The possible site of the creation of our most revered History Play is long gone, Silver Street swept away in the post-war development of the City.
I cross the road and find a small public garden, a square of grass outlined with shrub beds, a wall to the rear along which crumbling gravestones are lined, like a line of decrepit soldiers,  forgotten veterans in the War Against Progress. This is the site of the church St Mary Staining, destroyed in the Great Fire and never rebuilt, its location remaining as an extra burial ground for the neighbouring parish.
Sitting on a low wall that holds back a shrub bed, I quietly, peacefully and languidly roll myself a cigarette, then spark up and take a deep inhale. It's unusual to find peace and solitude in the Square Mile, and I'm enjoying it while I can. I glance casually behind, at the shrubs, thinned out so as not to overburden the garden with foliage, and notice something small and pale protruding from the earth, within easy reach. Most would think it a small stone, a fragment of flint perhaps, but I recognise the object for what it is, and carefully lift it into the palm of my hand.
By the time the City Churchyards were closed in the 1850's, they were in a dreadful state. Overcrowded to the extent that the ground level had often risen several feet above the surrounding steets, they were a cause of pestilence and offence, and an easy target of  Victorian sanitary reformers.  Paupers' graves were often left open until packed with a dozen bodies, then loosely filled in only a matter of inches below the surface. Bunhill Fields near Moorgate covers only four acres, yet holds more dead than the modern city of Southampton holds living. It is no surprise that fragments of bone, disturbed by worms or gardening, occasionally rise to greet the fresh air.
I inspect my little find. It is a very light brown, its surface pitted, plugged with fossilised mud where the marrow once ran. Only a centimetre long but with a discernible joint. It's a toe. A little toe.
I wonder, pointlessly, who it belonged to. Close to the surface, probably unprotected by a coffin... most likely a Victorian pauper of indeterminate age and gender. I should have prodded this fragment of mortality back into the ground... but I didn't.
Monday 10th September 2007.
I sit on the floor of the lounge, laptop before me, hammering away on the keys and cursing my spelling mitsakes. I am barefoot. On the right of my 'puter sits a fragment of bone, a skeletal digit, revealed for the first time in a century and a half, an archaeological artefact and a reminder that Victorian London was, for the most part, ghastly. To the left of my 'puter, my feet stretch out. My right foot below the left, the long scar still sensitive two decades later, touching the cold carpet. The scar travels up the side of the foot before swinging right and ending just below my fourth and final toe. I type about irony, and how it can take twenty years to manifest itself.
There cannot be too many people who can claim to have lost a toe.
There cannot be too many who can claim to have FOUND a toe.
And there most certainly must be very, very few who can honestly claim to have done both.
I think about my mysterious and unknowable Victorian, our lives separated by more than a century, our lives connected by our toes. I should take the fragment with me when next I return to that corporate neighbourhood, and I should return it to the ground. That is what I should do.
But I lost a toe once. So I'll probably keep this one. For all I know, it's karma. Fate intended me to find a digit just as it intended me to lose a digit.
Besides, at long last, I'll be able to play 'This Little Piggy' again.


This afternoon, at the Tate Britain, I found myself staring at this painting for several minutes. They currently have an exhibition of the artist John Everett Millais, and this work -Ophelia- is one of his best known.
I first experienced this painting a decade ago, when I was fortunate enough to actually be studying the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. Their techniques were fascinating, my fascination encapsulated in this work, the way they portrayed every detail of every flower, the folds in the dress, the movement of the water.
Millais was not the only painter of the period to portray this tragic Shakespeare heroine. Arthur Hughes, a contemporary of Millais, also did so, and so did many others:
She is the archetypal Shakespeare tragic heroine, her sad story an inspiration to artists for centuries to come. This, I would imagine, is to do with her innocence. She is no conspirator or courtly sycophant at Elsinore. She truly loves Hamlet and is driven to madness by his rejection of her, leading to an untimely demise which is never revealed as either suicide nor accident. Compare the images above with the description, in the play, of her end:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indu'd
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
These lines are spoken by Queen Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet, the scene providing a helpful contrast between the character of the doomed maiden and that of the Queen. whose tacit complicity in the murder of her first husband has allowed her to marry his killer and remain Queen. It is the demise of Ophelia and her father Polonius that brings the vengeful Laertes back to Elsinore and leads to the final confrontation in which only the loyal Horatio emerges unscathed.
Why the appeal of Ophelia? Why does she still haunt us? I suspect it may be guilt. The Hamlet audience sees in her the figure that COULD have been helped, but was in fact spurned to her death. In the Millais painting, she sings quietly to herself while waiting for her clothes to fill with water and drag her to her doom. Innocence destroyed by madness - but was it her own madness, the brooding madness of her lover or the madness of the Elsinore court that promotes murder, conspiracy and quiet acceptance?
Ophelia represents the assistance we failed to provide. She represents the charity we failed to support. She represents the weaknesses we would prefer to ignore.
Frailty, thy name is woman.
Frailty, thy name is silence.


Someone wrote this little tirade in February 2005, regarding the town of Pitsea, now an eastern suburb of Basildon, Essex. It was posted on the website 'Chavtowns', an offshoot of the popular 'Chavscum' site. It received many comments, some supportive, some defensive. I suspect that the author was drunk when he wrote it. I wonder who it was?
"Jesus Harry Christ, was ever a town more aptly named (except maybe Grimsby). Pitsea, this reeking eastern suburb of the infamous Basildon, truly is the pits.

To fully understand the seething underclass of this godforsaken region, one must picture the analogy of flies on shit because, ladies and gentlemen, Pitsea ITSELF is a chav. Yes, it is a genuine, literal Chav Town. To understand this, one must look at its (scant) history and see what the past few decades has made of it.

Pitsea was, for hundreds of years, a ramshackle village in a swamp, with a church on a hill its only landmark, and a couple of fairly inconsequential manor houses, Pitsea Hall and Chalvedon Hall, at each end. Then, in the second half of the twentieth century, came Basildon New Town, swallowing up its eastern neighbour and forever damning this already unsightly and unhealthy place to charver purgatory. Dante himself could not have written about modern Pitsea, it's well beyond the power of his darkest visions. The manor houses remain, one in the middle of housing estates that seemed to have been constructed to blend in with their glass-strewn pavements. It is, of course, a pub these days, infested by both Chavs and Travellers. They are easy to tell apart - Chavs slash, Travellers stab. The other Manor House, picturesquely situated next to a sewage outlet pipe on the marshes and overlooking what used to be a municipal tip, is - naturally - a pub restaurant.

The church on the hill - and the view from it - succintly allow the visitor to see what is rotten in the state of Pitsea.The church itself was declared redundant and ripped down a few years ago, all save the tower. Local pride in the only piece of medieval history, you think? Of course not. It was spared so that it could become a mobile phone mast for Orange. Telling metaphor, isn't it? A charming medieval building, now denuded and devoted to the worship of the Chavs' favourite gadget.

The view to the west will show you the marshes, flyover and infamous Tilbury Loop railway line. To the south, a landfill site infested with seagulls, a Country Park built on the site of an old Great War munitions dump - yes, only in Pitsea! - and a distant view of the bright lights and noxious gases of the Coryton Oil Refinery and Storage Tanks.

Still, there's always the north view, to the cheesy market, the Tesco Extra, the ex-car park now built over with FarmFoods, McD's, KFC... you get the picture. Oddly, some of the buildings in Pitsea broadway are mock-Tudor, built in older, more naive times. There is plenty to mock in Pitsea. From this description, you can guess at the type of sub-humans who choose to actually live here. At nights they come out, lurking around the desolate market stalls with their near-vertical baseball caps, indecipherable accent that makes Estuary sound like Queen's English, and permanent markers with which to daub their baffling squiggles on every available surface. Including - and I'm not kidding - on dogshit bins. A rational human can only speculate, to the point of migraines, why anyone would possibly wish to mark these as a territorial possession. They hoot and shriek like rabid chimpanzees, they look toward the A13 Flyover that towers over Tesco and wonder why cars seem to accelerate as they pass their town, and occasionally they complain to the council about the swarms of flies that invade from the landfill site during hot summers.

Not so much 'avoid like the plague', as 'avoid - it IS a plague'"


The inside of the Abbey is warm and quiet. Outside, a fresh breeze whistles through the scattered tombstones and the grey sky gazes down with a cold greeting. The two youngers seem okay, but Eldest is shivering. We won't be outside for long; Philpott's Tea Rooms quaintly beckons from the edge of the churchyard, and will shortly provide a friendly and welcoming lunch.
But first, I walk to the compost pile next to the Garden of Remembrance and pluck from its tangles a small bunch of slightly withered flowers. We stroll briskly to the rear of the Abbey, and I lay the fading bouquet upon the grave of our last English King, buried here in 1066.
'Next time, Harold,' I tell him, 'Remember to duck.'

The Leveret

Verdant pastures dotted with fleece
Roll down to the lapping Crouch
Rustle of mudflats, bustle of geese
Hawk pushing against wilful wind
Cobalt in the west, irongrey to the east
Church of Wiccan legend, thrusting above the vale
Three spots in the meadow, dwarfed by Beltane green
Crouching near the Crouch, rapt in season's warmth
Ears a-quiver, nostrils a-shimmy
Bright, sharp eyes aware and awaiting
The leveret safe, between the elders
Who lay with coiled-spring legs
And watch the broad and lonely vista
With senses of fire and life.


My ten favourite counties
10.Gloucestershire.  Why?
The Cotswolds! Buildings crafted from Oolite. The view from the ridge above Broadway. Cheltenham, with its beautifully pretentious architecture. Cirencester and its Roman ampitheatre. The rustic charm of Chedworth Roman Villa.
9.Hampshire.  Why?
Winchester, ancient capital of Wessex! Butser Iron Age Farm, with its annual Wicker Man burnings. The Watercress line between Alton and the picturesque Alresford. The Roman walls of Silchester. Watership Down. The Mary Rose and HMS Victory at Portsmouth.
8.South Wales.  Why?
Okay, not a county but a cluster of counties - a Gwent, a Monmouthshire, bits of various Glamorgans... castles! Raglan, Chepstow, Skenfrith, Caldicot, to name but a few, there's a castle on every corner. Tintern Abbey, inspiration to Wordsworth, a towering edifice above the Wye, one of the many rivers that cross this land and make it fertile.
7.Dorset.  Why?
The Jurassic Coast! Traces of our fossilised past along miles of beaches. Wareham, with its Saxon earth walls. The Dorset Downs, punctuated with barrow cemeteries and ancient habitations. Maiden Castle, our greatest Celtic fortress. Lawrence of Arabia. Dinosaur museums.
6.Shropshire.  Why?
The misty glory of the Welsh Marches! The incredible view from the Long Mynd toward Wenlock Edge, one of the best in England. The broken, austere beauty of Clun Castle. The medieval beauty of Ludlow. The glorious Abbey remnants at Much Wenlock. The power of old industry at Ironbridge.
5. Somerset.  Why?
The olde-worlde grandeur of Wells, rustic site of 'Hot Fuzz'. The charm of the Ebbor Gorge. The might of Cheddar Gorge and the mystery of its caves. The curious magnetism of Glastonbury, that Pagan/Christian melting pot. The ramparts of the ancient South Cadbury hillfort, legendary site of Camelot.
4.East Sussex.  Why?
The South Downs and its views, both landward and seaward. The hillfigures at Wilmington and nearby Litlington. The sense of historic change at Pevensey and Battle. The Weald, and the sparse Ashdown Forest of AA Milne.
3.Kent.  Why?
The Garden of England, orchards and oast-houses. Canterbury, that bastion of faith and spirit. Rochester, clinging proudly to the Medway shore. Dover, the windy first line of defence with its ivory cliffs and layers of historic meaning. Eynsford, the picture postcard village come to life.
2.Wiltshire.  Why?
The vastness of the Plain. The epic scale of Avebury and its environs, megalithic giants abound. Salisbury, the spire reaching into the very clouds. Old Wardour, with the deer watching you pass. The crux of the nation in the Stone and Bronze Age. The way Stonehenge emits an air of weariness at the tackiness of its modern treatment.
1.Cornwall.  Why?
There are Dolphins In The Bay!

Book Of John, ch11, v35

Lea's dulcet tones are vaguely disapproving. 'You still reek of alcohol.'
I raise my eyebrows. 'Well, I can't smell it.' I know that he's right, though; I had reeled away from my brother's birthday party only eight hours previously, and still had the hazy vertigo of one who should be in bed, not in a cafe/restaurant in Mayfair.
Fosters lager with absinthe chasers.
Jesus wept.
The waitress brings our breakfast. I temporarily ignore the scrambled eggs and toast so that I can focus my attention upon the ornate pot of strong, invigorating, more than welcome coffee.
Outside, the rain waits to ambush us. I don't care. But I'm having my breakfast first.
Hyde Park is only a couple of streets away, and my mind wanders there as I gulp down mouthfuls of caffeine. 'So, apart from the Counting Crows, who else is at this Festival?'
Lea shrugs, reflecting my own indifference. It's the experience we've come for, not any band in particular. Just up the road, the American Embassy is guarded by men with semi-automatics. Two doors down from where we eat, an antiques shop is displaying an heirloom once owned by William Gladstone. Most of the cars parked outside have personalised plates. Mayfair is a strange part of London, a blend of diplomats and daytrippers, the secrets of many states hidden behind all those Georgian frontages.
South Audley Street twinkles in the rain as we scurry across it, heading for the Park. Full of breakfast, we grin brazenly at the glowering sky. This is the comfort that follows the debauchery; it is amazing what a cooked breakfast can do. Before the day is out there will be more rain, three young women asking me for a cigarette, and various musical cacophonies rolling across this green lung of London.
People chugging from plastic bottles, grilled salmon and chips from a stall, tea, Pepsi, meeting up with the Cornish crowd, unfunny American comedians, all splayed out on the faded grass of Hyde Park.
Grass the colour of absinthe.

A Modern Soliloquy

To shop or not to shop, That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of a supermarket checkout queue;
Or to take up the internet against a sea of troubles,
And by online shopping end them.
To shop! perchance to spend, ay there's the rub;
For in that sleep of chip 'n' pin, who knows what bills may come.
O! What a piece of work is Tesco...