10 July 2016

Rock of Ages

Shelter from the storm

I’m in the doldrums.  Brexit has cleft us all in two.  In Burrington Combe, not far south of Bristol, I stop for a bacon roll and a mug of tea.  Brown sauce stains my shirt.  The limestone walls of the gorge rise precipitously above me.  On one slab of near vertical rock there is an inscribed slate which bears the words:

Rock of Ages
This rock derives its name
from the well known hymn
written about 1762 by the
Rev A M Toplady
who was inspired whilst sheltering
in this cleft during a storm

Lucky Toplady!  He had somewhere to hide, though 'Twas in another lifetime (one of toil and blood, when blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud….)  and, to a certain extent, times have changed.    

This was not a good day.  Everything up to that point had been left unresolved, so I Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm. 

Unlucky me.  The chills of the insular Brexit wilderness surround me, a creature void of form, and I am up on the Mendips, slogging up to Beacon Batch, the highest point on Black Down, aptly named for my current mood.  People lived here in pre-historic emptiness.  Who knows what they felt in the darkest hour, before dawn?  Now, the sweeping views over Blagdon, and across the wild uplands, give me little solace. 

I trek across the watery tracks to Rowberrow Warren, and down through the forest, where seeing wood from trees is a pathetic joke.

Then I rise up over the flowery slopes of Dolebury Warren, with church bells tolling the knell of another wedding in the folds below.  The fort atop the Warren is traceable in dips and rises, piles of stones and grassy mounds.  To think that this was once London, or Brussels, to the people then.  To think that once mighty royal assent was dispatched from places such as this.

I slip down through the ash woods, as yet defying the disease that is sweeping across the continent.  I seek comfort in a cottage at Churchill Batch, ironically named The Crown, though no sign currently gives this away.  

Here an unseasonal fire cheers the small gathering of locals.  Conversation trips around the heady matters of the day, but no one is celebrating.  Temporary though this cleft may be, at least there is still some shelter from the storm.

Then I follow the contours back along the edge of the hills, passing the derelict Lookout, where no one sees what’s coming, and by Mendip Lodge Wood.  Near Bos Swallet I pass a group of young people, toiling along the Limestone Link.  I would like to think they were enthusiastic, but it wasn’t easy to read their tea leaves.  At Sidcot Swallet I cross a stream and mistake my path, soon finding myself rising high away from Whitcombe’s Hole and Burrington Combe, losing my way in the dense bracken above West Twin Brook, and I am on Black Down again. 

Will it never end?  I don’t want to go back.  I seek shelter, but not in retreat.  The reality of being lost squelches beneath me, and Toplady’s words resound in my mind:

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown….

It is beautiful on these hills.  If I were to fall into Goatchurch Cavern, or stumble into darkness in Lower Ellick Wood, the world would move on regardless.  But I want to leave the world a better place, I don’t want to see it cleft in two, eroded into chasms into which my children might fall.  I don’t want to think it is hopeless and forlorn.

I am in the bottom of Burrington Combe again, one of the great clefts riven in our rocky uplands.  On the one side is water, on the other, blood.  One side is power; the other guilt…..   At the bottom of this cleft, somethin's been lost…..  I feel that we took too much for granted. The leaders, elected leaders who should have known better,  got their signals crossed. Those despicable individuals who, for various reasons of personal aggrandisement, persuaded many of my compatriots with their silver tongues and golden lies to vote for a completely unplanned future, have now disappeared. Leaving nothing but blood on [their] tracks.

The trouble now is nothing really matters much, it's doom alone that counts. 

Yesterday I received an email from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which stated that:

The EU Referendum Act received Royal Assent in December 2015. The Act was scrutinised and debated in Parliament during its passage and agreed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Act set out the terms under which the referendum would take place, including provisions for setting the date, franchise and the question that would appear on the ballot paper. The Act did not set a threshold for the result or for minimum turnout.

As the Prime Minister made clear in his statement to the House of Commons on 27 June, the referendum was one of the biggest democratic exercises in British history with over 33 million people having their say. The Prime Minister and Government have been clear that this was a once in a generation vote and, as the Prime Minister has said, the decision must be respected. We must now prepare for the process to exit the EU and the Government is committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people in the negotiations…..

As the Prime Minister has said.... the decision must be respected....


Is this Prime Minister, who set up this farrago, and who didn't see through the selfish desire to quash disrespect within his own party, or vitriol from UKIP (United Kingdom Implosion Party).... the spineless Astoroid (sic) who has since jellyfished out of all responsibility.... Is this Primo Ministro to be respected? Should every person within what currently goes under the title of the United Kingdom (soon to be dissolved),  and practically everyone within Europe, suffer the degradation that will follow this vanity and egoism?

Well, I offered up my innocence I got repaid with scorn…  But, now I feel that I'm livin' in a foreign country but I'm bound to cross the line…..  If I could only turn back the clock.

I am at the bottom of Burrington Combe again, with brown sauce and ketchup on my shirt.  In 1762 the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady found shelter from the storm here, and thanked his God. 

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

In my fear and despair I wish I could place my trust in someone.  I wish there was a God who would strike the discredited and the departing down, but if there is a God, then He must have ordained this situation, and sent the plague to test us.  Just to think that it all began on an uneventful morn….

Instead of going home, I drive to the village of Priddy, where I chance upon a cavalcade of tractors raising money for Air Ambulances.  

On Priddy village green there is a thatched shelter, which houses a stack of wooden hurdles.  An inscription explains that These hurdles are a symbolic reconstruction of the original collection.  They were stored here to form the Pens for the Sheep Fair which moved from Wells to Priddy in 1348 at the outbreak of the Black Death…..   The stack was destroyed in an arson attack on April 28th 2013.  Volunteers rebuilt it that August….

I wonder how many symbolic reconstructions of things we will live to see?  How much of our history will be lost?  What else will we have to move to avoid the plague?  How many of the things we take for granted will be stranded without love? 

The village phone box now houses a defibrillator.....  No harm in that (Times have changed);  only perhaps that is what the whole nation needs?

If only someone would say Come in….  I'll give ya shelter from the storm....

Back in Bristol, on the edge of the Avon Gorge, looking for peregrines, the ground starts to shake.  I am almost run down by women in pink....

Suddenly I turned around and she was standing there....

"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm"


Is there hope yet?

(If you get close to her, kiss her once for me....)

1 comment:

  1. Great blog, rock, words and images. Great message. Just hope you're not too tangled up in blue: 'Tis the song, the sign of the weary
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
    Oh hard times, come again no more.