26 August 2018


Blue Remembered Hills, AONB....

I am loath to admit this, but I am having a 'nice' time.  The weather is, how can I put it, clement. Like Lady Spencer Churchill before she married.  The hills are cornflower blue....  

At least so it was when I visited the Shropshire hills a few days ago.....

The hills are blue remembered, as A E Housman, from Bromsgrove, wrote in 1896, while Professor of Latin at University College London.  He imagined A Shropshire Lad at a distance..... but never mind.  Hardly anyone reads it now, only saddoes like me, searching for a hook.....

But I am in clover...... Properly immersed in leguminosity which will fatten the calves and facilitate slaughter and feasting later in the year while fixing nitrogen in the soil to ensure richer grass which will enable cattle to produce more methane thus depleting the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and leading to further weakness in the ozone layer and thereby increased harmful radiation from the sun and higher global temperatures....  [I may have got some of that wrong.  I only read The Guardian..... though of course it depends on the intensity of the farming.  Isabella Tree wrote on Saturday August 25th that biodiverse pasture systems are in fact highly beneficial to our ecology....]

I enter a village church - this one being the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Lydbury North, where people have been praying week by week since the first millennium (or so I am told - I wonder just how many of those prayers were answered?  Did anyone pray that Donald Trump would spontaneously combust, like Krook in Bleak House?  If not, why not?)  

I love the light that filters through the leaded windows.  Is this God, I wonder?  Am I blessed?  Or is it just waves of particles being absorbed by the flaking plaster?

I venture out into the ultra violet, where the dry grass quivers under fleeting swallows.  In the distance is Bishops Castle, a town of some fifteen hundred swains, with six pubs and two breweries.  As Housman wrote:

....malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.....

Later I am puzzled to know the Shropshire Way?  Is it really any different from My Way?  They both seem to be the prey of buzzards of all kinds.....

But this is the land in which I grew up, a land of blues and hills, a post-war environment where catastrophic conflict was a recent memory, but the prefix 'post' was of the utmost significance.  The sky still had the shadows of aerial dogfights; the earth bore the scars of high explosives, both in towns, where rubble lay in gaps between cracked and crumbling houses, and in the countryside, where huge hollows marked where mis-hits and jettisoned ordnance had fallen.

Intrusion and violence are not new in this land.  Where I walk now in tranquillity was once under Roman rule, with valuable ores excavated from seams in these hills.  Later the Normans came, then bitter squabbles between thorny roses, and then, eventually, liaison with and control by the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family and their descendants (God save the Queen!)  We (who?  Ed.) have never been 'free.'  As an epistemologist might say, we actually have no empirical knowledge of the nature of freedom....

(Or does that come under ontology?)

There are billions of grains of sand in the great egg-timer of evolution, and recent history is but a dot on the landscape....

I know nothing.....

So I walk to shake off the dust from my mind and to freshen my limbs, and to sample the gentle slopes of Salop.  A mountain ash brightens my way:

And I follow the ageing signs on the Mucklewick Walk:

Before diverging onto the Flenny Bank way:

Declining the offer of assistance from some appealing locals:

And thinking better of the possibility of a free lunch, perhaps discouraged by a lack of mint.....

Then I climb up from The Bog to the Stiperstones, scaling the heights of Cranberry Rock, my scoped Springfield M1A sniper rifle (bought from TacOpShop online for $2,425 complete with a black Archangel sniper stock, a bipod, a ten round metal, factory magazine and three twenty round Thermold polymer magazines) on my shoulder, ready to pick off the geriatrics one by one should they approach.....

I look to the north and genuflect towards the Devil's Chair, wondering if the fallen angel will return to take his seat, to rescue us from the modern miasma?

Then, without a shot being fired, I skelter off across the heath, passing Squilver and Stedment, crossing the River Onny at Bridges, then navigate the twisting single track over Wild Moor and the Long Mynd, past Boiling Well, and down perilous Burway Hill into Church Stretton, the heart of the Shropshire Hills.....

And not far from here, at Acton Scott, I pause for breath in Victorian times, the days when Alfred Edward Housman thought and wrote, creating his idealized vision of the English countryside in 63 melancholy lyrics.  I can almost smell the pessimism.....

But Hey!  Oh look!  The sun shineth and the harvest is a-coming in.  Sheaf by sheaf, the lord of the manor reaps in the glories of the Elysian idyll.  Yakob Reich-Mogadon puts together another completely imaginary show, while fiddling the books in his offshore empire....

And then, just by chance, I come across the lair of the ex-primate monster, the lousy, trotters-up David Scumerbag, or is it Davey Caiman?  I tiptoe up to tug at my forelock, trusting not to disturb the scratching of his goose quill as he writes another million dollar word....

[That word being, 'shit.']

And, with breath that reeks of despair, I spittle the words, Thank you, Davey, for all you have/have not done for your/my/our country.  I really appreciate your having created/delivered/precipitated the gravest crisis in political history this country has known since Oliver Cromwell [though, don't misunderstand me, he was a great man....]  And I love/hate/despise the way you scuttled off to scribble your memoirs as soon as the fan and the merde were clearly united.  Denying any responsibility.

What was that word?  Responsibility?  What is that?  Making sure the Bullingdon pig is clean?

Your superior/moneyed/privileged arrogance coupled with your weakness/blindness/selfishness has not only severely damaged my daughters', and their entire generation's, prospects, but has fomented civil division and unrest, raised the chances of the disintegration of the United Kingdom and contributed significantly to the further fragmentation of the European Union - created after WWII (initially as the European Coal and Steel Community) to ensure lasting peace - and to the rise of extremism, intolerance and a resurgence of would-be right-wing supremacists that will make the Ku Klux Klan look like circle time in a Woodstock kindergarten.....  

I hope you rot asphyxiated in your shepherd's hut and that, eventually, someone, anyone, if not me, pushes you and it over the White Cliffs of Dover.....

Whoops!  A little light-headed spin there!  Not to be taken literally of course, just a touch of ecstasy brought on by the image of a Shepherd's Hut, subconsciously linked to rural fantasies such as Far From The Madding Crowd, and All Quiet on the Western Front.....



Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman
A Shropshire Lad

But I am still having a 'nice' time.  They can't take that away from me.....

23 August 2018

Waterfall Country - The Brecon Beacons National Park

A Walk on the Wild Side....

Nothing can harm me at all
My worries seem so very small

My brother rigged up a sound system with Wharfedale speakers and a record deck set onto the truncated base of our first, defunct, tv set.  Some days Jacqueline du PrĂ© would practise Elgar.  Other days Hendrix would perfect his chords.  Are You Experienced was a revelation, as the stereo separation never quite seemed to work with the 'cello concertos.

In the quiet of the woods by Afon Mellte, walking downstream from Cwm Porth, this comes back to me, as Hendrix's words and fluid guitar over Mitch Mitchell's bubbling drums rise up in my head.

With my waterfall
I can see
My rainbow calling me
Through the misty breeze
Of my waterfall

It's a soft and beautiful day.  Grey clouds drift like goose down across the sky.  A very light drizzle just moistens the leaves.  A Dipper bobs at me from a rock in the stream, calling out as if he's gargling with tiny pebbles.  Then there's a flashing bolt of gunmetal as a Kingfisher rifles past, following the watercourse, too fast for my photographic skill.

This beautiful circular walk passes four waterfalls, bright with the recent rains, though not as awesome as they might be in full spate.  It's uneven, and quite strenuous, and takes four hours - an hour a waterfall.  How much is that? 

The largest of the falls is on the Afon Hepste, and is reached by climbing down 170 steps, and then slipping over the rocky riverbed to ease behind the curtain.  This one is known as Sgwd yr Eira.

Some people say
Daydreaming's for all the
Lazy minded fools
With nothin' else to do
So let them laugh, laugh at me
So just as long as I have you
To see me through
I've got nothing to lose
Long as I have you

It's cool under the river.  The water crashes and thunders and splashes and sprays, and follows its watercourse way to the sea.  

It is peaceful under the water.  Peace comes dropping slow.  The noise and shower cut out all lazy minded fools.  You have to make an effort to be here.

For a moment the sun shimmers clear of the downy clouds, and the rim of the falls glistens.  I couldn't wish for more.

Don't ever change your ways
Fall with me for a million days
Oh, my waterfall

Thank you, Jimi.....

Let them laugh.....

20 August 2018

Clevedon and Portishead

The English Seaside?

Everyone delights to spend their summer's holiday 
Down beside the side of the silvery sea. 
I'm no exception to the rule, in fact, if I'd me way, 
I'd reside by the side of the silvery sea.

But when you're just the common or garden Smith or Jones or Brown
at bus'ness up in town, you've got to settle down. 
You save up all the money you can til summer comes around
Then away you go to a place you know, where the cockle shells are found.

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 

I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! 
Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

Technically, Clevedon, with its wonderful Grade 1 listed Victorian Pier (the only one of its kind - opened in 1869 to receive paddle steamer passengers from Devon and Wales) isn't actually on the sea, as the muddy tidal waters that rise up and down the shore here belong to the Severn Estuary, which starts at the second Severn Bridge and becomes the Bristol Channel between Sand Point, near Weston-super-Mare, and Lavernock Point, south of Cardiff.

But Clevedon is a pretty spot, even if the beach doesn't compare particularly favourably with St Tropez, et al....

And when the song was written, by John A Glover-Kind in 1907, places such as this were thronged with holiday-makers seeking a blast of ozone and a whiff of the sun.  No cheap flights to Majorca in those days, just a bicycle  or charabanc ride down from Pill or Bedminster, or a train ride up from Weston, then maybe a dip in the marine lake and a dose of fish and chips.  

Aaaahhh, Bliss!

Perhaps dad would cast a line off the pier.....

While grandad got ice cream on his nose.....

Sixty years ago, my mother-in-law would drive the Morris Minor down from Henleaze and picnic with her two daughters on the rocks.  It was a treat much enjoyed and fondly remembered by my sister-in-law.  

Nowadays there's a slightly more cosmopolitan air about the place, but there's room for everyone, whatever the headgear....

The pier is fine attraction - not crammed with tacky stalls or fairground rides, but it has a nice little bar in the pagoda, and a neat shop and exhibition at the entrance.

A little up the coast towards the Avon is Portishead, famous for trip-hop, Adge Cutler and Carol Vordeman.  It has (almost) everything - a 250 berth marina, the X3a, X4 and X5 bus services, a boating lake, complete with swan pedalos....

And an open air swimming pool, lovingly saved by the community for the community in 2009....

Which sports a Banksy-style warning about not trying to get in for free....

And has a popular cafe attached with 'sea' views all the way to the Black Mountains in Wales.....  

Oh how we are going to have to learn to treasure all these wonders in the dark post-Brexit world!

The town is a dormitory now for Bristol, and it lacks the fine features of Clevedon, though views of the passing traffic to and from Avonmouth and Royal Portbury docks entertain happy holidaymakers.....

And it does have several benches on Battery Point, near the memorial to seafarers of the West Country who, since the middle ages, on voyages of discovery and in times of peace and war, have passed this point some never to return..... where fresh air can be had for free....

So just let me be beside the seaside
I'll be beside myself with glee
And there's lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside!
Beside the sea!

(Even if it's not actually the sea.....)