Tag Archives: Wales

A tale of two birds – or rather three.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/Stonechat_%28Saxicola_rubicola%29_male%2C_Beaulieu%2C_Hampshire.jpg/640px-Stonechat_%28Saxicola_rubicola%29_male%2C_Beaulieu%2C_Hampshire.jpg

The scattering of white feathers showed where a black-headed gull had been killed; the corpse lay a couple of feet away, the breast picked almost clean by the second bird, the sparrowhawk who has become quite familiar in this part of town. Satisfied with its meal, it had flown away already.

The third bird was totally unconcerned by this drama, and a real surprise on Abbot’s Hill. Sitting on a stump nearby: a smart, robin-like creature which was indeed a stonechat. I don’t recall seeing one locally before but he was singing as if he owned the place and had no intention of going west to the old brown hills. I feel sure he will though.

It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.

The West Wind, John Masefield.

stonechat

World Dylan Day

Today is Dylan Day. Despite a swell of opinion that Dylan was not a religious writer, I find the evidence points to a deep spiritual awareness and yearning. Here is a taste of why I see many parallels between him and Augustine.

At the end of the fourth century Augustine of Hippo opens his masterpiece, the Confessions, with these words:

To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’

1550 years later,  Dylan Thomas, would tell John Davenport that his poetry was written for the love of man and in praise of God; indeed the prologue of his Collected Poems tells how he sought to obey his calling and overcome his fears to:

‘… build my bellowing ark

To the best of my love

As the flood begins,

Out of the fountainhead

Of fear, rage, red, manalive.’

The poet Kathleen Raine affirms that however chaotic his lifestyle, Dylan’s poetry is ‘holy’, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’, and confessional, in the double meaning that Augustine intended: a recounting of experience entwined with praise of God: Dylan’s awareness of his work as prayer grew as he matured. His masterpiece, the radio play Under Milk Wood, also opens by invoking Creation, familiar from Genesis and John’s Gospel:

‘To begin at the Beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black.’

Here are two books written by men in mid-life, although Under Milk Wood would be Dylan’s last work. This is the story of a community of people like him, saints who are sinners, a Welsh City of God, funnier and warmer than Augustine’s version. Sadly we mortals may not yet linger there.

Dylan had seen Llareggub builded here, in Wales, the Chosen Land. It is no mean city, although it is little, like Wales, and like Wales, or the Churches of John’s Revelation, it is on earth as it is in heaven. Dylan was nurtured at the same source as Augustiine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry released for the ‘spinning man’ a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, we may hope that ‘the flood flowers now’ for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ of his life.

Crows

Talking as we were of ravens, we saw a full set of crows in Anglesey and Caernarfon: Raven, rook, carrion crow, jay, jackdaw, and the inescapable magpie, as well as the choughs around South Stack. Carrion crows, as in Kent, fancy themselves as waders, and ravens seem to like the beach as well; choughs and jackdaws enjoy the wind, as if having fun in the air is what they were created for. There won’t be so much time to play in a week or two, when breeding really gets going!

Friendly foraging

Lunch with the cuckoo was special enough, but I had arrived at the Goods Shed just as Enzo was taking the bread from the oven. My loaf was wrapped in a flash and straight in my bag. Back home, I spread it with wild garlic pesto, tomato paste, cheese and olives. Satisfying!

Read NAIB’s account of foraging Welsh wild garlic, below.

https://doubtdespairparadise.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/spring-foraging/

Mrs Turnstone is trying to grow some in a shady part of our garden, thanks to a gift from a friend. We’ve allowed ourselves no more than a couple of leaves for salad this year, hoping the patch will spread.

Over the Menai Bridges to Anglesey

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We crossed the Britannia Bridge to stay near the Menai Straits, with views across to Snowdonia: well named on our arrival as the tops were white. We enjoyed four seasons in a week. The first weather to impose itself was the wind, sweeping across the island from East to West, blowing NAIB into my arms as we climbed the steps to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Amlwch. Later in the week rain did not prevent her joining the old folks across the Menai Bridge in Caernarfon while G studied. IMGP5106Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge is older, built in 1826 for the Irish Mail Coaches to Holyhead, and strengthened since to take modern traffic. Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge was built in 1850 for the Railway, but vandals destroyed the track and the iron tubes carrying it. The piers remain, with a new road and rail bridge built between them in 1970. We were pleased to cross them both!

The evening sun shone when these pictures were taken, full on the Menai Bridge but, seen from the East, shining through to emphasise the grace of the 1970 structure between the Britannia’s piers.

Battle of the Birds

A week across the border with Mrs T, NAIB and HDGB: the students preparing to finish their courses deserved a reading week on Anglesey, Ynys Môn. Peace among the daffodils to gather thoughts onto paper or disc.

The sun shone and we sat out of doors with our coffee. A call drew eyes to the sky where six big birds circled on the thermals. ‘Buzzards’, suggested HDGB, but no buzzard ever barked like that. ‘Ravens’, I asserted.

The species are similar in size, both have fingered ends to their wings, though their tails differ. As we watched, it became clear that neither of our identifications was wrong. A pair of buzzards were being attacked in mid-air and sent packing by the ravens, swooping in and pecking the hawks’ wingtips.

We once witnessed a similar display over our heads in Kent, when rooks were asserting their territorial rights. This time the buzzards soared back towards the mainland as the sun’s brightness took them from our sight.

My Last School Trip 3 – On and Off the Road.

So here we are, all but ready to depart. Paul and Emily provided the transcript of what was said, at least what their microphone picked up.

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Transcript of Scene 1

Loading the bus

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mr Cockle: Get a move on Darren. That bag will have to be put in the boot, it’s too big to go inside the bus.

Darren: Sir, it’s got my things in. I need it on the journey. And Dean’s sandwiches. I’ll shove it under the seat.

Mr Cockle: In the boot.

Darren: I need it, Sir. What if I get an asthma attack?

Mr Cockle: You don’t have asthma attacks. Your mother hasn’t put it on your consent form.

Mrs Cockle: For heaven’s Charlie! We should have been moving half an hour ago. Just let him put his bloody bag under the seat. You boy, get in, get your bag in, and shut up!

Darren: Yes Miss. Thank you Miss.

Note: We did ask Mr Turnstone if we ought to bleep Mrs Cockle’s “bloody” but he said why bleep that when we couldn’t take out the rest of her rudeness?So we have left it in. PT, EM.


We didn’t think you needed a propaganda clip of how well great Elms students and staff can behave in public. But all the same, we did stop at the Reading Motorway Services.

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Passage cut from Scene 3

At the Motorway Services

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mrs Cockle: Did you really have to bring that bag in here?

Darren: It might have got nicked off the bus, Miss.

Mrs Cockle: Well, you should have put it in the boot then, Shouldn’t you?

Darren: Yes Miss, I mean, no Miss. 1’m not hurting anyone, am I?

Man in red shirt: falls over bag. Look what you’re doing you little ________ . I’ll Knock your block off.

Darren: You look where you’re going! I don’t want my things spoiled by an ugly lump of a United supporter!

Man in red shirt: Cut it out kid.

Mr Cockle: stands up, all six foot two of him. What was it you wanted?

Man in red shirt: Nothing, sir. Shuffles off with his burger and cola.

Darren: looks in bag. Whispers to Dean: He’s all right. To Mr Cockle:  Not you Sir, I mean, you are all right Sir, thank you Sir. Thanks, Sir. Thank you sir.  Moves tables. Hi Ollie! Hey, Mr Turnstone, what’s Tintern Abbey? Miss Jackson set us homework on some poem about it while we’re away. She said the trip would help.

Mr Turnstone: We might even see it. I can ask the driver to go past. It’s a ruined abbey by the River Wye. Remember Henry VIII? And there’s a famous poem by Wordsworth – remember the Daffodils man? Its a bit long, I’m afraid, not your cup of tea at all. Did she give you the words?

Darren: No sir. She said we could find them on the internet.

Mr Turnstone: Well you could look it up when we get to the Centre. But what has it got in its pocketses, nasty teacher? Pulls out a little book, ‘Selected Romantic Verse’ and starts to read the poem:

Five years have passed: five summers,

With the length of five long winters.

Mr Cockle: Pipe down Will! You’re not in class now!

Darren: Well there would be five winters if there’s five summers, Sir. What’s he on about?

Mr Turnstone: Oh, you know, PE teachers. They like the sound of their own voices, but not anyone else’s.

Darren: Not him Sir, Wordsworth, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: Wait and see, Darren, wait and see. Some of it will make sense, but even the university professors don’t agree what he’s talking about. And he does go on a bit. Look! Pages of it!

Darren. Thanks Sir. Help! All that’s just one poem! He does go on! I can’t read all that! It’s definitely not fair, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: Come on, time to go! I’ll carry your bag and you can push Ollie.

Darren. Let me zip it up first, Sir.

I should introduce Ollie. He insisted on coming to Wales. He doesn’t let being in a wheelchair stop him doing very much. How we would get him up mountains, into canoes or sailing boats and down ropes remained to be seen. But I can tell you now that he did it all. I have the video pictures to prove it – and Ollie had the bruises.


Tintern Abbey

I didn’t think the homework was fair either hut I couldn’t say that to Darren. Teachers have to stick together against the kids, PE staff included. (I mean included with the teachers, though they can be worse than the kids.) Still, Darren and Dean and Stacey and the rest of them knew I thought holidays should be a homework free zone.

The driver said he was planning to go by Tintern to avoid road works on the main road, so a couple of hours on from the services we crossed the original Severn Bridge. By then everyone had tired of pulling faces at the United supporters overtaking us on the motorway. United are the team our kids love to hate. Charlie tried to start a countdown as we crossed the border into Wales, which at least woke people up. He does like the sound of his own voice. The driver headed up the Wye Valley, following the brown signs for Tintern, a treat for Ms Jackson’s English group – who should have been mine, and who wouldn’t have had any homework if I’d been teaching them.

Charlie refused to stop and visit the Abbey because he hadn’t done a risk assessment and did not want “those Hogben idiots climbing the bloody walls.” So we drove past the ruins at 30 m.p.h. People didn’t seem impressed by what we saw from the road.

“Is that it, nothing much, is it?”

“You’d see better from up the hill, Stacey, then it looks all spread out. But we’d never get up there in this bus. Anyhow, the poem’s nothing to do with the actual Abbey, It’s called ‘Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

“Lines, Sir. It feels like lines, Sir, poems on holiday.”

“Well you haven’t brought Your English rough book, have you?”

“No, Sir.”


Charlie eventually called a halt a few miles up the valley instead. Time to stretch our legs. Unexpectedly, Darren was last off. No-one saw what he was doing behind the seats. I was filming with my back to the bus.

The lay-by was an arc of gravel at the foot of a wall of rock, say 30 metres high, obviously an old quarry. Trees had sprung up all around, but it looked out across the Wye valley to meadows, cliffs, and far off, the towers of the Severn Bridge. Dean was three quarters of the way up our cliff before Charlie Cockle saw him and called him down.


Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Transcript of Scene 5

Dean on the rocks

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

Mr Cockle: Darren Hogben!

Paul: It’s not Darren, Sir, it’s Dean!

Mr Cockle: I don’t care which one it is! Dean Hogben! Come down. You’re not safe without ropes and a helmet. That rock-face has not been risk assessed.

Ollie: Sir, do you think he’s all right Sir?

Mr Cockle: Of course he’s not all right! Not if he falls. To Dean, louder and louder: If you don’t come down at once, if I have to get up there and rescue you, if you damn well fall, I am not responsible, do you hear me?

General editor’s note: Obviously Dean was too far away to hear Mr Cockle’s best come-on-you-slackers voice, for he just kept on climbing. I would have thought no-one would dare join him with Charlie in that state, though Dean was actually in very little danger, as the cliff was like a giant staircase, but suddenly, just to his right and a few metres higher, appeared two red faces, and Mr Cockle’s turned scarlet to match. 

Mr Cockle: Stacey Oxenden and Gemma Toop! What are you doing up there with that idiot?

Dean: Silly, high-pitched voice: Hi Girlies!

Stacey: We’re not with Dean, Sir. We were only going to the loo, Sir. We came up the footpath.

Mr Cockle: Well you can just come down the footpath! And so can you Darren!

Dean: Dean, Sir! Whatever  you say Sir!

 

That was when we heard the dog. A tragic, bewildered yowling.

Darren: It’s all right, he’s OK.

 

As everyone turned to look at Darren petting a little brown dog,  we heard singing. A snatch from an old Welsh song, appropriately enough, but not sung by a male voice choir, fit to set your hair on end; no, this was Dean, triumphant at the top of the cliff, his falsetto fit to set your teeth on edge:

Dean: Gemma went behind a bush,

She was in a dreadful rush.

She came out feeling better

But the bush was feeling wetter.

Did you ever see, Did you ever see,

Did you ever see such a funny thing before?

Gemma: Shut up Dean! Think you’re so funny, don’t you! Well you can just get lost, and you’re not coming down with us, thank you very much.

Dean: So, I’d better come down by the way I came.

Mr Cockle: No you don’t! Come back down the path like I said.

Turning to Darren, who was now standing on the bus steps.

What are you doing there,Dean? Don’t move! I don’t want you chasing up there after that cousin of yours.

Darren: Darren, Sir. I wasn’t going to, Sir. I might not have a head for heights.

Mr Cockle: Well you’ll need one before the week’s up, but there’s no call to be practising now! Stay down here!

Darren: Yes, Sir.

Mr Turnstone: (trying to defuse the situation): Listen, all of you. Since you have been given it for homework, let me read a passage from Wordsworth’s poem. He wrote it near here:

— Once again

      Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

      That on a wild secluded scene impress

      Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

      The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

      The day is come when I again repose

      Here, under this dark sycamore,

Dean: Was that a sycamore you was reposing under, Gemma?

Mr Turnstone: Listen, Dean, Gemma, Stacey, everybody: cool it! Let’s start this holiday in the right spirit:

. . .neither evil tongues,

      Rash judgements, nor the sneers of selfish men,

      Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all        

      The dreary intercourse of daily life,

      Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb

      Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold

      Is full of blessings.

 

We’re away from daily life, so let’s be cheerful! Life is full of blessings, folks, even Dean could be a blessing to someone before the week is out! Just let’s forget all these greetings where no kindness is, let’s be nice to Mr Cockle, and get back on the bus.

Charlie didn’t quite get what my little speech was about, but he watched the students very quietly getting back on the bus. And off we went, deep into deepest Wales.