November 2018

This month has seen me making a concerted effort to get back into writing – something that has been proving difficult since our move from Islay.

Jan Fortune, my co-author for ‘Slate Voices’ (Cinnamon Press, 2014) has just created a new on-line course entitled ‘Becoming Your Story’. It was the incentive I needed to commit myself to writing every day. In addition to journaling it involves 12 Units and over 100 exercises designed to inspire. It has already given me a focus and in addition to the course work I’ve started a diary of writing about ‘The View from my Window’.

The first highlight this month was a meeting of The Marches Meadow Group where we learned about the excellent work being done by the Monmouthshire Meadow Group and drooled over photographs of meadows full of cowslips and green-winged orchids. After a picnic ‘lunch’ in the car we enjoyed a quiet walk on a spectacularly colourful carpet of fallen leaves in Beechfield Woods.

 The second highlight was the Shrewsbury Literary Festival where my piece ‘Why Literature Matters’ was the first reading of the evening – and which ended with not one, but two of Richard’s poems. Here are Richard’s poems

Golden Light – from World War 1 to Present

Transitory – are the golden flashes
from the big guns.
Permanent – is the golden sunlight.
Cannon fire extinguishes
the perception of light forever
yet words live on.

With Mary Webb as guide

With Mary Webb as guide
we too can know
the ancient roads
in the leaf of a nettle;
and the secret highways
revealed in ‘The Secret Joy’.

With her words in mind
we too can bathe
in the blue profound
of a speedwell petal
letting the wonders of the natural world
flow -through the prism of her words and ours.

Foot note – elements of the original 12 line poem ‘The Secret Joy’ are shown in italics.

And here we are looking suitably pleased with ourselves.

An extremely well presented session with Paul Evans, author of The Guardian’s Country Diary was followed by a Sunday morning workshop in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery where participants were each given an artifact and half an hour to write about it.

Here’s mine…

There is instant recognition. Something about its colour and form tells me that this broken lump of stone is a fossil. It takes me back to when, as a small child, I collected crinoid stems from the limestone walls that surrounded our back yard – small cylinders from the days when deep seas drowned our house. A revelation that spoke of the history of a world which, until then, had been restricted to today, tomorrow and a few insignificant yesterdays. Saved as treasures in an old tobacco tin, my crinoid stems were tiny. Although commonly known as Sea Lilies, I had been told that they were animals with arms for catching food and a stem for attaching to a suitable substrate.

I don’t know what this fossil is but I know it has been part of something much larger than a crinoid. I feel its weight, breathe in its unfamiliar scent – a scent unlike most scents in that it reminds me of nothing. But I know that if I smell it again it will take me back to this moment so that I will recall how it fits my hand, how my fingers curl around its curve and how its broken edge sits snug against my palm. It grows warm in my hand, begins to pulse as if there’s something of its 400 million year past that is still alive. Something that can’t be lost despite the change on change that year on year has wrought.

Animal, vegetable or mineral? The old game comes to mind. It’s mineral now, nothing more than a rock-like copy of its former self. But what was it when it was alive? I note its pock-marked skin, the regularity of evenly spaced depressions that form a pattern of spirals. Could it be the branch of a long dead tree, the stype of an underwater coral or the tentacle of an octopus-like creature that haunted the seas of long ago?

I close my eyes and ponder on images depicting man’s impression of the earth as it was before dinosaurs, before birds, before mammals, before man came to lord it over all and disrupt the balance. I evoke the Carboniferous era where warmth and water give rise to luxurious vegetation. I see tree-like plants towering into steamy air. Regular depressions spiral their way up green trunks that are crowned with fronds or terminate in long grass-like leaves that plume from the tips like the headdress of some exotic feathered bird. The picture in my mind’s eye fits. The fossil finds a name – Stigmaria – part of the underground rooting system of a Lycopsid ‘tree’ – maybe the most famous all, the Lepidodendron that towered above its neighbours in the primeval swamp.

After the workshop we walked along the Severn from Shrewbury’s English Bridge to the Welsh Bridge and saw where the Raebrook (the one that runs through our river garden) meets the Severn.

There were goosanders and a brief glimpse of a kingfisher. Both these species frequent our small stretch of the Raebrook and it was good to have the goosanders back after a few months absence. The males have been on their moulting migration to Norway while the females reared the goslings and had a shorter ‘holiday’ on some UK estuary.

Now there will be the run up to Christmas although we don’t celebrate it in extravagant style. We will get together with the family at some point and the only preparations that we should tackle in the next week are Christmas cards and our annual newsletter. I still have mixed feelings about this yearly account of things that have happened since the previous Christmas but so many people have said that they look forward to catching up with our doings that we don’t feel we can stop.