Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

I remember so well that day at Wallbridge in Stroud,
Seeing the man whose name I do not know,
Yet with whom I always share the time of day
Whenever our paths cross in the street;
He was leaning on the canal bridge,
Gazing out over the waters,
Beyond the information board
Which portrays Stroud Scarlet,
Stretched out on tenterhooks
In Rodborough Fields;
He was staring at the Cainscross Road,
Where the Slad Brook enters the canal -
In a reverie about the old brewery, I thought -
‘Remembering the smell of the beer?’ I asked;
‘No, I’m just thinking about all of these cars,
Where they all comin’ from, and where they all goin’ to?’

I thought of him, the canal, the cars and the picture today,
When striding out into New York City;
Some of that Stroud Scarlet stretched out in Rodborough Fields
Might well have ended up in New York,
Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago,
A spreading splash of crimson on Brooklyn Heights;
It had already been traded with the Iroquois,
A century before that,
And some slaves south of the Mason-Dixon Line
Would have been bought with Stroud Scarlet back in Africa;

Back home, locals might well have gathered to gaze and chat on the bridge,
Talking of the war in America,
And of the new Stroudwater Navigation,
Watching the coaches and the Severn trows,
Wondering where they all comin’ from,
And where they all goin’ to;

Charles Mason, of the Mason-Dixon Line,
Was born back home:Wear Farm, Oakridge Lynch:
Baptized at Sapperton Church, May Day 1728;
Thomas Pynchon imagined him over at Randwick,
Watching a cheese rolling, admiring Susannah Peach,
Dreaming of the wealth in her father’s Minchinhampton house -
Samuel Peach, ‘a growing Power within the East India Company’;
But Charles met and fell in love with Rebekah –
‘he went toppling on to the grass …
As he arose, holding his head … her Voice first reached him.
“Were it Night –time, Sir, I’d say you were at Star-Gazing.”
Her looks had him stupefied’,
There near ‘The towns around the Golden Valley’,
‘The precise Geography of the Water-shed was now primary,-
where Races might go, for Wheels to be driven and Workshops
to be run from them… ‘twas like coming before the Final Judge’,

Which is why whilst Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were making their line,
Twixt Pennsylvania and Maryland,
Manufacturers and surveyors and the traders of Stroudwater
Were dreaming of a line, a cut and an inland navigation,
Stretching from the Severn at Framilode, and so on to Stroud;

But in the year when General Wolfe and his Stroud Scarlet troops
Stormed the heights of Quebec,
Mason’s first wife, died:
A memorial tablet stands upon a tombstone at Sapperton,
To recall her life,
When a few short years before,
Colonel Wolfe had ridden down striking weavers
in the valleys around Horsley and Stroud,
And even though he professed some sympathy for their plight:
“The people are so oppressed, so poor and so wretched,
that they will, perhaps, hazard a knock on the pate for bread and clothes… the poor half-starved weavers…beg about the country for food…the masters have beat down their wages too low to live upon,
and I believe it is a just complaint”,
He was in charge of six companies of foot soldiers
Enough “to beat the mob of all England”;
He reported that
” Those who are most oppressed have seized the tools
and broke the looms of others who would work if they could”.
And so he obediently awaited orders
from “the magistrates to use our weapons against them” –
and so, the production of Stroud Scarlet resumed,
Laid out on tenterhooks, in that picture down by the canal,
Ready for ‘The American War of Independence’,
 ‘The American Revolution’ -
For in 1775, General Howe stiffened Loyalist New York’s resolve
With over 30,000 soldiers:
Stroud Scarlet troops landing at Staten Island and Long Island;
Ready for George Washington’s march south from Boston,
To the tip of Manhattan, across the East River, to Long Island,
And Brooklyn Heights;

Washington was eventually forced to retreat
After the redcoats’ stealthy advance up what is now Park Slope,
(With just one solitary victory to his name, at Harlem Heights),
Back across the East River, once more into Manhattan;
Then further along roads on the west bank,
Across the Hudson River to reach New Jersey,
Across the Delaware, and so into Pennsylvania;
The British army and Stroud Scarlet would occupy New York
For the rest of the conflict,
But it was a hollow victory:
The British army would depart in ignominy,
Seven years later, on November 25th 1783;

Five more years would pass,
Until King George the Third would lose his mind,
The year in which he would start talking to the trees,
Lamenting ‘The loss of my Colonies’,
The year in which he visited the locks at Wallbridge,
And the tunnel at Sapperton,
The year before the French Revolution
Would subsequently lead to more war,
More tenterhooks,
And more Stroud Scarlet,
And yet more crimson spilt:
Families on tenterhooks,
Hoping husbands, sons and brothers would return,
Uninjured, in one piece
(Rather than forced to beg in tattered red),
To Stroud, its looms, its springs, its brooks and streams,
Its scarlet, and its crimson,
Up there in Rodborough Fields,
Above the Slad Brook,
Unaware of the fate of Nathan Hale,
A generation before,
Arrested in Queens as a spy,
‘Hanged by the redcoats’
In Manhattan in 1776, aged twenty-one:
‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’:
The Slad Brook and Brooklyn conjoined.

Places to visit:
Saint Paul’s Church, downtown; Morris-Jumel Mansion, uptown;
Rivington Street, named after a Loyalist printer who acted as a spy for Washington and as a double-agent;
MacDougal Street, named after Alexander MacDougal, who founded the New York Sons of Liberty; Hannah MacDougal, his wife, led a Broadway march against his imprisonment for his ‘To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York’;
Murray Hill , remembers Robert Murray and his Wall Street shipping company and Murray’s Wharf, but even more his wife, Mary, who detained British officers with a fine meal, thus allowing American troops to escape pursuit;
Francis Lewis Boulevard – Mr Lewis, the merchant, signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of New York. The Declaration was declaimed on July 9th 1776, in what is now City Hall Park.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that New York is named after James, Duke of York (after the Dutch gave up ‘New Amsterdam’). The Duke, the future King James the Second, was a leading light in the Royal African Company. So much so, that slaves were branded DY before the middle passage to the Americas and the West Indies. There seems to be an amnesia about this: King’s County; Queen’s County; Prince Street … New York …

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Lodgemore Mills and the Elements:

Lodgemore Mills and the Elements:

There is a sort of elemental magic at work at Lodgemore -
The very word itself suggests an ability to expand beyond
Natural confines of space and time:
The lodging of Fire, Air, Earth and Water,
A numinous presence around these mill walls,
A perpetual elemental infusion and confusion
Of history, continuity and change:

There have been three fires here: in 1802, 1811 and 1871:
The 1829 Register of Pennsylvania looked at
The phenomenon of ‘spontaneous combustion’,
And ‘enumerated several substances, which under particular circumstances spontaneously inflamed, and it may be serviceable to mention, as a caution to woollen manufacturers, that a destructive fire at Lodgemore Mills near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, which happened, June, 1811, was occasioned by a quantity of flocks impregnated by Curier’s oil being left on the floor.’

The air, so necessary for this combustion,
Was once, more comforting,
Enveloping the cloth
Stretched out to dry on tenterhooks;

The subterranean limestone,
Quarried for mill, factory and cottage,
Also gave up its
Fullers Earth,
So necessary for the cleaning of the cloth;

The limestone and the Fuller’s Earth,
Also gave the five valleys its springs,
Its streams, rivers, cuts and canals,

For Lodgemore Mills,
For the sluice gates; the maze of waterways, streams, rivers, Navigations, spumes, flumes and watery divagations,

Dripping down the mouldering walls and rusting guttering;

Once stoked beneath the now crumbling chimney,
And no longer wreaking spontaneous havoc;
Air, Earth and Water
Nurturing the ash trees growing tall above the mill roofs;
Gothic-green ivy clambering over walls
And the present tense,
As the past reclaims the future,
In a landscape where nothing is stable,
All is mutable,
As the elements jostle for their daily lodging at Lodgemore Mills,
Watching us pass by in contemplative, detached amusement:
‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Inter-Textuality in a Rodborough Churchyard

It was the most perfect equinoctial evening,
But with the six o’clock sun in drivers’ eyes,
I decided to walk rather than cycle - for a change,
And chose to walk to Rodborough Church,
Rather than straight up the hill to the common;

I sauntered along Spillmans to reach the church gate,
Where, placed carefully within the clambering ivy,
Was a lost shopping list, a middle class preparation
For a dinner party: precisely categorized calligraphy,
Upper case black ink, detailing the requirements:
YOGHURTS SOUR CREAM then four items I couldn't read shrouded by the branches and leaves of the ivy (Why didn’t I move the branch? I dunno. I think it’s because it felt as though I were regarding an exhibit in a gallery or museum, or perhaps it was the memory of a Christian upbringing …)
then another couple of ivy covered items

Someone had scrawled across this notelet in blue biro,
Poshy doshy – a young hand, condemnatory and judgmental,
Turning the world of class and deference upside down
In an inter-textual, meta-textual sort of way;
It was though Life itself had become the writer
In this churchyard of embedded narratives;

I felt compelled to record this postmodernist happenstance -
So penned these lines, sitting on a gravestone,
In the evening sunshine, imagining
That I would place the scrap of exercise paper
Next to the shopping list in the ivy;

But when I turned the church’s shadowed corner,
I came across this notice:
This is NOT a rubbish bin. Please take all flower wrappings, pots, wreaths and your graveyard rubbish home with you. Thank you

As Louis Armstrong put it in High Society:
'End of story.'

Trains and Boats and Games

Trains and Boats and Games

I was due to meet Andy at Temple Meads:
He was coming on the train from Yate,
 I was coming from Stroud via Swindon
(I wanted to call in at the Radical Book Fair,
To collect a pamphlet on smuggling),
But the signals were down at Parkway,
So I sat on a bench outside Temple Meads,
Listening to a man talk of seeing the debuts
Of Colin Bell and Wynn Davies,
While I ate a cheese and onion pasty,
Awaiting Andy,
When another man sat next to me,
Opened a map and asked:
''Do you know Bristol?'
I thought – correctly - that he might be a Derby fan,
So asked him if he fancied going to the match by boat,
Just as Andy texted:
Train cancelled, he'd have to drive,
So he'd meet me at the ground with my ticket.

My new, substitute Rams mate introduced himself,
Shook my hand: ‘Peter’; ‘Stuart,’ I replied,
Explaining that I wasn't local, but a Swindon fan -
'We've got something in common then,'
'Dave Mackay,' I replied.

It was going well.

We talked of Derby pubs:
The Brunswick, the Alexandra, the Peacock,
And how I’d never been to a match by water before -
Peter has previous, however:
‘When I watch a match at Derby,
I have a couple of pints in the Peacock,
Then walk along the River Derwent,
So that’s going to a match by water, I suppose.’

This sounded all a bit Arnold Bennett to me,
Transposed from the Potteries to the Peacock,
And I drifted away:

‘Around the field was a wide border of … hats … pale faces, rising in tiers, and beyond this border, fences, hoardings, chimneys, furnaces, gasometers, telegraph-poles, houses and dead trees.’

I thought of Arkwright, Cromford, the Derwent, and Bennett,
Until Peter asked me about Stroud, and Slad,
And, reverie over,
We spoke of Laurie Lee, the Woolpack, Clough, Taylor,
Forest, Mackay, Robertson, the European Cup Final,
Our banner referencing George Orwell at Real Madrid:
'Homage to Clough n Taylor',
And my letter to Brian Moore,
Asking if the cameras could focus on our pennant,
And his reply, written in fountain pen,
'What a night in Madrid, Stuart!
Hope you got the message over,
Best wishes, Brian.'

Peter Quinn, for it was he, then talked of his book:
A Ram's Fan's Fanfayre,
With chapter headings,
All starting with the prefix ‘For’:
‘Fortune, Forgettable, and so on,’
Conversing as the ferry made its way through the docks.
Until we alighted, asked the way of some Bristol fans,
And I left Peter in safe company at a cider- house,
The suitably named ‘Orchard.’

The build up to the game was great –
Peter and the ferry,
Andy with my ticket, driving befuddled through Bristol,
Eventually meeting me at Ashton Gate,
Then meeting his B.C.F.C. mate, Lee,
Who took us for a tour of the ground …

Then the constant singing of the beer swilled Derby fans,
'Forest are losing, Forest are losing,
'We are Derby, Super-Derby, Super-Derby, Super Rams',
'Derby Army', 'Derby Army', 'Derby Army',
The man in the fancy dress outfit: ‘Sheep on Tour’,
Hearing the half times: Swindon, two nil down,
Meeting my BCFC brother in law, Trevor, after the game,
With Bruce, my wife's cousin, over from Canada,
Meeting my charming, new grand-nephew, Rupert,
For the first time …

The match was a slightly tedious one all draw,
With countless throw-ins, a general air of ineptitude,
And if it wasn't for the Rams fans,

But the build up, and the aftermath,
The meeting of friends old and new,
Peter the Ram,
Andy the Ram.
Lee the Robin,
Bristol supporters on the ferry,
Bristol supporters at the Orchard,
Bruce, political reporter for the Toronto Star,
The greeting of a new baby,
A fourth generation Bristol City fan:
Rupert the Robin,

All mean that the day, and hence the match, too,
Have to be filed under the chapter heading:
Because sometimes a football match
Is only incidental to the enjoyment of a football match -
It’s what happens before and afterwards that count:
Trains and Boats not Games.