The Wonderful Poem

I had a dream a few nights back that I was with a poet- who was sort of W.H. Auden but only vaguely so- and he'd just written a really good poem he had doubts about. I thought the poem was wonderful and was telling him so, but conceding that if he really insisted he could swap a few words around and it would be entirely the poem he intended- when I suddenly realized I was in a dream and he was only a dream character and so the poem was actually mine and I could claim it - which made me happy- whereupon I made every effort to memorize it...

...And then I woke up. And I couldn't remember a single word of the wonderful poem- or even what it was about.

The Devil's Stone, Newington, Swale

There are various versions of the legend.

One of them tells how the Devil, annoyed by the ringing of the bells of St Mary's church in Newington, decided to steal them, and jumping from the tower, left his footprint on the stone where he landed.

And it must be true because here's the stone and here's the footprint- not a hoofmark as you might expect but the outline of a very large brogue- and not so much an imprint as a raised mark- but that's the Devil for you, always has to do things differently...

The story continues that the Devil dropped the bells- and they fell into a nearby stream. A passing witch told the villagers that the only way they'd get them out was if they hitched them to a couple of pure white oxen- so they found the oxen, hitched them to the bells and all was going swimmingly until a little boy pointed out that one of the oxen had a black spot behind one of its ears- whereupon the bells tumbled back into the stream and were never seen again....

There were originally two stones, sited in or on a bank- probably the remains of a neolithic burial chamber. One of them was broken up in the 1930s and incorporated in a wall (it was noted with much wagging of heads that the two councillors who ordered this done died shortly afterwards.) The other stone, this one, was relocated to a site just outside the churchyard, in what is now a car park.

Return To The High Street

It was forecast that lots of little businesses would go to the wall because of lockdown, but it just doesn't seem to have happened. We walked down Rochester High Street yesterday morning- and all the odd little shops were open and flourishing- and if there were gaps in the array I didn't spot any. Covid monitors were strolling about in high viz jackets- with labels saying "Medway Greeter" on their chests- basically doing the job that affable local police used to do before they were swept off the streets and into offices and squad cars.

We'd gone to Rochester to visit Baggins Book Bazaar- because if anyone has a nice secondhand edition of the complete works of Charles Dickens for sale it should be the very big bookshop in Dickens' home town. And indeed they had such an edition displayed in the window, only...only... only they don't open on a Tuesday. Rats! But never mind, we'll book time off on one of the days they do open and try again.

In Dreams

In dreams we forget ourselves. We exist, but exist without fixed attributes. Sometimes we revert to earlier phases of our existence- so that we find ourselves back in school or parenting children who in "reality" are middle-aged. In dreams our status and even our gender are up for grabs. We are naked consciousness, rifling through the dressing-up box. Dead people appear and we don't turn a hair. We're in a state akin to weightlessness with everything unmoored and floating around- only the constraint that has been removed isn't gravity but time.

In waking life we clasp our identity tight; in dreams it is lightly mocked, modulates, ceases to be.

"Let Us Bury The Great Duke..."

Judy tells me the royal funeral was going out live on all the major US channels- CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC. That's worse than over here- where the BBC is still sucking its sore thumb over negative viewer response to its blanket coverage of the man's death- and how it displaced programmes like the final of Masterchef.

I dipped in and out. My old mucker John Sentamu, former Archbishop of York, was telling us about the depth of the Prince's faith- and I wondered how on earth he could know. I mean, were they bosom buddies? Was he the man's confessor?

I switched off after that, but switched on again as the coffin was being carried into the chapel. St George's, Windsor is a gorgeous building. The black masks that everyone apart from the officiants were wearing put me in mind of the elite orgy in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut- the kind of gathering Philip would have been familiar with in his younger days...

I think the camera persons had been given instructions to avoid any shots that showed how the Princes William and Harry were not being trusted to walk next to one another.

It was nice that the Covid regulations- which limited mourners to 30- kept the politicians away.

There was no room for Elton either, or the Beckhams...

The Dean read a passage from Ecclesiasticus. I looked it up afterwards because it was unfamiliar to me. I imagine the Duke had chosen it (and apparently he'd scripted the whole show in advance) because of it containing a line about sailors- and he was always a sailor at heart. The version used was one of those modern ones which put the text through a ringer that squeezes out all the poetry.

A choir of four sung "For those on peril on the sea"- which conjured up a vision of Philip's ghost in a tiny bark tossing on dark and stormy waves. They also sang something by Benjamin Britten.

I went elsewhere during the Britten, but left the TV on to keep my mother company. The person she used to be would have insisted on watching- and in an atmosphere of hush. Now she hasn't a clue. The Duke was her senior by a few months....

Judy says the Archbishop of Canterbury talked sense. I think he's a twit.

Edith Walks

I picked a film at random last night.

Andrew Kotting's Edith Walks looked like fun- and so it is. Five old geezers and a younger woman in a long white dress walk from Waltham Abbey to St Leonards as a tribute to King Harold II and Edith Swan-neck his "handfasted wife". They are all artists of some sort. The woman is the singer Claudia Barton, one of the geezers is the percussionist David Aylward, another is Jem Finer of The Pogues, a third is the psychogeographer Iain Sinclair. The other two are Kotting himself- wearing some sort of pixieish Anglo-Saxon hood or hat- and the photographer Anonymous Bosh. On the way they meet up with "comics magus" Alan Moore- who propounds the theory, first mooted in the Dr Who Annual for 1985- that Harold escaped the Battle of Hastings and carried on the fight against the Normans as Hereward the Wake- and suggests that since time doesn't really exist everything that ever happened is happening at once (an opinion with which I wouldn't quarrel.) Claudia sings, the musicians make music with found objects, Finer records the sound that Claudia's train makes as it drags over rough terrain. Their progress is  recorded, shakily and blurrily, on super 8- and just occasionally in a format that offers greater clarity- with interjections of footage- shot in 1966 by three school teachers- of primary school children in homemade costumes "re-enacting" the battle of Hastings. It is shambolic, wayward, silly, magical, deliberately artless and must have cost next to nothing to make.

Where We Live

This is where we live. The itsy-bitsy light in the sky is the Moon.

Isn't it odd how the Moon dominates the sky when you're looking at it in real life but looks tiny in photographs. That's because the camera sees innocently, without culture getting in the way.

Snakeshead Fritillaries

These have been appearing in our garden in growing numbers for several years. I counted over a hundred this morning- mostly in a clump round one particular tree, but with several outliers. Richard Mabey calls them "one of the most local of well-known British flowers." Modern agriculture has driven them out of many of their former haunts but they can still be found in the wild in various odd places- most notably in water meadows along the Thames Valley. I don't know whether our snakeheads can be called wild or not; on the one hand they're growing in a garden but on the other we didn't knowingly put them there.

Mabey quotes the 16th century botanist Gerard as glossing the genus name fritillaria as meaning "of the table or boord upon which men plaie at chesse, which square checkers the flower doth very much resemble." Experts are divided as to whether they're a native wild flower or a garden escapee.

Sorting Out An Estate

Ailz has been up in Derbyshire sorting out her godmother's estate. Her godmother died over a year ago- and the house has stood empty and untouched- but- thanks to the Covid rules this was the first time all three executors were able to get together in one place. They've arranged for the Co-op to manage probate- for a flat fee of £7,000 (sharp intake of breath) which is apparently the bargain basement price...

Ailz set off home at 4.00 o'clock this morning and arrived around 9.30, with the car loaded up with stuff for the charity shop.

She says she's even more in favour than she was of Swedish Death Cleaning- which is where you look at your possessions as if you were your own executor and clear out all the junk that nobody is going to want to inherit- thereby saving your heirs a whole load of trouble...