Work has been eventful. The company I work for are about to be bought out by an even bigger conglomerate. As far as I know all jobs are safe and I, along with colleagues will be TUPE'd (The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations) over.
I work out of our clients office's, a huge pharmaceutical company, the world's biggest apparently where I help to manage an account worth several millions.
The startling news though was that my company will not be tendering for the contract again but have decided to pass up on the opportunity. As I said, I should be safe but you never know.
Gone into some form of overdrive with my writing of late, here is the latest Wilful Walk followed by a poem about my mother-in-law who died some seven years ago. As in laws go she was the best.
The Wilful Walks are nearing the end and I have just E-mailed and posted chapbook eight. Here is the latest excerpt:
* When the Cloud Messenger came to stay with visions of Jupiter, Uranus, Venus, Neptune, Mercury, Saturn and Mars *
* The Church that thinks it is a Cathedral *
* Conrad Noel: Anglican Priest and Socialist *
Before reaching Thaxted, I pass through the smaller hamlet of Great Sampford with its scattering of thatched cottages that have been such a feature of this sojourn. The land around here is a patchwork of farmed fields, dry as dust now after weeks of no rain. Agriculture used to play such a big part of England, economy and community but it has been eroded during my lifetime. Like virtually every other business, farms work on having a healthy P and L and are less about well spread fields than they are about well presented spreadsheets. The heart and soul of local communities have been replaced by the cold heart of corporate calculations. As I enter Thaxted the first thing I see after the magnificent church spire that stakes heaven with its pointed needle is a small park with its bye law sign that states:
NO BALL GAMES
Embracing each other while in full view of anyone who cares to look are a young couple whose passions burn so fierce that they are evidently unaware of anyone apart from them selves. Linked at the lips, their tongues slide down each others throats as their hands glide down each others jeans; love is a splendid thing and I really have no objection to this public display of lustful ambition but perhaps, after some careful consideration, the sign should also read:
In need of a pee I find the nearest toilet in a relatively empty car park. Having relived my bladder of its swishy content I, and another gentleman, present our selves at the futuristic wash hand basins. There are no faucets, no buttons; the soap is dispensed with a meaty fart of a sound followed by a sibilant hiss of water being sprayed. The spraying water continues for an overlong time, far longer than necessary and long after all traces of soap have gone. This in turn is followed by an eruption of hot air that is propelled onto my hands. This release of hot air only lasts a few seconds and one is left with wet hands which both and I and the other gentleman rub down the backs of our jeans. We smile, nod and say good day to each other before entering into a conversation about the absurdity of the modern world. We part company with the most English of goodbyes.
“Beautiful weather for this time of year isn’t it?”
Some where between 1914 and 1918, Gustav Holst, whilst holidaying in his cottage with his wife Isobel, composed The Planets Suite. It is probably his best known piece of music and its very popularity was something he would moan about for the rest of his life as he felt it overshadowed all his other work.
Holst was actually born as Gustavus Theodor von Holst in Cheltenham in 1874. He dropped the von bit during the Great War when there was a feeling of anti-Germanic sentiment in Britain. He was in fact very English and a fellow student of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
He came on Thaxted by accident whilst on a walking holiday of North Essex. He arrived at Colchester station and from there began his walking holiday taking in the villages and views of Essex. Holst was short sighted, shy and middle aged but the moment he saw the church of St. John the Baptist, he fell in love with it and the town it towered over. Holst described it like this:
“It stood high above the surrounding cornfields and meadows and willow trees, with a view of the church spire in the distance. It was so quiet that we could hear the bees in the dark red clover beyond the garden hedge. We could watch the meadow grass being scythed, and in the cornfields we saw the farmer sowing the seed by hand, scattering in the breeze as he strode up and down. The only traffic along what is now the main road was the carrier’s cart which stopped every few hundred yards to pick up parcels and passengers on Wednesday afternoons: on the other days people walked.”
An almost certain inspiration to Holst was the church at Thaxted which even today looks, and more importantly sounds, like a cathedral. It is very spacious and light inside and would have suited his musical vision perfectly with its slight echo that would have had the organ reverberating and the strings cascading like a waterfall. One of Holst’s dreams was to hold a festival there, to have had music playing, filling the church with its wondrous sound while giving the local population a treat like none they had had before. He realised this dream in 1916 when from the church came the sound of constant singing, melodious noises rose and fled into the town sparking a series of impromptu music’s in the local houses and throughout the countryside. It must have been sheer magic to have heard such an event; a modern day Glastonbury but without the amps or rain. This event has now turned into a tradition. Every Whitsuntide a festival is still held and now has turned into something more than that as the festival has become a series of festivals; a glorious legacy left by a genuinely humble, talented man.
Holst was never a particularly robust man always appearing to be quite frail. He was a committed socialist and was influenced by the speeches of George Bernard Shaw and also by William Morris. Both of these men were highly outspoken individuals who were passionately committed to the cause of the socialist movement. Holst was fortunate enough to live a world that was occupied by some of the greatest talents we have ever known: Wagner, Monet, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and H.G.Wells, it was an incredible time, the best of times and yet also the worst of times as the Great War will always hold testament to.
Following a lifetime of poor health which was made all the worse after a fall, Holst died on 25th May 1934 suffering complications from stomach surgery. He was just sixty. He was buried at Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex.
Thaxted Church courtesy of Antique Maps and Prints
The mellifluous, potent tones of Jupiter accompany me as I walk into Thaxted and the church really does have an imposing presence, looming over the town like some omnipotent demi-god, observing the comings and goings of all that pass through. It is often given the false title of Cathedral of Essex but that is not the case even if it should be. Somehow the music seems to fit perfectly with this place but then again, Holst did adapt his Jupiter piece to fit the patriotic poem by Cecil Spring-Rice making it into a hymn so maybe that knowledge plays on my mind, nice to have a piece of music not only dedicated to, but given the eponymous title of, Thaxted.
Thaxted’s name was originally Tachesteda which is Old English for ‘place where thatch was got’, a bit of a mouthful that but, like North American Indians when they named their children, it seems strangely appropriate. There is, of course, an entry about Thaxted in the Domesday Book. I gaze now at the entrance to the church and note the intricate designs and patterns that adorn the masonry.
It is a spectacular site to behold, incongruous almost seeing such a stately building in so rustic a setting. Sadly my photo doesn’t do it justice as the sun was in my lens making it a difficult shot to take.
I turn away from St.John’s and walk down a slight incline passing a multitude of aged homes. There are plenty of these houses with creaking timber frames and all just oozing with character.
The most notable ones are Horham Hall, Thaxted Guildhall which dates from around 1450 and which is featured first below and also Dick Turpin’s cottage (more of him later on in the series) which is featured last. The guildhall looks like a grey faced old dowager whose flesh has faded from pink to pasty, china white.
I love the way the whole edifice seems to be top heavy which also seems somehow to give the image of an old woman whose bust has grown to fat and wobbles high above her pinched waistline and stick thin legs.
The Ghost of Tesco
As plump as Christmas
She blunders down the isles,
Crashing through like a sherman tank,
Shopping bags clutched fast
As bullion in her fists.
Her wayward path is a bent excocet
That confirms its own velocity
As she bounces from the shoulders of others;
A snooker ball richocheting,
Without intent or malice,
Past the frozen veg and frosted glass.
A dumpling rolling forth
With a copy of the Mirror headline
Thrusting out from her dowager bag.
"I'm a Liberal" she confides
Leafing through the Labour rag
In the café section,
A lattée steaming hot in her plump hand,
Taking note of how the hammers played.
"Sid was a Tory." she confesses
"Couldn't abide the union."
The tumbleweed hour arrives
As the shop lights keep constant day.
She bruises past the shoppers
Who never see her nor feel her presence
As she thunders on,
Basket filled to the brim
With cans of beans and kilos of sugar
And a collection of sweets
all words and art are copyright © of C.J. Duffy.