Cirencester Scene Archive 2016-17

Somewhere Else Writers now have a slot in Cirencester Scene, a monthly magazine delivered to 12,000 homes in the Cirencester area. Here are the featured stories and poems from earlier this year.

December 2017

How to Open a Book

By J R Moeller

It is one of the unwritten axioms of life that each of us has had a teacher who  made an impact on our lives, and not always in the subject taught.

My love of English literature, for example, should have been the result of Miss Crow’s class in the subject.

No. Miss Crow taught me how to open books.

Her voice still rings out. ‘James, do not open that book yet. We will do it together.’

Those were the days when students had to buy their textbooks from the school. The money for books was due at the beginning of the semester. If you were unfortunate and could not afford to pay, you must make do with copies deposited in the school library.

Everyone in Miss Crow’s class, however, had a textbook. She saw to that, sometimes personally.

Once the books were issued, the class was told to place everything else on the floor.

‘Now place the book you have just received to the right of the centre of your desk.’ When everyone’s book was sited correctly, she issued the next instruction. ‘Place the book on its spine, and open it at the centre, laying it thus.’ She would place her book on a high dais at the front of the class and open it. ‘Do not force it, but let it open naturally.’

We were instructed to open half of the first half, half of the second half, and so on, until we had opened the book in some eight places. We then were told to close it, place it upside down on the other side of the desk, and repeat the whole process for the other side of the book.

Miss Crow glanced at the clock. At that moment, with exquisite timing perfected over the years, the bell rang which signified the end of the class period. Another year of correctly opened books was launched.

And literature? Her classes were memorable for events which framed the literature we were studying: a tea party in Dover; a bit of weaving for Silas Marner; a candle for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnets. I did not always understand the connections, but the ones that were far-fetched often turned out to have the strongest memory. If nothing else, her classes were memorable although I remember very little of the literature taught in them.

Some years later, I arrived in England, but I could not connect anything of Miss Crow’s teaching to the realities of living there. However, I arrived during the Swinging Sixties and life had changed from her land of thatched cottages and quaint customs.

Yet, her vision of England struck me as the true one, or at least an inspiring one. This is not to deny the grittier view, but Miss Crow’s image is the one she passed on to a whole generation of students in that small mid-western town whose only other connection with England was it’s founding by an ex-Colonel from Staffordshire.

Mind how you open your next book.

 

November 2017

Frost – by Sophie Livingston

I know it’s freezing. The grass splintered like glass beneath my feet as I walked in and the air is starched with ice but I think it will do us both good to go outside. I feel I am inhaling too many dying breaths in here – perhaps it’s just the automatic fragrance dispenser by the door. HAWAIIAN BREEZE MUM. Is it just me that finds something sinister about the need for so much scent in the air?

I know you can’t talk. The stroke saw to that.  Let’s just get your coat and hat and I’ll push you to the river. If we wrap the scarf high no one can see your face, which is good because, to be honest, it is a little frightening.  The left side has collapsed completely and when you try and talk globules of drool trickle out of the corner of your mouth. You were always so proud of your looks. Remember Father Docherty?  He used to say: “Fine looking woman your mother, Maureen. Let’s hope you grow up like her.”  How you bustled round Father Docherty. He must have smiled. All those good Catholic mothers competing to fill his teacup and all the time…

Our Joseph won’t be coming to visit. You knew that. How long is it since he last spoke to you?  Decades?  It’s funny isn’t it. Your own voice used to be so loud you never could hear ours, however hard we tried and now, you are such a good listener. I’m sure he sends his love. No, actually, I’m not sure that’s what he’d send.

Are you cold? It is bitter here and the water looks black under the ice. Guess who I met yesterday? Gilbert Roberts. After all these years.  Gilbert was my own glorious blast of heat. His home smelt of okra and bell peppers and his skin gleamed like aubergine. His mother wore clothes the colour of Caribbean summers and laughed like sin did not exist. Gilbert shone. Mum, and his sunshine warmed even my pinched heart.

How does it feel lying naked in the bath while that nice nurse washes you; her hands tenderly sponging your neck, your armpits your…

You used to say they carried diseases. That you didn’t like the thought of sitting on a toilet after one of them had used it. Have you told her that?

He said he begged to see me when he knew the baby was coming; before you handed me to the nuns; before they handed my baby to God knows who; before the hospital and the electric shock treatments; before the endless, barren years that led to now.

He told you he wanted to marry me.

You refused.

My goodness, the wind is bitter here. Is that a tear, or just the creeping cold?  Let’s loosen your jacket and unwrap the scarf. In an hour or so, I’ll run across the brittle grass and cry for help.

 

October 2017 

I heard that – pardon? – by Richard Lutwyche

Hearing aids are wonderful devices and, having misspent much of my youth in operating as a DJ in the 1960s and 70s, I am surprised that I have not yet found the need for one! What? Oh, sorry, I thought you said something.

I’ve never been convinced that these increasingly miniaturised machines work. My first experience of one was as a small child. My Great Aunt Hetty had one. It must have been one of the first to replace the ear trumpet. Although probably then only in her 60s, she seemed truly ancient to me. Her hearing aid was a huge earpiece with wires that hung down to a box about the size of a cigarette packet which she secured to her waist. Being an elderly Scot, she had acquired a delicate pink silk purse in which to house the gubbins.

Great Aunt Hetty preceded Jimi Hendrix by several decades in inventing feedback, but never achieved his widespread popularity. The box in its silk purse would squawk and squeal as she fiddled with the knobs at the same time intoning “I canna hear you, dear…” in her plaintive voice. Her husband, Great Uncle Donald, had enormous sticky-out ears and an equally enormous degree of patience as he would repeat comments to her endlessly until she either heard them above the shrill sound of her tweeting hearing aid, or gave up needing to know.

My father too needed one in his sixties and when he eventually retired he would sit with my mother watching the racing in the afternoon. She was an inveterate chatterer; he an enthusiastic follower of the sport of kings. He knew his bloodstock so well, that he could easily follow the racing with his hearing aid, switched off….

My brother too inherited the Scottish genes from my mother’s side in more senses than one. He did his national service in the Seaforth Highlanders and spent the rest of his life north of the border, mainly in Aberdeen where he served in the police. His hearing deteriorated too and as he passed into his seventies he was often told that his hearing needed some enhancement. Having enquired further, he informed his daughter that there was no way he was paying THAT MUCH for a hearing aid, so she should learn to live with it. She countered that he was increasingly difficult to cope with as he never heard anything anyone said to him.

He compromised quite splendidly. As some of his many friends expired, he would approach the ‘wifeys’ of those who had worn such devices after the wake, and ask if he could have their hearing aid, never being refused. He used them diligently and could once again hear most of what went on around him, or at least that which he considered interesting enough.

When he died last year, my niece found eight such devices in a drawer. I’ve asked her to keep them.  Just in case.

 

September 2017

Dust – by Bridget Arregger

Dr Elizabeth Rictus sat stooped over her desk like a desiccated praying mantis, elongated legs entwined under the bespoke orthopaedic swivelling office chair, elegant long fingers stretched over the keyboard. Her long painted nails would have made typing difficult but they were needed only to hit a few strategic keys before activating the voice recognition software.

Dr Rictus tapped in her initials, selected today’s favoured username from a list of anagrams and watched two more dots add themselves to the row representing her hidden password. She waited the briefest of moments as the website calculated her matches. She had one thousand matches available. Some, unknown to the website, were no longer viable. Her profile stated that she was an historian. Why would she lie? It wouldn’t appeal to all men but she didn’t want all men. She was taller than average, fit, active and very comfortable. She made sure that her photographs showed her luxurious home to its best advantage. There would be men who would wish to marry her for the house alone. She did not hide the fact that the building was in a remote part of the Fells where mobile phones did not work.

She selected a few likely matches as favourites. Waited to see who responded. Dusted the house while she waited. Needed to dust. While the builders had been busy, she had developed a most irritating allergy to dust.

Three responses. A good number. She chose one and tapped on ‘send an email’. Relaxed, swivelled and dictated. She told him a good deal about herself: her failed marriage, disabled son, daughter in Australia, house rules for the singles parties she organised. She could let the words flow. At the end of two crammed pages she stopped to allow him to catch up. There would be a few voice recognition errors but if he was as intelligent as his profile suggested, he would be able to work out the intended meanings. The more intelligent the better, she had found. Not streetwise. Or suspicious.

He responded in kind: his expensive divorce, his craving for adventure, his dream of moving to the countryside. He could touch type, he told her, with his eyes shut. An unusual and delicious image. She sent him more photos. He responded with details of his city flat.

Before long, he requested that they meet, had found it surreal to correspond so fully without really knowing each other. They arranged a date in a convenient pub half way between their respective homes. Better for you, he said, to be cautious. She did not contradict.

She allowed a suitable time to elapse after the appointed time, phoned in a message to the bartender that she was running late and would the single man wearing a dark blue overcoat with white carnation please either wait or make his way to her house.

She had good feelings about this one. She folded a duster on her desk, swivelled gently and waited.

 

August 2017

The Imagined Abbey – One of the Abbey 900 Series – by Iris Anne Lewis

Canons, cowled in black,
process down the dorter stairs
for nine psalms and lessons.

The crescent moon is waning,
stars gutter like anaemic flame
that soon will be snuffed out.

Only the morning star
is unwavering, steadfast
in its promise of impending dawn.

Lauds

In the shadowed Lady Chapel
beeswax candles burn
around the Blessed Virgin.
She is luminous with grace.

The cantor tastes the honeyed smoke,
transmutes its sweetness into song.

Prime

Abbot, clerics, laity, townsfolk
crowd the abbey church,
face the Eastern window
as day breaks dark to dusk.

Dormant in the glass,
the tree of Jesse,
tenebrous as forest pines
in winter.
Beneath its branches,
hidden figures lurk.

The sky blossoms into rose.
The window blazes into life.
Jesse’s tree grows green, fresh
as apple orchards in the spring.
Translucent saints in red, purple,
royal blue, give benediction.

At the apex,
in amber gold and white,
the Risen Christ
in numinous simplicity
of light.

This poem was first published in ‘Ground’ 

 

July 2017

‘900 Years is an Awfully Long Time’ – One of the Abbey 900 Series – by J R Moeller

Two tourists from across the pond contemplate the awesomeness of history.

“Whatever way you look at it, 900 years is an awfully long time.”

“You can say that again.”

“Whatever way you look at…”

“I didn’t mean that literally.”

“A rhetorical question then?”

“It wasn’t a question, more a statement.”

“What’s next?”

“What do you mean, what’s next. We haven’t seen everything here.”

“It’s another stone building, gloomy and grey. We’ve seen plenty of them.”

“England is full of grey and gloomy buildings. Anyway, this isn’t the building that’s 900 years old. It’s the Abbey next door.”

“There’s another grey and gloomy building next door?”

“It’s been torn down.”

“Who did that?”

“Henry the Eighth.”

“Did he need another car park?”

“This place could use another car park.”

“Who built the Abbey?”

“Henry the First in 1117.”

“Let me get this right. How many abbeys did Henry’s two to seven get rid of?”

“None.”

“So why was this place singled out? Did Henry the Eighth bear a grudge against the Abbey?”

“He wanted to divorce his wife to marry Anne Boleyn. Surely you know the story?”

“How many wives did he have?”

“Six.”

“Six! Think of the alimony! He must have been mad.”

“Unhinged, maybe.”

“Good King Henry, mad as a hatter. What’s this about hatters? Do you know any mad hatters?”

“Never mind about that. That’s the arsenic in making hats. Here’s the Boleyn cup.”

They stopped in front of a hole gouged out of a wall inside the church. In the hole was a goblet, gold, and heavily guarded by bars and reinforced glass.

“Okay, so she got a cup? What did Henry get?”

“The library of the Abbey.”

“The library? A few mouldy books. Is that it?”

“They were valuable. Henry had an eye for the main chance, or his advisers did.”

“Were they first editions or something? Signed by the author? I’ve got one of those. Do you think it’s valuable?”

“Is the author famous?”

“Jeeze, how’m I supposed to know?”

“The site of the Abbey is outside. Shall we look at it?”

“We’ve paid for the tour. Might as well get the most for our money.”

They went outside and found the stones set in the grass which marked the site of the Abbey. They walked around the periphery of the building.

“That wasn’t much to write home about. Why was there an Abbey as well as a church?”

“One was for the town and the other for higher things.”

“I’ll never understand the English. Where’s next?”

“Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s birthplace. The theatre tonight.”

“Did he write Romeo and Juliet? It’s the only Shakespeare I know.”

“We’re seeing one of the Henry’s. Henry IV, part one.”

“Only Part One? What about Part Two?”

“It’s not being performed this year.”

“Shesh. You mean we have to come back another year to find out how it comes out?”

“You can always read it.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It never is.”


June 2017

A Mother’s Lament – by Sophie Livingston

When worlds of fragrant washing lie

In crisply ironed piles and I,

frayed and steaming, start to peel

Potatoes for the evening meal

And Clem comes in and tells me she

Can only wear the Jack Wills T.

Which lies neglected on her floor

And throws a strop and slams the door

 

Then I wonder how it is

That I should be reduced

To this,

So menial self.

Who stole the needle witted girl?

And left behind someone so dull?

 

When garlic, lemon grass and ginger spill

From board to pan and fill the house

With warming scents,

And I calculate the time I need

To pick up Clem and then to feed

The family, then to drop off Bert

Who must go out, despite the rain,

And Bert says not this crap to eat again.

 

Then I wonder how it came

That I, who once dreamt of fame

Should shrink, to someone who

Walks the dog

And cleans the loo.

 

When stripes of newly Hoovered floor

Refresh the house and through the door

Comes Jo, who dumps his briefcase down and

Points out that the lights are on and prices up and can he have a cup

Of coffee, only there’s none left and when do I exactly plan

To do the weekly shop?

And talks of Osteopathy Today and why the children are so rude

And why we have no healthy food.

 

Then I think

Perhaps

I should

Have left with wilder lovers

Years ago and sailed the seas and pirate-free

Have plundered life and nurtured me

Yet there was once a moment

When

Lying froze between white sheets

I held my breath dared not disturb

The fragile, newborn universe

Two freshly laundered lives lay on my chest

And hands clutched hands and then I knew

The lark note of pure happiness.

 

It sings again from time to time

And lifts me free

From this domestic drudgery

And though some things are gone, some things are found

And some things can’t be measured with

Words like success and mostly live

In those eternal seconds when we love.

 

May 2017

A Bird’s Eye View Of Cirencester Abbey – One of the Abbey 900 Series – by Linda Dyson

Chisel chipping on stone,

Planes waltzing on wood,

Higher and higher

Solemn walls rise

As the blackbirds sing.

 

Chant upon chant,

Prayer upon prayer,

Higher and higher,

Loud praises arise

While the skylarks sing.

 

Gold upon vellum,

Tome upon tome,

Higher and higher

The library shelves tower

As owls hoot on the wing.

 

Mint upon thyme,

Parsley, sorrel and sage

While the herb garden grows

Richer and greener

Swallows chirp on the wing.

 

But mischief’s a-making,

Black clouds rolling in

As orders are issued;

Edicts from the king.

Hopes sink lower and lower

And now no birds sing.

 

Stone upon stone

The abbey’s torn down

Abbot’s dismissed

Canons banned from the town.

Weeds have grown taller

And singing birds flown.

 

But, nine hundred years on,

Not everything’s gone-

Town’s grievances over

Abbey’s rising again

(Albeit in Lego)

And still on the river

Sails on silent swan.

 

April 2017

Boat Trip – by Iris Anne Lewis

All night long rain had battered against the slate roof and stone walls of the boathouse.   Marina pulled on a thick sweater, boots and cagoule, then unbolted the door. The wind was gusting even into the sheltered cove where the boathouse stood. She tried to open the solid wooden door but the gusts were too strong. Then, for a moment, the gale slackened. She pushed the door open and slipped out. Just in time, as the wind gathered strength again and hurled the door back into place.

She battled her way down the rough path to the beach, the wind snatching her breath away, rain and salt spray lashing her face. Even the gulls seemed scared, clinging to the cliff face in sullen masses as the gale raged on.  The waves were rearing up, pounding the cliffs in fury. Bucking broncos, Stefan had said, trying to explain the fury and power of a stormy sea to Marina. Never go out to sea when the weather is like that.

Marina trudged back to the boat house. She was stuck here for another day at least. Still, the boathouse was warm and snug. She and Stefan had converted it together into a simple, homely cottage for their frequent trips to the coast.

She spent the rest of the day indoors, secure against the elements in the sturdy building of stone and wood. Towards evening she thought the wind was abating and tuned into the shipping forecast. Stefan had taught her how to understand the technical terms and phraseology. She was right, the storm was passing.

The following day the wind had dropped. The sea was calm and a thick quilt of cloud spread across the sky, its greyness mirrored in the dark depths of the sea. Marina could see the Shark’s Teeth, the row of granite pillars jutting black and jagged out of the sea just beyond the mouth of the cove, and knew the time had come.

She walked over to the small rowing boat she and Stefan used to fish in the cove. Stowing her bag with care in the stern, she dragged the boat into the water and jumped in. She pulled steadily out to sea, drawing comfort from the rhythmic motion of the oars. Drawing level with the Shark’s Teeth, she shipped her oars and for a few moments sat still as the boat bobbed up and down. Above her head the gulls swooped and sailed on the unseen air currents with insolent ease.

Marina took the urn out of her bag and to the threnody of the gulls’ mocking calls scattered the ashes onto the sea. Stefan was in the place he loved best.

As Marina rowed back to land the mist rolled in behind her. She beached the boat and looked back out to sea. There was nothing to see but fog.

March 2017

The Cunins a’Coming… – One of the Abbey 900 Series – by Richard Lutwyche

“Ah, Canon Herbert. Just pause a moment please. I must speak with you.”

The young canon looked up nervously at the imposing figure of the Abbot and gulped. What must he be punished for now?

“Monsieur l’Abbé. How good it is to see you returned safely. I trust your journey was not too arduous.”

“It was long and tiring but not without reward. We have much to learn from our Norman cousins back in their homelands. Believe me, we would not sup all day on this base ale if we could grow grapes and make wine! Ahh, how much difference God’s sunshine makes to the world. But that is not why we must talk. I have a new project for you so that we may never again be half-starved.”

“It was not my fault the swine all died, master. It was the measles. Canon Jacob tried all the herbal remedies he could but nothing could stop it. Even our prayers were not answered. And the fox taking all the fowls. They are the Devil’s own creatures, killing all to feast on just one!”

“Yes, yes, I know it’s not your fault, Canon but someone has got to find a solution and it seems that must be me. Now, I have ordered 20 cunins and they are being sent over in three weeks’ time so that is how long you have to prepare so you must make haste. There will be much to do.”

“Er, ‘cunins’ sire? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with them, I fear. What are they?”

“Oh, you fool! Have you learnt nothing that I have taught you? Leviticus, chapter 11, verse 5. Moses forbade the Jews from eating them – but we know better! I have feasted on the creatures, sweet and succulent, bathed in the richest gravies and soon we too will enjoy God’s gifts. Cunins, you idiot! Little soft furry things.”

“Ah, Sire, you mean conys! But they do not exist here and I know nothing of them. How do I feed them, bed them, treat them?”

“We are importing them and they will thrive here! They feed themselves on grasses and herbage. They dig their own burrows and live as families. And they reproduce so quickly! Twenty will soon become 400 and then 8000 and then we can feed the whole town as well as ourselves. For a price, of course, you understand.”

“But where will we keep so many, Sire?”

“That is where you must make haste. Throughout the journey home I have been thinking of where we shall have our ‘warren’ for that is how they are managed. If we are not careful they will escape then everyone will be eating them and we will see no advantage. So, I came to the conclusion that the old Roman amphitheatre would be perfect. It is derelict, has much feed for the little creatures and they can burrow to their heart’s content. What you must do is to secure the perimeter with a palisade to prevent them spreading. Mark you! It must be buried into the earth to stop them digging underneath. So take some of the townsmen to do the work for you but supervise them well. I am counting on you to make this a success Canon Herbert. I will not be best pleased to find that the peasants are feasting on my… I mean our, cunins!”

“I understand, Sire and will do as you command. You have my word that they will never escape into the wild.”

[Cunins and Conys are old terms for rabbits. The story is based on data on the information board at the Roman Ampitheatre in Cirencester].

February 2017

What You Need Is A List – by Selwyn Morgan

  

‘What you need is a list!’

‘I think you’re right, love. I get up with ten things in my head, nine of which I forget. Then I think of nine new ones. Then I forget eight of those.’

‘You need to write down what you’re going to do each day so that you have a plan.’

‘Right… I don’t see you doing that.’

‘Of course I do, I’m a teacher! My day is planned right up until the janitor chucks us out.’

‘But it’s not a list. A list has got numbers and it’s very scary knowing you have to start at the top and get to the bottom.’

‘Stop it…. you, need to write a list. It’s not asking much.’

‘But what if I get good at writing lists, and then do what’s on them?’

‘That’s the general idea about having a list.’

‘But, I’d soon have nothing to do… not even write a list.’

‘I can’t stand around talking nonsense with you, I’ve got a class to teach. That OFSTED inspection has been imminent for the last two years and it might happen this term. Write a list!’

She’s right of course, but disciplined planning was never my strong suit. If my working life was likened to a marathon, I would have been the one dressed as a headless chicken. Don’t get me wrong, it was great fun, when at work, running and bumping into other nutters on the way, not expecting to get to the finish line any time soon. Then you stumble over it…

OK, now let me think, I still have my chores. That’s items one, two and three.  I cook, and I’m quite good at that: Find the slow cooker, item four; prepare ingredients, item five; switch on slow cooker, item six? That’s rubbish, switching on a slow cooker can’t be an item. Switch on slow cooker and watch it; now that’s a proper item… seven.

I would vacuum, and I do vacuum, when prompted, but the Dyson wasn’t mentioned, so it’s not on the list. ‘Clean up after the cat.’ That was mentioned. I’ll make it item twelve. I like the ‘man things’ to do, such as light bulb changing or fuse replacement, and I have a cupboard full of ‘blokey’ things. They remind me of times when I worked in a proper job; oh, and that further reminds me, the three amp fuses are all used up. I was going to buy more, but forgot. Item eight on the list… There is only so much fixing that can be done before things are all fixed, and they stubbornly stay that way… short of sabotage… now there’s a thought! I could occasionally, accidentally like, break things and then add them to my list of things to do!

That’s enough list making for now. I need a cup of tea, as I’m a bit exhausted from all the effort.  I know, I’ll ‘catch up’ on ‘Radio iPlayer’. I fell asleep and missed the Archers yesterday, just when it was getting exciting. No need to put that on the list.

 

January 2017

Three Poems – by Sophie Livingston

Winter Landscape

It is a winter landscape that your feet

Tread now. A brittle arrangement of trees

And fields and low, mossed walls that hold nothing

In.

The sheep are gone and no one walks the path.

“Something is warmer than something else,” you say

As whispers of fog rise from a stream that rushes on.

“I can’t remember which it is, or why.

Or even how I came to be

Walking

Under this motionless sky.”

 

The Ridgeway

The ridge belongs to the dead.

They have laid claim with bones.

A horizontal shrine of beech leaves

sifts the light that falls on stones

that still pay homage.

The path’s a scorching streak of white

And nettle flesh hangs from chalky

ribs.

Here’s Belief.

No shade for travellers.

And though we tread, we tread, we tread

from Overton to Ivinghoe  we cannot reach

the place they know.

 

Thermos and Marmite in the 70s

 Mum waited with the thermos and marmite

sandwiches half way up the mountain. The

rest of us began the climb, Dad, Alice, Ed, Me,

in Pac-a-Macs and Adidas, all quite

relaxed, ‘cos in the seventies that’s what

you wore to climb mountains, and we were full

of oxtail soup and Famous Five and pull

-ing on our empty rucksacks we got

nearly to the top – before the fog came.

 

I was twelve. Did not dare climb on, though Dad

swore we’d be fine. At last he said: “chase the same

stream down.” The rest climbed on, while scree-slid, pad

ling, rough, down-stream, tumbling, I sunk to the main

path. Kodak snaps record them triumphant,

me,

brooding, faithless, in our orange tent.

December 2016

His Study Window – by J R Moeller

Anyone who lives in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, basks in the harmony of nature and man ever since the Romans colonised the area. Every silver lining, however, has a cloud.

His study window, out of which anyone should be able to contemplate gentle hills and valleys, overlooks instead the car park attached to the town centre Tesco. In the spirit of politesse which pervades this area, it is known as the Brewery Car Park, although you would be hard pressed to find a watering hole near it. Nor are there manicured lawns, or twee, honey-stoned cottages or bevies of tourists snapping digital cameras at the sights that Aunt Madge or Cousin Koko will exclaim over back in Topeka or Tokyo. The only concessions to the usual Cotswolds’ scenes are several trees and one or two sick blobs of turf, which gallantly fight the exhaust fumes.

It used to be that by eight a.m. only a few cars had struggled to bag a place. By nine it is filling up so that, at times, there is a queue to enter this non-sylvan glade. The next five hours hosts a confluence of cars until the afternoon. At two p.m. the flow reverses and the spaces begin to empty. By four or five, it is deserted until a rush in the evening on the nights the local nightclub opens.

That has changed. There are few spaces to park for no charge in the town, a state that local traders say affects their ability to earn a living and pay the rates. In response to this anguished cry, the council decided to allow free parking after three p.m. in two of the car parks. Now, there is a spate of cars piling into the spaces, polluting, no doubt, the residents, but it is good to see the car park busy and all those businesses raking in the pounds.

The vista is further enhanced by a view of the recycling bins. There are two for paper, three for various sorts of bottles, tin cans and foil. Every so often there is the sound of a Tesco trolley carrying bottles and tins for reprocessing. While not musical, the accompanying notes would spruce up many a modern composition. Fugue for Tesco trolley is complemented by push chairs and arguing couples:

“What’s the point of going shopping if we don’t stick to the list?”

“Why do we need to buy a present for Aunt Hermione? I’ve never liked her.”

“You mean you didn’t buy any wrapping paper?”

“I said a turkey for six people, not six turkeys!”

There ought to be a warning sign at each end of the alleyway that runs beneath the study window.

“Please note: your conversations can be overheard.”

It is unlikely that a notice would make any difference. Indignity is a bubble that encloses the most sensitive of persons. It would be sad to lose the verbal sparring which takes place outside the window.

Few would call the scene picturesque, but it has the virtue of being ignored by the hordes of visitors en route to Bibury. And so it is with the local landscape in which automobiles intrude into what should be a graceful scene. It is not all that different from the chocolate box pictures that are best viewed from the passenger seat of the dreaded petrol engines that infiltrate most landscapes in the world, but most of all outside his study window.

November 2016

Letter to an Unknown Soldier – by Iris Anne Lewis

Dear Ted

I hope you are still enjoying the war. It’s good that you have all your

Kempsford pals with you in the battalion, though it’s strange here in the village with no young men, except Joe Howard of course. He helps out on Lower Farm but it’s not good for him, Mum says, with his chest. That’s why he didn’t go to war. He coughs and wheezes all the time. It didn’t stop Mrs Gilbert giving him a white feather last Sunday. It’s wicked, Mum says, he can’t help his poor health.

Squire Gilbert was there, too. I don’t like him. He seems to like us, though.

“And how’s that boy of yours, Mrs Preston?” he asked Mum. “Still fighting for King and country. Capital.” Mum and I bobbed a curtsey. “Now there’s a son to be proud of.” And he stared at Mrs Howard.

Mrs Gilbert runs a knitting circle. All the women have to go to her big barn on

Thursday afternoons. All except Mrs Howard. She’s not allowed. “We are knitting for heroes,” Mrs Gilbert boomed. “Only mothers who bore sons with backbone are allowed to knit for our brave boys.”

I go along too. I’ve already knitted socks and now I’m knitting a balaclava. I

hope I’ve spelt that right. It’s a funny name for a hat. It looks odd too. Mum says it’s to keep you warm in winter. We’ll be sending out a parcel soon, so that you get them before the cold weather starts.

It’s summer here. I wonder what it’s like where you are? It’s so far away. I asked the vicar. He says it’s quite like the countryside around here, flat and with lots of fields.

I’ve been having dreams about the fields of Flanders. It’s harvest time and the

wheat is standing tall and proud. Dotted amongst the golden ears are poppies. A wind is blowing. The wheat sways this way and that until it seems the whole field is rippling with gold and flashes of scarlet. All the time there is more scarlet and less gold. The wheat is scythed down and only the poppies remain. Then I am no longer outside but in a big round building with a high curved ceiling. Although it is indoors it is snowing but the snow is stained with blood. The snowflakes flutter down until the whole floor is coloured red. And then I wake up.

I told the vicar about it today. He looked at me through his thick round spectacles and said “Oh dear.” Then he told me a prayer I should say every evening just before going to sleep and then I’ll be protected. It’s bedtime now, so I’ll tell you rather than just say it to myself, then we’ll both be safe.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.

 All my love,

Elsie

 

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