Category Archives: Literature

My latest book

snip-of-coverThose of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told about Nottingham High School; its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers and its one or two villains. I have recently finished compiling these stories, and many more, into a new book called Nottingham High School: The Anecdotal History of a British Public School, published with Lulu.com.

My history is an entertaining one about the people behind the institution – what they thought, said, and did from the reign of Henry VIII up to the modern era. I want to tell the stories of the ordinary people whose actions changed the history of Nottingham forever, and those whose lives had much wider influence on the history of our country and on the lives of people across the world. I tell the tales of all people connected with the High School – teachers, support staff, boys, alumni… from caretakers to kings!

image_update_72e24141db868b82_1348683417_9j-4aaqskThe book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. It’s an easy read that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Find out about the antics of the boys, the excesses of the staff, the sacrifices of the alumni, and the castle-like school building in all its majesty.

My book contains new and previously unpublished research into the lives of some of the most famous ex-pupils of the school. Read about the childhood of scurrilous author D.H.Lawrence, whose controversial books were still banned 50 years after he wrote them. Read about the disruptive antics of Albert Ball V.C., the daring air ace who always fought alone. Read about American Old Boy, Major General Mahin of the U.S. Army, a man whose power and authority in the Second World War rivalled that of General Patton, until he was killed (or was it murder?).

The tone of my work is interesting and light, but at the same time, as you know from my blogposts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifices are reflected in my book.

I have really enjoyed writing this new history book, and I hope that you will find it an entertaining and intriguing read. If you would like to give it a go, then it is now available from my page on Lulu.com.

p1040694

31 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Criminology, History, Literature, Nottingham, Personal, The High School, Writing

The School Leprechaun

After reading all about gnomes, elves, pixies, fairies and such like, it should come as no surprise to hear that Wollaton is not the only place around Nottingham to have played host to fairies in recent times. Marjorie Johnson, the lady who saw fairies in her garden in Carlton was to become very famous in fairy circles. She wrote this best selling book:

fairy book

Here is a link to an account of fairies she saw in Nottingham, in Carlton to be more precise.

Belief in fairies persists still, even in our own time. When we went once to an isolated farm at Constantine in Cornwall, the farmer clearly believed that the huge ruined megalith in his bottom field was the home to fairy folk. He had seen their fairy lights on more than one occasion.

It is in Iceland that gnomes and fairies are taken most seriously. Over a half of Icelanders believe that these tiny entities are, at the very least, “possible”. They are thought to be from another dimension, usually making their homes inside huge boulders and outcrops of rock.

Known as huldufólk these beings are not regarded as trivial. Roads can be redirected on their behalf.

This report by Journeyman starts off in almost comic fashion, but does make some quite serious points:

This film by Torsten Scholl, aka “hatcast” has even more serious points to make:

This account by Richard Williams aka “rockuvages” is of the moment when the huldufólk seem to pop out of their own dimension:

Nowadays, we tend to see fairies and their like as something lovely and wonderful. This attitude has only come about since Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Before that, fairies were considered by those who had regular contact with them to be malevolent beings who, if they were in any way annoyed, would readily kidnap adults, willingly do harm to them and, most of all, steal their babies, replacing them with changelings. This is why nowadays a lot of modern folklorists tend to equate ancient beliefs in fairies, with our current fondness for space aliens and little green men, who have continued in modern times to carry out all of these evil deeds:

green alien

Tales of fairies invariably involve abduction and poor innocent people forced to remain in Fairy Land, sometimes for ever. What difference is there between malevolent fairies holding people hostage in their realm and our modern tales of extra-terrestrial kidnap?

Other parallels are there. Some types of fairies, such as leprechauns and goblins, have green as their favourite colour, just as some aliens are literally “little green men”. Only medical experiments seem to be absent from the connections between the two groups, perhaps because in sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland or Cornwall, there was no health care available and advanced medicine was not a subject on anybody’s mind. Only ointments and magic potions were on offer back then, and these simple remedies do figure from time to time in the more ancient tales of fairies.

Here is something more modern, a tractor beam, although some would argue that those fairy lights, leading innocent people out onto the marsh to drown or be abducted, did pretty much the same job:

uftgyu
This modern cartoon by “grackle” sums up best our ancient knowledge of fairies, who were by no means the magnanimous and well intentioned Peter Pan heroes of Walt Disney’s world.

Certainly, the Cornish and the Irish, for example, seem to view “piskies” or “the little people” as, at best, potentially tricky and at worst possibly, evil, and similar figures are met with in every human culture across the globe.

In North America, there are Ishigaq (Inuits), Jogahoh (Iroquois), Nimerigar (Shoshone) and the Yunwi Tsundi (Cherokee). In Hawaii, there are the Menehune, and for the Maoris, the Patupaiarehe. In Europe, there is a host of names such as the Brownies, the Kobolds in Germany, GoblinsGremlins, Pixies, Leprechauns and the Swedish “Di sma undar jordi”, who are clearly almost identical with the huldufólk of Iceland:

307228-mythical-creatures-troll

Let’s finish with a quite extraordinary piece of film.

All over the world, of course, as well as “the little people”  there are the enormously large people. In Nepal, the “yeti”, in North America, “Bigfoot”, in Western Europe “the Wildman” or “Wodewose”. In Iraq, he was represented by “Enkidu” the companion of Gilgamesh. In Israel, he was “Goliath” whom David slew:

golithyuj

In Australia, the enormously large person is called the “Yowie” and he is very fierce indeed.

The huge Yowie, though, has a tiny equivalent. To the white man he is “Brown Jack” but to the blackfella he is the “Junjudee”. He is tiny and here is a purported film of one:

Any film by TheRusty222 is well worth watching. He tries to film Yowies but most of all, he ventures deep into the realm of the thickest parts of the Australian bush, an environment of staggering beauty if you ever watch one of his films.
Talking of “Little People”, a few weeks ago, I bought a postcard of the High School taken in 1927. I was intrigued to see what is obviously the “School Leprechaun” busy guarding the front of the school:

lep[rechaun 1

You can see his right hand, his jacket of Irish Green, his little fawn breeches and his lovely top hat. Here he is, slightly enlarged:

lep[rechaun 2

Do you see his mutton chop whiskers? And what about little Pumpkin Head, next to him, with his tiny hat and his little legs and boots?

Both photographs, courtesy of the Pareidolia Brothers.

 

 

 

 

17 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

Call me Ishmael

A few years ago, I asked a group of young people if they had ever read the finest novel ever written in English. They thought that they had probably read it, but asked me if I could be a little bit more precise about its title. I said it was called “Moby Dick”.
And they were wrong. None of them had ever read it.  One person even said that the book could not be considered because it was written by an American. The author’s name, of course, is Herman Melville:

Herman_Melville

Once he had finished with whaling and the sea, Melville came to live safely on land. Here is his house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts:

dick housezzzzzz

A lot of people, of course, are put off by the sheer size of the book. In the three volume British first edition, there were 927 pages. In the American first edition there were 635. (Bigger pages, presumably?).
Help, though, is at hand. I have prepared a handy guide as to which of the CXXXIV chapters can be missed out without causing any real damage to the story, or to your understanding of the plot. The problem was that, at the time the book was written, around 1850-1851, there were no television documentaries. Almost nobody had ever seen a whale. Many people had never even seen the sea. More or less nobody knew anything of whaling:

humpback

The reader, therefore, had to be informed about the Natural History issues involved, and that, dear reader, is the reason for the great number of the, as it were, “non-fiction” chapters.
In my humble opinion, therefore, do not trouble yourself too much with:

Chapters 24, 31, 32, 44, 54, 55, 56, 59, 61, 62, 64, 67, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 91, 94, 101, 102, 103 and 104.

Wow!! If that doesn’t attract you, nothing will. In addition, these chapters could be missed out, but they may add a smidgin to your understanding of the book. These are:

 Chapters 39, 40, 41, 83, 93 and 100.

You must read absolutely all of the last thirty chapters, which tell the story of what happens when Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod finally set their eyes on a rather angry Moby Dick. (It doesn’t go well.) If you have ever read the book of the film “Jaws”, you will find this last section very reminiscent indeed of that modern classic.
Even if you have doubts, it is not difficult to give it a go. You can download Moby Dick to virtually any type of machine from Amazon, including some of the more modern lawnmowers.

It is free.

For a small fee, you can even download a version with pictures.

And then, away you go!

whale rtyuu

The book is stunning. Pay careful attention to what the characters say and the events which befall them.  You will often find that the author has skilfully linked them together. Perhaps he has provided echoes of words and events as the plot unfolds chapter by chapter. This foreshadowing throughout the book creates great tension, because the reader is given broad hints of what catastrophes are in store for the protagonists (who themselves often refuse adamantly to heed these warnings and carry on regardless to their eventual destruction). Here is Captain Ahab:

gregory-peck-as-ahab-2

And Starbuck. The coffee chain is named after him:

starbuck

Originally, it was going to be called Pequod’s after the ship:

clipper

They’re probably lucky it wasn’t named after the whale. Here is Queequeg, one of the three harpooners:

moby-dick_queequeg-stare

And here is his coffin, floating in the sea:

coffin
D. H. Lawrence, the greatest English novelist, called Moby Dick:

“one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world”

“the greatest book of the sea ever written”

wale tale

Here are half a dozen quotations to whet your appetite:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

giphy

 

“That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

whale

“…mastering his emotion, Starbuck calmly rose, and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said to Ahab: “Let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”

Moby_Dick_final_chase

“Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruin; Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven.”

moby-dickzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. It was rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”

Moby-Dick-3

“There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

Moby_Dick_p510_illustration

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Moby Dick

And don’t forget, of course, Moby Dick has the most famous beginning of any novel:

“Call me Ishmael.”

The quotations from the end are good, too, but I won’t spoil it for you!

28 Comments

Filed under History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

The Nottinghamshire UFO flap of July 1967

I have already mentioned in a previous article, the wonderfully titled “A Werewolf in Cambridgeshire. Run away!!” that I had received “Haunted Skies Volume One” by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway as a Christmas present in 2013.

The following year, for Christmas 2014, I was lucky enough to be given Volumes 2-6, which covered the history of British UFOs from 1960-1977. And I have read the lot! It has taken me until April 2015, but I have, more or less, made it. I now sit eagerly at home awaiting the arrival of the last four volumes in the series, which I ordered last Sunday. These will complete the full set.

The ten volumes are an absolute tour de force and a total labour of love which will become a modern classic. If anything, the books have become better and better as the volumes have gone by. I would urge you strongly to have a look at the two authors’ pages on Amazon, if you find this topic at all interesting.
When a number of UFOs are sighted in a particular locality over a fairly short period of time, this is known as a “flap”. Over the years, around the world, there have been more flaps than you could shake a little green man at. In 1967, there was one in Nottingham.

It started, perhaps, on February 13, 1967 in Radford, an area of mainly Victorian terraced houses a very short distance to the north west of the city centre. Look for the orange arrow, near the “O” of Nottingham:

mapof radford

It was ten minutes to nine in the evening and Frank Earp and Gerald Montague were hard at it on their allotment. It must have been almost totally dark, dark enough, at least, to see a diamond shaped object motionless in the night sky. It had a red light underneath and suddenly changed shape before flying off at fantastic speed. This. hopefully, is similar to what Frank and Gerald saw:

dimond redlight zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Five months later, on July 2nd 1967, reports came in of a bright light with three prongs, motionless in the sky over Knighton Park in nearby Leicester, only 28 miles away from the “Queen of the Midlands”.
The main highlight of the Nottingham Flap came three days later during the evening of Wednesday, July 5th 1967.  An absolutely classic flying saucer was seen by a very large number of witnesses. It was motionless over the Clifton Estate, just above the horizon.

classic_flying_saucer_Clifton Estate is to the south west of the city centre. For the most part, Clifton is a council estate built from 1952 onwards, largely to rehouse the slum areas of the Meadows where, as late as the mid-sixties, barefooted children were by no means unusual. At one time Clifton was the largest council estate in Europe. Look for the orange arrow:

nap of clifton

Eventually, that balmy summer’s evening, somebody called the police, possibly for the protection of any little green men that might emerge from their spacecraft. By now, well in excess of a hundred would-be ufologists were eagerly awaiting developments on the rising ground near to the local Fairham Comprehensive School:

bars gate

If my memory serves me well, this was a very large all boys’ school, which has now been closed down:

far school

Years later, an old boys’ reunion got a little out of hand:burning school

When they eventually arrived at the UFO landing site, the boys in blue, of course, did not see any UFOs and told the locals that they were the hapless victims of an optical illusion. Mrs Marjorie Cowdell, however, would have none of it. She insisted to the Fighters of Crime that she had seen a flying saucer “swim” down to the ground.

This was big enough news that a host of reporters were sent to investigate by the national press (in actual fact, the Daily Sketch, which has now, alas, gone exactly the same way as Fairham Comprehensive School).

Here is the story, which appeared in this most intellectual of red top tabloids (presumably the reason it folded) on Thursday, July 6th, 1967:

100 SAY WE SAW A FLYING SAUCER LAND

More than 100 people claimed yesterday that they saw a flying saucer land.
They were “spotting” on high ground near Fairham Comprehensive School in Clifton, Nottingham.
Housewives rushed from their homes when it was reported that a flying saucer about 30 feet in diameter had come down. Many people said that the object was disk shaped and silvery.
Police searched the area but found no trace of anything having landed. A spokesman said, “It must have been an optical illusion caused by sunlight and a cloud of dust.”

Mrs Marjorie Cowdell of High Bank, Clifton said, “I don’t care what the police say. I saw a flying saucer swoop to the ground.”

The stream, almost a flood, of “Close Encounters of the First Kind” continued, this time at Wellow, near Ollerton, some twenty miles to the north of Nottingham. On Saturday, July 8, 1967, schoolteacher Bernard Day and his wife, from Newark-on-Trent, were driving along just after nine o’clock in the evening. Suddenly they saw, according to the Nottingham Evening Post, what looked like:

braxzil top

“A child’s top, spinning in the night sky, from one side to an upright position, for over forty minutes, surrounded by bright light. I fetched Police Constable E.Holmes, from Welland Police Station, who had a look through binoculars and said, “I wouldn’t even be able to guess its identity. I’ll have to inform Inspector R. Street. He will make some enquiries.”

What was presumably the same incident is featured on a rather interesting website I found. No exact details are given, but it would seem to be the same series of events. It reads:

“July 1967. 2110 hours. Saturday. Location – Nottingham, Nottinghamshire. A member of the public, teacher Mr Doy, reported seeing a UFO over a local school and a PC HOLMES attended the school  and confirmed the object in the sky. He then reported the sighting to his duty officer, Inspector R .Street.

PC HOLMES stated that the object was a bright light spinning on its own axis in a stationary position above the school. The police could not offer any explanation for the UFO.

UFO CLASSIFICATION – NL (NOCTURNAL LIGHT).

On Duty sighting. 1 Officer.”

I’m not entirely satisfied with a policeman called R. Street and what about PC Holmes? Surely all of his mates must have called him Sherlock?

Whatever the case, the Nottingham Roswell Saga went on. On Monday, July 10th, only four days later, a bright white triangle was seen over Radcliffe-on-Trent at half past eight in the morning:

amsterdam 28 oct 2013

Radcliffe-on-Trent is to the east of the city, a mere two or three miles away from the very centre. Look for the orange arrow:

map of radclff on trent

Interestingly, the locations of all three sightings are visible on this map. The orange arrow points to Radcliffe-on-Trent and Clifton is in the bottom left of the map. Radford is below the big, black N-O of Nottingham.

The very final case I can find comes from Newark-on-Trent (just over twenty two miles from Nottingham). It was August 10th and around 10:15 in the late evening. For some unknown reason, Dave Robinson was taking a stroll with his girlfriend in what must have been almost pitch black woodland at Stapleford Woods. Look for the orange arrow:

stapleford map

The two young lovers had just reached a clearing at the edge of the woods when the young lady noticed two lights in the sky. They were possibly round, possibly oval, and yellow in colour, resembling paper. Some six feet and five feet across respectively, they were motionless over a line of trees around half a mile in the distance. I managed to find these likely contenders on the Internet:

After the event, William Blythe of Mansfield interviewed them. Let Dave take up the story:

“Within minutes they disappeared, replaced by a flashing red light, which moved to our right, climbing up and over some trees. Five minutes later we saw the lights again in the sky, now on our right, coming towards us, about a quarter of a mile away.

My curiosity aroused, I drove slowly towards the lights, losing sight of them as I drove around the bend. When I reached the spot where I had seen them, I flashed my headlights and this craft appeared over the trees. Astonished, I stopped the car and listened. Still no sound.

We watched the craft with amazement, as it hovered 20 feet away from us at about the same height off the ground, allowing us to see it had a curved bottom and top, with three squared windows, spilling orange light, and a brilliant light projecting downwards from the top.

As it moved overhead, I became frightened and drove away, fearing what
was going to happen next.”

And that’s it. This was quite impressive by the standards of the middle 1960s, especially when compared to nowadays, when 84% of all programmes on Satellite TV are devoted to aliens, UFOs and government cover ups. If you find this topic of any interest, don’t forget the “Haunted Skies” books by John Hanson and Dawn Holloway. They really are worth a look.  This is the edition which set me off on the trail of the Nottingham Flap and Mrs Marjorie Cowdell:

hauntyed skies 3 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Next time there will be a host of Internet sites to look at when I try to track down the UFO that crashed just south of Mansfield. That was a very, very, brave thing to do!

14 Comments

Filed under History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, Science

Staff v Prefects Football Match Christmas 1980 (3)

These are the last four of the ten photographs I found recently of the Teachers v School Prefects football match.  This keenly fought fixture took place probably just before Christmas in 1980, give or take a year either way. My beautiful new wife was watching the game, armed with my camera, if I remember correctly.
This first photograph shows myself and Ron Gilbert, the ex-Chemistry teacher who retired recently. We look as if we are holding a quick debate about who is going to chase after the ball:

PHOTO A

The second photograph shows the then Head of Music, Stephen Fairlie, and the red shirted referee, Richard Willan. Red Fourteen is a Prefect playing in a staff shirt to make up the numbers. Incidentally, the staff are playing in the shirts normally worn by the school Second Eleven Football Team. These, in their turn, were, for reasons that must surely remain unknown now for ever, the second, change, strip of Sunderland A.F.C.

PHOTO B

The third photograph shows three members of staff. Number Three on the right with his back to the camera is Paul Morris, the now retired Physics teacher. I myself am Number Two in the middle and Number One is Andrew Ayres, a native of Hartlepool if I remember correctly, a young teacher of Chemistry and a colleague of Ron Gilbert. Andrew moved on to Wisbech Grammar School in Cambridgeshire, where he became the senior tutor and examinations officer as well as continuing as a chemistry teacher. He retired in July, 2014. Once again, the Prefects will have to remain nameless:

PHOTO C

The final picture shows Stephen Fairlie, the then Head of Music, as Number One on the left, and Bob Howard, Geography teacher and Best Man at our wedding, as Number Three on the right. In the centre is Number Two, Phil Eastwood, who was the then Head of Chemistry. Phil is a very keen supporter of Manchester City and that is where, I would imagine, his socks came from:

PHOTO D

I would like to finish these three blog posts with a piece of medieval poetry. Medieval French poetry, no less. Well, from 1533. It was written by François   Villon. (You can click on both names)
The days when I knew about such things are very distant, but ironically, that is the whole point of the poem:

Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays,

Tell me where, in which country

Est Flora, la belle Romaine ;

Is Flora, the beautiful Roman;

Archipiada, né Thaïs,

Archipiada, born Thaïs,

Qui fut sa cousine germaine;

Who was her first cousin;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine

Echo, speaking when one makes noise

Dessus rivière ou sus estan,

Over river or on pond,

Qui beauté eut trop plus qu’humaine?

Who had a beauty too much more than  human ?

.

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!    

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

Où est la très sage Heloïs,

Where is the very wise Heloise,

Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne

For whom was castrated, and then made a monk

Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?

Pierre Abelard in Saint-Denis ?

Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.

For his love he suffered this sentence.

Semblablement, où est la royne

Similarly, where is the Queen

Qui commanda que Buridan

Who ordered that Buridan

Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?

Be thrown in a sack into the Seine?

 

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!    

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,

The queen Blanche, white, as a lily

Qui chantoit à voix de sereine;

Who sang with a Siren’s voice;

Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;

Bertha of the Big Foot, Beatrix, Aelis;

Harembourges qui tint le Mayne,

Erembourge who ruled over the Maine,

Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,

And Joan of Arc the good woman from Lorraine

Qu’Anglois bruslerent à Rouen;

Whom the English burned in Rouen ;
Où sont-ilz, Vierge souveraine ?

Where are they, oh sovereign Virgin?

.

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!         

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

 

Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine

Prince, do not ask me in the whole week

Où elles sont, ne de cest an,

Where they are – neither in this whole year,

Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:

Lest I bring you back to this refrain:

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!         

Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

5 Comments

Filed under Football, France, History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, Personal, The High School

Boot the Caretaker

Sir Jesse Boot, later the First Baron Trent, was, of course, a very famous figure in the history of Nottingham. In the High School, however, far more famous was Bill Boot, the school caretaker during the middle period of the twentieth century.

The school looked roughly the same in those days as it does now, except it was black and white.

bulletin_24_1403256831_2052%20Nottingham%20017

This photo shows the boys leaving school around this time.  Look at the great variety of means of transport compared to today…

around this time

Bill Boot was a much loved figure as the school caretaker, and in December 1949, the following poem appeared in the school magazine. It was a much modified version of the original, which was written by Lewis Carroll and appeared in his book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, published in 1865.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was written by F.Martin Hall and John G.Golds, and was dedicated to Mr.Boot…

“To Bill Boot on his 70th birthday

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your tooth is of marvellous length,
Yet your tap on the door makes the whole building rock,
Where on earth do you find all that strength ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I fought for the Queen,
Frequent exercise, Generals demanded,
I chased Kruger each morning around Spion Kop,
Do you wonder my muscles expanded ?

You are old, Father William, the schoolboy said,
And your hair has long since turned quite grey,
Yet your voice like a clarion round the School rings,
How d’you manage such volume, I pray ?

In my youth, said the Sage, when I served with Lord “Bobs,”
His commands could not travel by wireless
So I bawled them (in code) right across the Transvaal,
And my throat, by this means, became tireless.

You are old, Father William, yet your eagle eye
Seems as bright as the stars high in heaven,
Pray, how does your eyesight thus function so well,
With no help from Aneurin Bevan ?

I have answered your questions, the wrathful Sage said,
And as sure as my name’s William B.,
If you pester me further, my patience will go,
So be off, or I’ll put you in D.

(With apologies to Lewis Carroll. In the last verse it was considered impolite to suggest that Mr. Boot would actually threaten to kick anyone downstairs.) ”

Bill Boot retired as school caretaker only a year later in 1950, after twenty-eight years’ service. He was replaced by Mr.T.H.Briggs, who had previously worked as a policeman in the city.

Bill Boot had been in the British Army and had fought bravely in the Boer War of 1899-1902. He was famous among the boys for his rapid, shuffling gait, and his extremely rapid speech, which, with his accent,  frequently became almost unintelligible.

Bill’s hobby was fishing, and he travelled widely at weekends. When he retired, he received a small pension, but, alas, he did not live very long to enjoy it, as, tragically, he was killed as he was crossing the road on December 7th 1952. As far as I know, no photographs of Bill Boot have survived, and only Old Boys in their seventies would now be able to remember this fine gentleman “of the old school”, as they say.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Humour, Literature, Nottingham, The High School

England’s Greatest Poet

To my shame, I did not appreciate that July 13th, the 121st anniversary of his birth, was “John Clare Day”.  I found this out by googling retrospectively “John Clare”, and coming across an absolutely superb article by George Monbiot in the Guardian.
Furthermore, I must confess that I actually knew very little about John Clare other than the fact that he was a poet and that, unlike the vast majority of poets, he was of working class origin. His biographer Jonathan Bate described him as “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.
The first port of call, therefore was Wikipedia.

The bare bones of Clare’s life were that he was born into desperate agricultural poverty in the tiny village of Helpston, just to the north of Peterborough in Northamptonshire.

Untitled

The area was amazingly rich in wildlife.

He would have seen and heard corncrakes everywhere.

Nightjars too, were as common in England then as they now are in this excellent film from Denmark…

There were ravens in the old, giant oak trees, wrynecks, which still bred in old woodpeckers’ holes, and the last few wildcats…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And glowworms…

glowworms

“Tasteful illumination of the night,
Bright scattered, twinkling star of spangled earth.”

Clare’s cottage, where he spent his childhood, still remains…

John Clare Cottage
Like all his fellows, Clare became an agricultural labourer while still a child, but he attended the school in Glinton church until he was twelve. He also began to write poetry, something which was to cause him great problems throughout the rest of his life among simple farm workers.

He wrote…

“I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact like one whom the rest seemes careless of having anything to do with—they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.”

Clare’s first love was Mary Joyce, but alas, she was to die, by our standards at least, a premature death.

MaryJoyceGrave

Clare was to marry Martha Turner in 1820. Her nickname was “Patty”.

“Courtship
Where are you going lovely maid
The morning fine & early
“I’m going to Walkerd”, Sir she said
&made across the barley

I asked her name she blushed away
The question seemed to burn her
A neighbour came & passed the day
&called her Patty Turner

I wrote my better poems there
To beautys praise I owe it
The muses they get all the praise
But woman makes the poet

A womans is the dearest love
Theres nought on earth sincerer
The leisure upon beautys breast
Can any thing be dearer

I saw her love in beauty’s face
I saw her in the rose
I saw her in the fairest flowers
In every weed that grows”

Clare, though, was to have  many bouts of severe depression, which worsened as his family increased in size and his poetry sold less well.
Gradually over the years, his behaviour became progressively more and more erratic. In July 1837, he went of his own accord to Doctor Matthew Allen’s private asylum. In 1841, though, Clare absconded and walked all the way back home from Essex. He thought, in his madness, that he would be able to refind his first true love, Mary Joyce.  He believed firmly that he was married not just to her, but to Martha as well, and had children by both women. He refused to believe Mary’s family that she had died accidentally three years previously in a house fire. He stayed a free man at home for a little while, but was back in the asylum by mid-1841, his wife having called for help from them between Christmas and the New Year of 1841.
Clare was sent to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he lived out the rest of his life. He was helped enormously by the kindness and humanity of Dr Thomas Octavius Prichard, who encouraged and helped him to continue writing his poetry. It was at the Northamptonshire County General Lunatic Asylum  that Clare wrote possibly his most famous poem…..

“I am!
I AM! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky. “

Clare’s problems with depression  had not been helped by having to watch his world disappear as, between 1809 and 1820, various  Acts of Enclosure allowed the greedy, idle, useless rich to increase their already great wealth by putting fences across the previously open fields, heathland and woodlands., and declaring that everything now belonged to them.

This, of course, was the early nineteenth century equivalent of “Trespassers will be Prosecuted”, and, as it was designed to do, prevented anybody poor from enjoying what abruptly became the rich man’s landscape.

In due course, the idle rich realised that they could make even more money by destroying the ancient countryside, and farming it in an exclusively profit orientated way.  There was no room for five hundred year old oak trees or sleepy marshes, no more meandering streams or cool copses to give shade on a hot summer’s day. Faced by the onslaught of Agribusiness, the wild animals, the birds, the insects and the butterflies all began to disappear.

In other words, it was pretty much the beginning of the country landscape we are asked to tolerate today.

This poem was finished by 1824, but was published only in 1935.

“The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed springs blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the orisons edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all–a hope that blossomed free
And hath been once no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labours rights and left the poor a slave
And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came with evening morn and night
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now alls fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors loosing from the sight far smooth and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay”

For me, Clare’s best work is his nature poetry. Because he was a poor labourer, he saw far more details as he walked along than the rich poets who thundered past in their coaches. John Clare’s nightingale actually was a real nightingale, not another species misidentified.

George Monbiot in his wonderful article urges us to read the poem…

“…Everything he sees flares into life…his ability to pour his mingled thoughts and observations on to the page as they occur, allowing you, as perhaps no other poet has done, to watch the world from inside his head.”

“The Nightingale’s Nest”  is indeed a fabulous poem, and is just like going for a stroll into the woods with John Clare himself, to view a bird whose nest he has previously staked out at some point during his working day. The reader becomes a fellow birdwatcher, who can follow John Clare’s instructions about where to look…

Common-nightingale-feeding-chicks-at-nest

“The Nightingale’s Nest

Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale – she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year –
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way –
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails –
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide –
Hark! there she is as usual – let’s be hush –
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look –
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by –
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops – as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it: safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.”

I have not quoted some of Clare’s poems in full. They are extremely accessible on the Internet, and will fully repay your efforts.
The vast majority of his poetry can be found very easily.

Just find “Poets by Name” on the left of the screen, and click on “J” for “John Clare”.
The poet’s grave is at Helpston….
helpston grave
And, as one of England’s greatest poets, he has a memorial…

220px-John_Clare_Memorial,_Helpston,_Peterborough

And what looks like a rather modern statue…

statue

Youtube, of course, has many readings of John Clare’s works.

There are some quite long anthologies…

Some are good,

And there are others

I am a sentimental old fool, so I liked…

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under History, Literature, Politics, Wildlife and Nature