Author Archives: Midstreeter

Faringdon and Folly


Faringdon seems a normal and very pleasant market town until …

you approach the Pump House where there is a stone diving helmet and some words that when you first read them do not make sense … ‘a man who never has an occasional flash’  … ‘of’  … ‘silliness’ … ‘Mistrust’.

But start at the right place and you get ‘Mistrust a man who never has an occasional flash of silliness.’

In the Pump House is an exhibition about Lord Berners who lived in Faringdon House.

He was a composer , painter, and author. Besides writing an opera and five ballets , he composed the film music to “The Halfway House ” in 1944. As an artist he staged at least three exhibitions in various London galleries. His writings included First childhood, The Camel, The Girls of Radcliff Hall, Far From the Madding War, Percy Wallingford and Mr. Pidger, Count Omega, The Romance of a Nose and A Distant Prospect. To his parties were invited many famous people we still know of to this day, such as Igor Stravinsky, Salvador Dalí, and H. G. Wells.

The museum has displays to remember how he dyed pigeons at his house in Faringdon in vibrant colours and entertained Penelope Betjeman’s horse Moti to tea and painted its portrait.

As well as being a composer, painter, and author, he also built the last ever major folly tower in 1935.

He built the folly tower on the hill overlooking Faringdon.

He liked silly notices and there is a notice ‘Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk.’
Nearby is a piano. The keys no longer play after a long time out in all weather. Lord Berners had a small clavichord keyboard in his Rolls-Royce.

When you look about you can see that Lord Berners continues to influence the people in the town in the number of dyed pigeons and silly notices.

Ma Chere Catherine

I have seen what you wrote in my diary.
‘I want to see you again – if its possible’
Your address is given as 36 Rue Vendage
I send this letter to the old address
In the hope it will see you somehow
Just as your words were destined to see me.

Life has been assez bon pour moi,
I live in England in a town called Abingdon
For forty years I have worked in a cafe.
During breaks I smoke my cigarette of choice
Sometimes I hear you say
Pourquoi Camel? Pourquoi pas Marlboro?’

I have grey eyes, grey brows, grey hair …
Pourquoi?’ I hear you say ‘Why have you gone all grey?’
Ma Chere Catherine, I had no choice at all, I am sixty three.
My eyes went grey when I lost the picture of you.
My brows went grey because I saw you no more.
My hair went grey because I thought of you – all the time.

Now I close my eyes, imagine where you are …
In a shaded apartment in the French Midi
Or travelling with a fair, reading people’s palms.
And if you choose to write back
‘Oh la la’ I will cry ‘It was written in the stars’
Je t’embrasse tres fort.

– Theme for Abingdon Share a Poem in March is Choices – second possible poem

Moonstruck

Late last night mingling with drunks,
amazed at all of the things that they said,
I looked at the ground and the mottled sky
with the moonshine in a puddle of cloud.
I saw again the man in the moon and remembered
how he lost his way going too far south.

And did we sit on a cow that jumped over the moon
or was that a dish and a spoon and not the moon
sitting together on the side of the road to Norwich,
spooning porridge, or were we supping pea’s pottage
in the moonlight that made us into moon prophets?
Moonstruck, moonchildren, mooning moonbeams.

Moony man in the moon his mooneye dark and empty –
dark and cold until a cloud came across and he winked.
He winked! Ha! The man in the moon winked at us.
Clouds clearing away back to the drunks and their blabbering.
Sad eyed figures that call me away to you then when
We were as friends, as one.

(written for Abingdon Share a Poem Group with theme Moon but not read as I was not confident about it)

Helen Keller Romance Backlash

Now that I am quite enfeebled
I fall in love with you again.
You the skilled finger speller –
Our only way of being friends.

I remember you – the charming lover,
And how we soon began a dream
A secret marriage, of three children –
To fill the world in between.

The Boston Press learned our Secret.
My family banned you, except in brail –
A go between brought your letters
But plans to meet would always fail.

Carers did what they thought proper –
I was deaf. I was blind.
To stop us having deaf blind children,
Was I foolish, and were they kind?

Now that I am quite enfeebled
I feel your touch on me so slow –
Lightly spelling, playful, talking –
Touch – the greatest thing I know.

(Helen Keller and a temporary male assistant called Peter)

The gold tooth is still mocking me

I pull out my purse and take out two coins,

One silver, one bronze, put them on the counter.

The Bar Man looks straight through me.
“It’s going to cost you more than that, friend.”

I pull out a gun. Aim at his heart.
The band strikes up a rolling rhythm.
He turns away to serve another customer
As I have the bullet trained on him
At the gold tooth that’s still mocking me.

 He serves the drinks and comes back.

 “How much then?” I ask.

“Look!” he says “Read my thoughts!”

I read his heart and see a garden in a council estate.
He stands with watch in hand, bird feed in the other,
Watching the clouds for a glimpse.

Then a woman with red hair, misty strange,
Otherworldly, could be dead. She haunts him still.

 I put down gold. “Is that OK?”

Written for share a poem at St Ethelwolds.

John Ruskin’s 200th Birthday Celebration


There were children from Coniston C of E Primary School singing, and reading poetry. There were also children from the John Ruskin School, Coniston performing on brass instruments. They had a day of Ruskin Celebration and church was one part of it.

Rather than be buried in Westminster Abbey John Ruskin chose St Andrew’s Church, Coniston. He lived beside Lake Coniston.


After the service, some of the congregation gathered round the wonderful Ruskin Cross for a prayer and to lay some flowers.

A lot of his ideas are still very relevant today. Speaking at the service, a lady from the Ruskin Museum in Coniston  traced back some of the twentieth centuries great achievements to Ruskin’s social reforming ideas: the founding of universal education, the minimum wage, the NHS and welfare state. As an art critic and painter he taught many people how to see and appreciate nature and art.

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.”  John Ruskin.

Berlin – first visit

Between the 11th and 18th of December we were staying in Berlin.

We saw many reminders of Berlin’s turbulent recent history. The facade of the Anhalter Bahnhof  (railway station) has been left as it was after WWII bombing. The rest of the building has been demolished. From here 9,600 Jews were transported from 1941 to 1945.

A Holocaust Memorial has been created on land near the old Berlin wall. The memorial is made up of a grid of concrete blocks of different heights. In the centre they tower over you and it is bleak and disorienting to walk through.

Most of the Berlin Wall, constructed by East Germany to stop citizens going to the west, has been removed. The East Side Gallery, painted by many invited international artists, is the largest section of Berlin Wall still standing. This picture depicts Leonid Brezhnev (USSR Leader) and Erich Honecker (East German Leader) greeting each other with a fraternal kiss. It reads ‘Mein Gott, hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben’, which in English means ‘My God, help me survive this deadly love’.

There are also bits of the wall to be purchased in various sizes. That these have become tourist gifts does nothing to remove from some people’s memory how threatening it felt at one time with the border guards and spies. People were shot trying to cross the wall or swim the River Spree.

The most famous Berlin landmark is the Brandenburg Gate. The wall ran down there too cutting it off in no man’s land.Even the Reichstag was off limits until reunification, when by a small majority it was decided to move parliament back from Bonn to Berlin. The Reichstag interior was rebuilt and a dome added. The dome has a spiral walkway that gives views down into the chamber and out across the city. This is now the place were the German Government meet.

During the visit I was reading Leaving Berlin, a novel which tells of the start of the cold war and the competing Russian, American and fledgling East German agents and informers.  I finished the book on the return trip from Berlin Tegel to Gatwick Airport.

Death of a South Nutfield Lad


On the war memorial in top Nutfield are many familiar village names and the words “Lest we Forget” our men of Nutfield.

On the 1st of November 1918 (one hundred years ago) the Surrey Mirror carried this piece… ‘Death of a South Nutfield Lad

“It is with much .sorrow we record the death of Pte. Albert Edward Joiner (“Bert”), aged 19 years, late East Yorks Regt., second and dearly loved son of Mr. and Mrs. G. A. Joiner, 29, Trindles Road. South Nutfield, who was killed in action in France on the night of Sept. 3rd, by a machine gun bullet. It was a relief to know he did not suffer any pain, as was killed instantaneously.

Showing a keen interest in gardening he entered the gardens at Nutfield Priory shortly after leaving school, and stayed there until the time of joining the Colours.

Pte. A. E. Joiner was a member of the Nutfield C.L.B., a very persevering boy, possessed of a very cheerful disposition, refined, and was greatly beloved by all who knew him.

On joining in May, 1917. he was placed at Dover in training battalion, from there he went to Bridlington, in Yorkshire, at that time being the East Riding Yeomanry. In February he was sent to Ireland, where he remained until July, and was then drafted to France, and afterwards transferred to the East Yorks Regt.

Mr. and Mrs. Joiner have received many letters of condolence and sympathy, for which they and all members of the family are deeply grateful. The Chaplain from the deceased’s battalion wrote: “Bv the time this letter gets to you you will have heard the sad news of your boy. Pte. A. E. Joiner. He was killed by a machine gun bullet on the night Sept. 3rd. and the next day we buried him in a British cemetery. We put flowers on his grave, and intend to erect a cross. The news will have come as a cruel blow to you. May God help you to bear it. You must always be proud of your boy. He died bravely doing his duty. Now he is away from the hardship and horror of war, and, I know, would not have you grieve too much for him. His comrades join with me in this sincere expression of sympathy with you.

Thanks to the https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and Surrey Mirror for this tribute. All Rights reserved

St Lawrence’s Hospital / Caterham Asylum


Not much of the former hospital of St Lawrence’s now remains. A plaque has been put up by The Bourne Society on what was the main gate post.

Beyond that is the new housing on the ground of the former hospital. The road names off St Lawrence Way remember people associated with the hospital: Deacon, Straw, Danvers, Gwynne, Bunce, Drew, Pye, Marcuse. Joey Deacon was well known beyond the hospital.

Beyond the housing the land dips away to an open area, and a tree covered walk in the valley – Green Lane, and beyond that is Surrey National Golf Club.

Old postcards show how the front entrance looked when the building was big enough to house 1,500 and more people from the Metropolitan area of London, and when the hospital was the largest employer in Caterham.

The postcard was written by the mum of Bessie to an aunt saying – this is one of the views of the place where Bessie stays, and she hopes you will write to her.

What has been kept as a screen for the new estate are high trees, the fence and gate posts – once intended to keep people in and now to keep them out.

The admin block was attractive (seen in this 1923 picture by G Aschinger).

Beyond that there was the male side and the female side with the utility corridor connecting them, off which came the kitchen, the pharmacy, the laundry, the swimming pool, recreation hall, tailors shop, dentist, and everything needed to keep a hospital community going.

It was a large hospital built to keep the cost per patient down and had no great architectural merit. The grounds were extensive. It was bulldozed rather than converted, when the era of Victorian Mental Hospitals ended in the 1990s. The residents were rehoused in smaller units by the 1990s Lifecare NHS Trust.

The Loft – 46 Westway, Caterham


In 1982 Noel and Maureen moved to Caterham in Surrey and set up an antique business called the Loft at 46 Westway.

Noel used his photographic talents in the business and that became the main money earner. He took passport photos of many of the residents of St Lawrences Hospital at the far end of the Westway. The snowy picture by Noel is one of the many on his walls in his shop.

Noel was once an adventurer and rally driver who started life in New South Wales, and spent time in Papua New Guinea, and other antipodean locations until coming to Caterham with Maureen, and his growing family.

Next week Noel and Maureen close up shop in Caterham after 36 years to move to somewhere new, and a time to enjoy full retirement.