Author Archives: Midstreeter

St Ives

We drove from Penzance to St Ives on the 3rd day of our Cornwall holiday. I parked the car in the St Ives RFC car park and caught a bus down.

We had tickets to Tate St Ives at 12:30, and had 2 hours to explore before then.

At the exhibition we waited a short while for social distance reasons. Then sanitised our hands and ambled round from gallery to gallery wearing our face coverings.

Judith raved about lots of pictures. There were pictures by St Ives artists like Ben Nicolson and Barbara Hepworth, and also works by international masters like Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian.

Alfred Wallis had been a seaman, and ice cream seller. He started painting in his retirement. The simplicity and charm of his paintings influenced other St Ives artists.

The cafe had sea views and views over the cascading roof tops and terraces of St Ives. The cafe was also next to the shop where you could get 5 postcards for the price of 6.

The beach was now more crowded but socially well distanced.

We wandered through narrow crowded shopping streets. Large signs asked people to keep to the left and socially distance. Not everybody did.

Cars drove through, creating a more immediate danger. One came very close to my sandalled feet and toes. Somebody said ‘You were lucky!’

We got on the bus back. But just as it was about to set off more and more people got on. This did not seem very good given the day’s news that the second Covid-19 wave was sweeping the country. We had postponed the Portugal holiday. Now it looked like the replacement holiday was helping to spread the virus.

Back in Penzance I took some pictures of waves slapping up against the promenade wall.

Perpetual Lockdown

Every week a letter from Doctor Stroud
tells them to continue their isolation.
Their window holds the rainbow of hope
That everybody else has taken down.

Each day is the same as every other.
Nothing really changes. Life goes on.
They watch each other getting old.
He asks her again about the virus.

Who is it still brings the food and water?
Who keeps the door locked on them?
Who brings them their medication?
Why do they need those coloured pills?

She has told him so many times
About how they will get out tomorrow.
Plaster’s strewn on their bedroom floor
From the time they tried to break free.

(Written for share a poem in June 2020 when the theme was Pandemic)

Oxford’s Magdalene College Choir Virtual May Day heard from a bedroom

The revelling crowd reduced to one
In bed with his computer on.

The breakfast beer cans strewn around
And egg smeared on his dressing gown.

The facebook video played at six …
Some tweeting birds, a choirboy mix,

Recorded several days before,
Each choirboy stood alone, unsure –

How weird it was to sing alone!
But digitised they found their tone –

The virtual choir sang Latin Prayers –
Protected from the germ purveyors.

‘… Immensum hoc mysterium
Ovante lingua canimus’.

He listened and quite unrehearsed
The tears came naturally at first.

He missed the solidarity,
He missed the man dressed as a tree*,

He missed the champagne on the grass,
He missed the chance to make a pass,

He threw himself into a heap
Began to blubber and to weep:

He missed the Leeds star Norman Hunter
Killed by the virus – six feet under.

He missed the Stranglers Keyboard player
For both of them he said a Prayer

And worst of all he might succumb
Before his old man and his mum.

* leader of Oxford University Morris Dancers comes dressed as a tree to May Morning

Theme for Abingdon Share a Poem in May is May and I wrote this after watching


We began the walk through the churchyard of St Lawrence’s Church in Lechlade-on-Thames. There is a plaque to say that this is called ‘Shelley’s Walk‘ after the poet wrote ‘A Summer Evening Churchyard‘ here.

The walk then followed a tree lined path beside a steam or ditch. The air was crowded with small flies and midges – a sign that Spring had arrived. Birds sang and could enjoy the easy pickings .

We crossed a wooden footbridge beside a screen of poplars.

Then followed the Thames Path back through St John’s Lock, the highest lock on the River Thames, where a statue of Father Thames lay with a plastic paddle.

The ground was soft and the driest place to walk was near the bank of the River Thames where we passed several fishermen. The spire of St Lawrences could be seen across the even land.

I wondered whether it was the same St Lawrence that I knew from Caterham Surrey but realised I didn’t know much about him either. From wikipedia I discovered Saint Lawrence (d. 258), the Christian martyr, after whom all others are named; Saint Laurence of Canterbury (d. 619), second Archbishop of Canterbury, and more.

We walked under the footpath arch of the Halfpenny Bridge, so called because until the town’s people protested and got their way, a half penny was charged for going over the bridge.

Larger barges and river craft do not usually go much further beyond this point.

We walked through a couple more fields than crossed the Thames by a wooden bridge, and headed back to Lechlade over a path called ‘The Seven Styles Walk‘ – here were no styles, just open gates separating small fields.

Back in Lechlade I took a picture of the Christmas Shop. It is open all year round, but was closed when we went by. The business first started in 1985, selling traditional German Christmas products.  Christmas all year round has become an eccentricity of Lechlade.

In town, we went inside St Lawrence’s Church where there was an interesting painting ‘Presented to Brigadier John Cooper by the congregation in gratitude for his ministry – August 2010’. 

We visited the Londis store where there were plenty of toilet rolls available. Abingdon has run out due to Coronavirus panic buying so this was a relief.

We also had some excellent soup and sourdough bread at Lynwood & Co, and then drove home.

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

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)

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 and Surrey Mirror for this tribute. All Rights reserved