Ruth and I have been enjoying Tony Robinson’s Channel 5 series Britain’s Great Cathedrals. We’re looking forward to the forthcoming episode on Canterbury. That’s where we met (at the University though, not the Cathedral itself.) The Cathedral was a favourite place to visit, and the experience was always awe-inspiring. When, later, I found this poem by John Ormond I was reminded how such staggering beauty was created by so many hard-working, skilful, ordinary blokes. I love the concluding line.
The Cathedral Builders
They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
took up God’s house to meet him,
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer’s swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, ‘I bloody did that.’
I recently watched The State, and was reminded of this poem, which I wrote shortly after the Westminster Bridge and Borough Market attacks.
Go To Sleep, Oh My Brother
In my helmet and Kevlar,
Watchful and waiting.
I see you brandish your kitchen knife bravely;
I see your victims still bleeding and gasping.
I dare you to hurt me.
I dare you surrender.
I dare you admit to this vile perversion-
Step into the light, oh my brother.
Your hands start to move, as if for a weapon,
Not up to the air as you have been bidden.
No response to my call,
And I see you fall-
My finger has spoken,
Resistance is broken.
Go to sleep with your young virgin brides,
Oh my brother
Let them see what a lion you are.
A song dedicated to the beautiful North Norfolk coast and to bird watchers everywhere. Ruth and I knocked this up one holiday. The inspiration was the sight of a horse staring over the fence as we drove along; he was obviously counting the cars on the North Norfolk coast road. With apologies to Paul Simon.
Today marks the centenary of the opening of the British and Canadian offensive at Arras, on the Western Front.
Hawtin Mundy of New Bradwell, Buckinghamshire, fought and was captured in the battle. His powerful memories were recorded late in life, inspiring community drama and song that ties modern Milton Keynes and its inhabitants to its past.
Here is a part of Hawtin’s moving testimony:
Hawtin’s description of the battlefield at Arras was carefully turned into song by Paul Clark for the play Days of Pride, and has never failed to move audiences each of the many times it has been sung since. Continue reading →
A song lyric written for my friends Dorien and Ros. Dor had the title and the idea: based on a (fictitious) university romance as viewed from thirty years. I added Cambridge and Dorien’s own mathematical studies into it.
We sit on a camomile lawn
And drink freshly made jasmine tea.
Theorems and constructs are born-
Indivisible numbers like “Just you and me.” Continue reading →
To be read out loud; the voice of the Bull Rat something like Ray Winstone advertising online betting.
Tommy Cat is mooching homeward in the alley-
Finds his way is darkly barred by something fat.
With his extra special sense of smell
And super-fine night vision
He identifies a bloated old Bull Rat. Continue reading →
Six Sonnets on Being Disabled Written in a burst in one day, over a year before I finally received my diagnosis of Primary Progressive MS. I was already in a wheelchair and pretty confused about what might be the matter with me. Continue reading →