My Crow Tells Me

My crow tells me
All she knows-
How far her landmarks are
As the crow flies.
To the pasture?
To the spinney where
Your cousins build their rookery?
‘Caw! Caw!’
To Hanslope Church spire?
‘Caw! Caw! Caw!’
Three what?
If I but knew
The units she chooses.

My collared dove asks me:
‘Who’s who? Who’s who?’

My wood pigeon tells us:
‘Hugh’s who, he is, Hugh’s who.’
I don’t know Hugh, or where his house,
But Hugh, it seems, is who.

My Jackdaw tells me
Repeatedly, excitedly,
His name.
‘Jack! Jack! Jack, Jack!’
I know, sweetheart,
Your name is Jack.
But riddle me this-
What was my Grandad’s name?
Correct! How did you guess?
Now, what was my Uncle’s name?
Correct again! Astounding! (or lucky, maybe?)
Try this then-
What was my Grandma’s name?
‘Jack! Jack! Jack, Jack!’
Aha! Wrong!
It was Winifred Evelyn.
Never mind. As long as we know your name,
Which is…?
‘Jack! Jack! Jack, Jack!’

My goldfinches tell me
News from the parish;
Gossip, tittle-tattle.
They prattle as they pass through
(Pausing only to deplete the feeders).
I cannot understand a word,
They gabble so fast
It might as well be Mandarin to me.

My Blackbird-
Ah, my sweet blackbird-
Plays me soothing tunes
Upon his flute.
And I listen from my bed
Through the open window
On a still, warm evening in May,
And I sleep.

Castlethorpe, 9th May 2019

The Cathedral Builders

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.

Continue reading

Farewell, old friend

No going back. I have sold my fiddle.

My 19th century German workshop Maggini copy, with two bands of purfling front and back, and an extra turn in the scroll (apparently not one of Maggini’s signatures).

In thirty years together we have seen and done a lot: from Castlethorpe Village Hall to Westminster Hall, from Leicester to Leipzig, countless ceilidhs, innumerable morris stands and nearly as many pubs as there are stars in the sky. I ought to be sad, but I truly am not. Continue reading

The Valley of the Shadow

Arras, April 9th 1917

Today marks the centenary of the opening of the British and Canadian offensive at Arras, on the Western Front.

Hawtin Mundy of New BrHawtin Mundyadwell, 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


My family and other campanologists…

Image result for Whitechapel Bell Foundry

We have an old bell sally at home, tied to the balusters upstairs and hanging down into the hall. When I was still repairing violins, customers (children usually, but not exclusively) would ask what it was. Continue reading