( The ‘Abbey’ WyrdLight.com; Antony McCallum, 2007
transferred to Commons from Wikipaedia by Kurpfalzbilder)
At Painshill, absence rather than presence
is tangible. Arnold’s cottage now gone;
no Temple of Bacchus: at least, not yet
(so no iconographical message
from Apollo, Mercury, Venus, Zeus);
the Gothic Tower and Crystal Grotto closed-
the latter seems to have lost its sparkle;
the former lost its marbles long ago.
A middle-aged couple are unable
to have a sly snog behind a pillar,
as I appear on cue with a camera,
desecrating a Romantic landscape;
ready to immortalise an abbey
that never was….
…..I forgot to take note
of one of Europe’s most lofty cedars;
I managed to miss the Gianbologna;
was underwhelmed by the mausoleum’s
empty, uncommemorative niches.
I can’t say that I noticed the cork tree
and walked around a silver, ghost-like Mole,
but saw no gentlemen in silk breeches
pop myopic heads up from mounds of earth.
Even the hermit scarpered to the pub,
with his employer’s seven hundred quid
and Hamilton himself retired to Bath.
Smoke spiralled from branches that left bare stumps;
no doves hovered over The Chinese Bridge;
nomads had vacated the ornate tent
and pushchair-strolling mothers ignored me.
But though there was no fruit left on the vine
and there were no fish on the angler’s line;
the cascade was a desultory drip
and I trod on Canadian Goose shit,
yet the Genius of the Place reached out and
touched my heart with elegant green fingers.
Atonement, Church of the Flagellation, Gethsemane, John Paul II, Joseph of Arimathea, Judas betrayal, Last Supper, Lune poetic form, myrrh, Peter Denial, Pilate, Roman Catholic, Simon the Cyrenian, Stations of the Cross, The King of the Jews, Veronica, Via Crucis
(Church of the Flagellation- 20/9/2010;
photo by Berthold Werner)
I have produced my own Stations of the Cross– fourteen in number,
which is traditional. However, I have omitted the three ‘stumblings’
and Veronica. I think I follow recent Roman Catholic editing on
some of this.
The Atonement is my focus and so I have not made the last Station
into a Resurrection. I think that would be more of a Via Lucis.
( I am not a Roman Catholic, so feel that I can be more independent in
my artistic endeavour.) I don’t start with Gethsemane, or The Last
Supper, or Judas’ betrayal, or Peter’s denial. My idea was to concentrate
on 14 episodes in the narrative and I tried to find the quintessence of
the moment by creating 14 lunes, a variation on a poetic form invented
by Robert Kelly, which I have read about. I use 3-5-3 syllables, so my stanzas
are very condensed and intense. ( Kelly uses 5-3-5)
Anyway, see what you think:
to the crowd.
stripped Him; mocked Him with
a thorn crown.
bore His cross.
weep no more.
wine, mingled with myrrh,
‘King of the Jews’
scribes and elders mocked
Him: Come down!
was divided up,
John, take good care of
He then drank
vinegar and gall
from a sponge.
His head bowed;
He gave up the ghost.
(Jesus on the cross, St Raphael’s Cathedral,
Dubuque, Iowa. Feb 2006. Jesster 79- Commons Wiki)
His side, once
speared, issued forth blood
Joseph had Him placed
in his tomb.
(Manneken Pis, 19/6/11- own work: Myrabella. Wikimedia
Commons CC BY- SA 3.0)
Gus was meditative. What was he going to do about the latest
Retirement had been a shock to his system. Living in Virginia’s
house had been a mistake. He was institutionalised. He admitted
it. He liked the company of males and thrived – throve?-in a boarding
Virginia was set in her ways. As former PA to The Headmaster, she had
been used to directing operations. Trying to accommodate both her way
and Snod’s little foibles in one domestic situation was tough. The first
rumble of discontent had been when she had baulked at displaying his
entire Wisden collection in the sitting room. She had suggested storing
his beloved books in the garage.
The house was hers. She had owned it outright since widowhood.
Maybe they should have bought a separate dwelling next door for his
cricket memorabilia collection and his model railway.
But this morning was a step too far.
He had been downstairs in the Little Boys’ Room and lifted the seat.
He felt like the Manneken Pis in sub-zero temperatures. In other words,
From somewhere in the toilet bowl direction he heard Theresa May’s voice.
Or was it Angela Merkel’s?
There was a spooky gizmo attached to the rim and a verboten notice: Halt,
Snod tore the gadget off and attempted to flush it down the loo, but, of
course this was not an effective strategy. He had to hook it out.
What are you doing, love? Virginia’s dulcet tones could be heard
approaching. You’ve been in there for ages. Are you all right?
Yes, dear, he replied through gritted teeth.
But he wasn’t.
If Nigel wants to transition to a sitzpinkler, let him! Snod seethed. I
have always told my pupils to stand up and be men!
And he took the S.P.U.K device and crushed it underfoot. For a
well-read individual such as himself, he wasn’t going to give up
his convictions about Cartesian mind/ body relationships- even if it
threatened other connections. Koestleresque ghosts in the machine
ought not to invade such a monastic cell.
If Virginia thought she could follow him where no other had dared, she
was much mistaken.
Isn’t it incroyable that I can see the theme from one of my most famous novels visually sculpted on the face of the Tournai font, just opposite my place of rest? Yes, dear Reader, it shows an impoverished nobleman who cannot afford to give his multiple daughters a grand dowry. St Nicholas steps in and saves the day. (Not saves the bacon: that is shown on the other face, where the boys are preserved from becoming sausages, organic or otherwise. I did not like to borrow that particular myth for any of my novels, however.)
I am aware that I have the best social position- a place that may not be recognised by the critical Mary Crawfords of this world, who know nothing of worship, who speak insolently of men of the cloth and who seat themselves prematurely during processionals.
I still scrub up well, as the Holy Dusters employ some vim and vigour in polishing my brass plaque with Duraglit and elbow grease. Shadows of the clergy and laity cast their shades across my stone, revealing in their rites and rituals the universal foibles and fancies of humankind. My joy in observing how we all rub along together has been passed down, along with my writer’s mantle to my handmaiden, Candia. Hear her and follow her blog with due diligence and enthusiastic approval, for I being dead yet speak!
Absent Freinds, aperro, bachaqueros, Bolivar, Chipping Sodbury, Corbyn, Deist, Embers, Farrow and Ball, Ford Pinto, gloaming, Indian Summer, Malapropism, Pele Tower, River Camel, Sandor Marai, Snodland, The Cotswolds, Venezuela, Voltaire
Great-Aunt Augusta: RIP
Mrs Connolly, the housekeeper at Murgatroyd Syylk’s pele tower,
was exhausted. She had overseen the triple marriages- well, dual
marriages and one re-espousal- of Augustus and Virginia, Drusilla
and Nigel and her employers: Diana and the aforementioned Murgatroyd.
She had given Dru a lace-trimmed hankie when her mascara had
threatened to run, as the bride had welled up at the thought that dear old
Aunt Augusta would not be with them. The old curmudgeon had loved a
good wedding, funeral or general family crisis. She had been sorely
Gus had raised a toast to ‘Absent Friends‘ at the end of his father-of-the-
bride speech, by way of respect.
Curiously a feather had floated down onto the top table at this very point.
It was black, but was nevertheless pronounced a good omen as it
appeared to be exactly like one from Aunt Augusta’s feather boa which
she always wore- even in Snodland Nursing Home for the Debased Gentry, at
‘aperro-time‘ as she was wont to call that crepuscular, inebriation
Clearly, she was with them in spirit, if not spirits.
They had left a place at the top table for her, or for The Grey Lady whom
she had conversed with, though nobody else had had direct
communication with the resident phantom.
Mrs Connolly had kept a lid on the petulant Mrs Milford-Haven, mother
of Nigel, who had been confused by her lengthy, Corbynesque train
journey from Cornwall.
She had scarcely been over The Camel in her lifetime, but was naturally
acquainted with the concept of a hump. This was no crude allusion, but
merely indicative of her tendency to sulk when she was not the centre of
attention. Maybe it was some kind of physiological Radon effect.
Mrs Connolly had handled her robustly.
Whit’s the matter with yon wifie? she had enquired. Has she peed on a
Soon she had calmed the situation down by introducing her to a Farrow and
Ball paint chart, which gave the peevish guest big ideas for Nigel’s post-
honeymoon guilt trip, to finish off the decoration of her bathroom.
Even Gus had been a tad emotional about his more-or-less step-brother,
Hugo, who was stranded in Venezuela. He had been unable to leave the
country to take up his proffered teaching post at St Birinus Middle, even
after all the hard work Virginia had put in with visa application and so on.
A black market hawker was unlikely to be able to afford a trip to The
Bachaqueros was a romantic collective noun, but everyone knew that it was
Dru had been exasperated: Why doesn’t he just add billions of zeros to a
Bolivar note and turn up at the airport with a wheelbarrow of them?
It’s not that simple, darling, sympathised Diana. We should have opened a
‘Generosity’ site to raise funds for him, I suppose.
Oh, I hadn’t thought of crowd-funding, Dru sighed.
Or he could have sold his Ford Pinto, muttered Gus. Though we have lived to
see Voltaire’s comments on paper currency come true.
The Rev Finlay Armstrong had been aroused at the mention of this notable
Yes, it returns to its intrinsic worth, Snod explained, as if he was back in the
Flickr-Voltaire (marble) by Houdon. Nat Gallery Art, Chester Dale,
Author: Sarah Stierch
But he was not back in the classroom. He was now to be a married man
and Virginia had suggested that he burn all his old teaching notes in the
new trendy, fire pit which Murgatroyd had installed so that his guests
could sit al fresco in the midge-ridden gloaming on the few Indian
summer evenings which were dry.
That was quick! she had remarked. There was a few singed curls of paper.
Where is all the rest? Had you shredded them?
No, Snod replied. I am of the old school. All my lessons were, and indeed still
are, in my head.
At least she was assured that there had been no incineration of erstwhile
love letters. She still had a little explorative rake-through with
Murgatroyd’s self-wrought poker.
She was right about the non-incineration of the amatory epistles. Diana
still possessed them- including the Valentine card which had gone astray
like many a Messianic sheep, all those years ago and which had led to the
But this seemed to be all in the past. Virginia had been reading Sandor
Marai’s book Embers and an apposite quotation from it had come to mind:
Time is a purgatory that has cleansed all fury from my memories.
We shall subsequently see whether this is indeed the case.
Meanwhile Mrs C was showing her fatigue in her usual Malapropistic
manner: So, when will you be back from Chipping Snodbury? she asked
Murgatroyd and Diana, who had planned a little antique-hunting
expedition in The Cotswolds.
Sodbury! they had exclaimed.
(An old one from Mother’s Day, 1993- a performance in a church in
This masonry should cry aloud to hear
the validation of the Virgin’s pain;
the distillation of a single tear
incorporated in the sad refrain:
O quam tristis et afflicta…
Theorbo and bass viol underpin
the strings’ and singers’ interplay,
as Pergolesi paints for us the price of sin
and strips the intervening years away.
Crucifixi fige plagas…
I look around to where a favoured few
unite to share the Mother’s anguished strain;
participate in passion from the pew,
reflecting that her loss became our gain.
Fac me vere tecum flere.
Yet those outside are steeped in disregard:
the congregation numbers twenty two.
The movements scent the church as spikenard-
an alabaster jar shattered anew.
Cruce hac inebriari.
Writhing in time with the continuo’s pace,
a household fly performs its deathly dance.
Oblivion meets its fate and yet I face
a fact imbued with strange significance.
Quando corpus morietur fac ut animae donetur…
We leave the haven of this ark,
to find no armistice has been declared
and slip into the graveyard’s cloying dark,
as prey in evil’s web, we seem ensnared.
Fac me cruce custodiri morte Christe premuniri- confoveri gratia.
The music of the spheres has set that fly;
in memory’s amber it will resonate.
Transfiguration gild us as we die;
such harmony our end alleviate.
cantadora, Catalan sausage, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Cry Me A River, Cybele, Guernica, lacrymosa, Mater Dolorosa, Melbourne gallery, Picasso Dora Maar, saltimbanques, Semana Santa, Seville, suffering machine, torch song, unrequited love, Virgin of Guadalupe, Women Who Run With The Wolves
I like that song, ‘Cry Me A River’, Brassie said, meditatively.
Yes, it’s what is known as a ‘torch song’, I replied.
What is a ‘torch song’?
Oh, it’s based on the phrase about carrying a torch for someone.
You mean unrequited love? said Brassie.
Mmm. I used to think of those Cybele statues whenever I heard
that song, or cartoon characters spouting projectile tears.
Why are you bringing Cybele into it?
Oh, I just associate the over-production of breast milk with the over-
production of other body fluids, I suppose.
(Photo by Yair Haklai)
You’ve been going on about tears recently. I wonder why?
Well, I was just reading ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves… I began.
You would, interrupted Brassie. I wish she’d stop the annoying practice.
Read, or run? I countered.
Who wrote it? She ignores me!
Oh, someone called Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
Look of incomprehension.
She’s a Jungian psychoanalyst and cantadora. A woman who keeps old
stories. She wrote about tears in myths melting the icy heart. She reckons
that women cry to keep predators away. Tears mend rips in the psyche
and prevent one from sleeping and lowering one’s guard.
I would immediately think of the Picasso portrait of Dora Maar, Brassie
commented- quite astutely for her.
Woman as a ‘suffering machine’, according to Picasso. Did you know he
painted more than one version?
I think one was stolen from a gallery in Melbourne, wasn’t it?
Yes. They got it back, fortunately. He always claimed not to be repeating
the image through sadism and denied it gave him any kind of pleasure to
portray her like that. He just said that, for him, Dora was always a weeping
At least she went down in history for something, Brassie reflected. Oh, yes-
not ‘Dora was a first rate photographer.’ Just: ‘She was the one that
cried her eyes out.’
‘Maar’ is an interesting name. In the Old Testament the waters of Marah are
bitter and the name ‘Mary’ may be associated with tears. Jesus’ mother
certainly had plenty to cry about, didn’t she?
Oh yeah. ‘Mater Dolorosa’
Photo by Angel Cachon- Virgin of Guadalupe (Semana Santa, Seville)
Hmmm. Anyway, I tried to immortalise Dora Maar in a little poem I wrote
years ago. I discovered it during my cellar clear-out. Do you want to see it?
I might as well… (nothing like enthusiasm for one’s writing!)
Here! It’s a bit crumpled and I’ve edited it a bit, but there you go…
I tried to immortalise her too, I said, taking out my notebook. Along
with all his other weeping mistresses. But she will always be the arch
LADIES OF SORROW
I prematurely blossomed with rose-hued
saltimbanques. those dull, brutish critics gored
other artists, but I escaped attack:
a skilful matador…Who loved me best?
I’d say no woman, but my old friend, Braque.
When lovers left, they could, in truth, attest
I missed their dogs, more than I missed them. Did
I propose to Gaby? I don’t know. War,
its ghastly preoccupations, outbid
her for my attention. Yes, caviare
was Olga’s favourite; I preferred sausage-
Catalan, with beans. She wanted her face
recognisable; to be centre stage;
wanted too much from me, in any case.
Her image had by then begun to fade.
I was playing with Dora Maar (my mouse);
slashing Guernica with a razor blade,
careless of mistress, as careless of spouse.
Woman becomes a suffering machine.
When Nazis asked me: ‘Did you do this art?’
I replied: No. You did. When black with spleen,
Francoise and I could claw each other’s heart.
She who had resembled Venus became
Christ. Martyr. She left me – it was her loss.
She’d been expert at apportioning blame:
‘Who was it then who put me on the cross?’
I did, but, so doing, set them apart;
made them immortal in the realm of art.
All Saints, Avon Tyrrell, Bransgore, Clovelly, Foret de retz, Furze, Gorse, Grenadiers, John-Neville Manners, Lady Manners, oculus, Pegasus, Phoebe Traquair, puttees, Rond de Reine, Te Deum, Thorney Hill, Villers-Cotterets, WW1
(image of Lt Manners’ monument, All Saints, Bransgore
copyright Candia Dixon-Stuart)
Over the graveyard’s barbed wire fence I spot
two white horses, as if through a gun sight.
My lens fails to foreground a red poppy
spared from mowing round the War Monument.
Can I see clearly down a century?
Now strong sunlight obscures my vision,
but then it was an early morning mist:
Lt. Manners squinting down the ride,
looking for a paternal miracle.
But no one wagered on this outcome.
There was no unexpected coup de grace-
the response rather from artillery.
Soon two Old Etonians lay dead.
Grenadiers shared a blood-soaked sylvan bed.
Here prickly furze and gorse on Thorney Hill
excoriate its brow; leave cicatrices.
Bronzed youth leans his head on his haversack,
clean puttees tightly laced; his belt buckled,
while dreaming on his military mat.
In the peace of the Rond de Reine he meets
his uncorrupted, virginal sibling-
she of the seraphic face on doors
and oculus of this sanctuary.
They embrace in an Indian summer.
She rests in Clovelly; he in the Retz-
beech forest around Villers-Cotterets.
While, for the next six years, Lady Constance
stares out of a different window each day,
at Avon Tyrrell, but she never sees
her heart’s desire. And so she goes to them.
She’d yearned for an Apocalyptic steed:
a pale white Pegasus which would bear her
beyond the realms of possibility,
to meet both children on the moors once more;
to laugh with gypsies; listen to birdsong.
At peace in the silence of the forest,
the sharp sting of death is now neutralised
in a temple of togetherness, lulled
by the gentle Te Deum of the bees.
The wager refers to Manners’ father who won The Grand
National and with the proceeds of his bet, built Avon Tyrrell.
Lt Manners’ older sister died in India, of cholera and the
church is a memorial to her.
Lt Manners was an Old Etonian and other school friends lost
their lives in the same rencontre.
Avon Tyrrell had 365 windows, being a ‘calendar house’.
Actimel, expressive aphasia, Game of Thrones, heritage lamp post, Hodor, irritable bowel syndrome, Jamie Oliver, Kristian Nairns, Laocoon, Lisa Faulkener, Manuel, Mocha, Pastel-de-nata, penance, Portuguese custard tart, Vicar of Dibley, Year Five
(photo by Luca Masters from Chocowinity, NC, USSA)
John Boothroyd-Smythe was winding up his mother
It was the Easter break and he was supposed to be
revising. However, the state of his bedroom was not
conducive to serious study, his parent felt.
She threatened to dock his allowance if he didn’t put
his dirty clothing into the laundry bin, but he just shrugged
and muttered, Whatever.
Your name isn’t Hodor, by any chance? she remonstrated.
Not a flicker.
You know- that character in Game of Thrones. The one who
only utters a single word.
John grunted and did not avert his gaze from his computer
Oh, I give up! Gisela expostulated, depositing his underwear
and sundry soiled garments on the floor. Some socks entwined
themselves into a tangled series of knots that would have given
Laocoon a tourniquet or two. Why do you have to be so
Later, in Costamuchamoulah must-seen cafe, Gisela was sharing
her woes with a vaguely interested acquaintance.
Brassica had twin boys in the same class as John. She tried to
overlook the painful fact that he had bullied her precious sons-
Castor and Pollux, causing withdrawn behaviour on their part.
Eventually she had involved Mr Milford-Haven, who had been
unable to address the issue.
It was only when he had passed the case on to Mr Augustus
Snodbury, The Senior Master, that the name-calling (‘Bastard
and Bollocks’ or ‘Custard and Pillock’) had stopped.
Maybe it was because Mr Snodbury took to abbreviating
Boothroyd-Smythe’s surname to ‘B-S’ and wrote the bully boy’s
forename initial in Latin form, as a capital ‘I‘, thus rendering the
whole I B-S, which everyone, including all the Masters, knew stood for
Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Some felt this was a trifle cruel, but Snod said that the child had the
same miserable effect on one and all and that he personally required
a probiotic Actimel from the Staffroom fridge before he could face the
bete noire on a Monday, period one.
So, Mrs Willoughby found the effort of appearing sympathetic
somewhat challenging. She endeavoured to adjust her facial
expression when Gisela complained:
He basically only utters a single word at any one time. Sometimes I
worry that he might have Expressive Aphasia.
What’s that? queried Brassie, suddenly wondering if it was contagious
as her boys exhibited something very similar.
It’s a neurological condition, explained Gisela. There can be a lesion in
the part of the brain that controls speech.
But John spoke quite fluently until Year Five, didn’t he? commented
Um, yes, but he did receive a blow to the head during a rugby
match recently. Apparently this condition can be initiated by trauma.
Brassie was worried now. At the time she and Cosmo had
congratulated Castor for tackling the bully and bringing him down.
She stared into the fern motif in the chocolate powder of her Mocha.
Gisela was in her stride now. He doesn’t reply when I call his name.
Oh, my two are just the same, but their father calls it Selective Hearing
and he is just as bad. She unfolded her tablet and Googled Expressive…
What did you call it again?
Aphasia, supplied Gisela.
Oh, I think there is a girl in Tiger-Lily’s class called that. Hang on…It says
that those who have been diagnosed with it cannot form syntactically
You see! interrupted Gisela. That’s what John is like.
No, soothed Brassie. I’d say that everyone is on a spectrum. Hodor
Syndrome would be at one extreme and individuals probably reveal
varying degrees of the tendency. That gushy woman we had to wait
behind at the Parents’ Evening probably exhibited the other extreme.
We can all communicate telegraphically. I mean, I bumped my head
badly and nearly concussed myself when I was transfixed by a dress
in the window of ‘A La Mode’. I walked straight into a Heritage lamp
post. Cosmo says I’ve never been the same. But, I wouldn’t think
John is morphing into Kristian Nairns, aka Hodor, just yet.
I did drop him on his head once when he was a baby, confessed
Gisela in a whisper, which was nevertheless overheard and instantly
processed by The Suttonford Grapevine.
Most mothers have done that, absolved Brassie. I suppose that’s
why most husbands are men of few words. She felt like The Vicar of
Dibley, only slimmer. Should she prescribe some penance?
But don’t girls get dropped too? asked Gisela with disarming logic.
They seem to be more robust cranially-speaking, said Brassie.
Maybe it is an evolutionary adaptation to inure them to survival
after being dumped in later life.
The minute she had tactlessly uttered this, she regretted it,
given Gisela’s recent divorce. Have another Pastel-de-nata, she
distracted. Go on. You deserve it.
Portuguese custard tart, after Jamie Oliver.
I think it is a Lisa Faulkener recipe, actually, clarified the barista,
removing their used plates.
Tanto faz! Gisela brightened.
Que? said Brassie, attempting a quizzical Manuel impression.
Whatever, Gisela laughed and sank her veneers into one of the
seriously moreish roundels.