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Date: 14th June 2013 Staffordshire Poet Laureate Staffordshire County Council Libraries and Arts have appointed Tamworth’s Mal Dewhirst, a regular on RADIO WILDFIRE for the role of Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2012/13.

Mal will complete a minimum of four commissions in the year. Two commission opportunities will be found by the County Council and two commissions by the poet himself. Staffordshire Poet Laureate's Role: Mal will initiate poetry events in the county and look to establish a new poetry group in an area of the county that does not already have much engagement with poetry. Other duties include;

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Keeping an online blog of their activities, which could include poems, events, photographs etc to create a legacy and record of their year. Act as an ambassador for the County Council, promoting attractions, events and items that are specifically recognised as being associated with Staffordshire. Write poems to commemorate specific events within the county. Read or perform regularly at spoken word events within the county. Promote poetry and be knowledgeable on poetic forms and structures and other poets past and present.

Mal is a poet, writer and film maker based in Tamworth. He is the Project Director of The Polesworth Poets Trail and has two poems on the Poets Trail. Mal runs 'The Fizz' Poetry evenings in and around Tamworth. He has been published in many magazines and anthologies. Mal describes himself as a poet of place, exploring places through the interactions that define the changing borders between natural landscapes and people. He has been poet in residence in a town centre, at an archaeological dig and as part of a historical research project. He has also written tourist guides and film scripts for tourism films. Mal‘s plays have been performed both on the stage and in the community. His own films have been shown at film festivals including the Cork International Poetry Film Festival. Mal was recently assistant director of the production of THE WALL staged in Tamworth. He has also written and recorded Thought for the Day for BBC Radio and currently writes and records The Lost Poets for Radio Wildfire. Mal blog can be found at a taster of Mal's work, read below a recent poem inspired by the county of Staffordshire. Staffordshire Drift (20.5kb)

Unguent n Healing Ointment, balm or salve; archaic usage to mean oil for anointing Oneironaut n A person who explores dream worlds, usually associated with lucid dreaming. Uncus n large hook on the end of a pole; hook shaped part of the body Enfranchise v To grant the franchise to an entity, generally meaning to grant the privilege of voting to a person. Mozzetta n type of coat with a cowl hood as used by prelates in the Catholic church (wikipedia image:The mozzetta is a short elbow-length cape that covers the shoulders and is buttoned over the breast.) Agon n A struggle or contest; conflict; especially between the protagonist and antagonist in a literary work. Numen n Spirit that gives life or power to something; spirit inhabiting a place; guiding force or influence Sybarite n A person devoted to pleasure and luxury; a voluptuary. Nummular adj shaped like a coin or disc Brume n mist or fog also haar



If this picture is enlarged it is possible to see two bees going both in and out of this old bird box that their swarm has acquired as their new home. This is so cool, especially as a pair of magpies had previously deterred blue-tits from using it as a nest box by standing on the lid and viciously pecking through the entrance hole. Tomatoes used to smell of greenhouses in my childhood and taste of summer straight off the vine. Supermarket toms wrapped in plastic, now ... no smell of anything. A dull day, following three gloriously sunny ones is hugely disappointing. Maybe we should remember what last summer was like and be grateful!

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Deep down in the grass by the roadside, what looked for all the world like a clutch of frogspawn. What an inappropriate place to lay it, I thought. But on closer inspection, it turned out to be a half-blown dandelion clock.

WEBSITE TECH ISSUES ... We’re back ... New page for RBW Online http:// DynamicPage.aspx?PageID=77

We should, fingers crossed, now be back up and running on the main website, many, many thanks to our go-to tech guy Gareth.

Random Words : home, complicated, coffee, Conquistador, distance, decorative, dandelion, velveteen, allotment, madrigal, life, flamboyant, haar (150 words) Assignment: Rhubarb (400 words) 2012: RBW FREE e-books NOW PUBLISHED on RBW and DynamicPage.aspx?PageID=52

Steph’s two FREE poetry e-chapbooks now published on risingbrookwriters and on RBW main site

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CLIVE’s three FREE e-books NOW PUBLISHED on RBW and issuu PageID=52


Nobles and similar Harffa Ye Kyng. Not ye sharpest knyfe in ye drawer. Queen Agatha (the tight fisted) Don Key O‘Tee Spanish ambassador to Court of Kyng Harffa .. Wants saint‘s big toe back Baron Leonard Bluddschott (Stoneybroke) Gwenever Goodenough Wyfe of ye Baron Della Bluddschott Ugly Daughter of Baron Bluddschott. GalLa of Hadnt Hall A Prince but Charmless Daniel Smithers Constable of Bluddschott Castle and maybe the Corowner of the County Old Maids Vera, Gloria and Bertha husband hunting sisters of Baron Bluddschott Evil Sherriff and Baron Morbidd up to no good Morgan le Fey king‘s evil sister - Merlin the king‘s magician Ye Knights [they‘re better during the day] Lancealittle, Dwayne Cottavere, Percivere Mailish (Narrator) Page to Baron Bluddschott (Probably Son by wife‘s sister) NEW CHARACTER: Richard Coeur de Poulet — returning Crusader Religiouse Lionel, Bishop of Trentby keeper of the Mappa Tuessdi Abbot Costello of Nottalot, a Nasturtium Abbey desperate for pilgrim pennies Vladimir A monk from far off somewhere, a Calligrapher Wyllfa the Druid Sorcerer Others Big Jock A Welsh poacher and short wide-boy. Robbin‘ Hoodie another poacher and wide-boy. Peeping Barry member of Hoodie‘s gang of miscreants Clarence the cook and a Wandering Troubadour None living The Ghostly Sword of Bluddschott Castle The Mappa Tuessdi ... Velum maps of the known world bought in a bazaar in Constantinople for a few pennies by Vladimir oft times copied The toe bone of St. Gastric. Gallstone of St. Hilarious Crocodile and a Unicorn and a Dragon carved in stone Issue 282 Page 5

Good luck, we ’ ll need it ...

So a bit about who is marrying who .... to clarify matters in case anyone was confused ... For whoever writes up the wedding and wedding feast it might be useful to know that Celia, (real name Atheena d‘Guise and daughter to Queen Gwennie‘s Lady Maid, whose real name is Princess Styx d‘Dryhill, a Byzantine royal from Constantinople) who was Lady Della‘s Lady Maid, is marrying the Crusader Just d‘Holdthis. Mother of Celia, real name is Princess Styx d‘Dryhill, is marrying her real bethroyed (mate of Crusader Earl Just d‘Holdthis that Celia is marrying) – Tsar Ivan Bal d‘Boc come to claim his bride and return said damsel to his palace in Constantinople. Now that cleared up we come to Prince Galla of Hadn‘t. The great white mare that had long been the Groom‘s (Prince Galla of Hadn't's) favourite ride, in a blink of an eye became a beautiful unicorn and then mists swirled and a young girl came into being from the shape of the unicorn, looking like a wobbly Della. Merlin introduced to the Baron (Bluddschott) and gathered throng, ‗May I present to you Princess Fey d‘Seraphina, spirit daughter to the High Fairy Queen of Woodbine and the Baron (Bluddschott) that has been magically returned to you here in the form of Della Bluddschott.‘ Merlin continued, ‗May the Baron be pleased to learn that the Fairy Council offer in betrothal their beloved daughter of the Fairy Queen to Prince Galla of Hadnt.‘ This keeps everyone safe from the machinations of the evil Morgan le Fey, as fairy magic is greater, and royal at that and gives the Prince the daughter of the Baron Bluddschott said Lady Della. Just then an old mate of Della‘s barged through the door, ‗Oh up to your old tricks again Della my girl. Where have you been, you‘ve missed all the fun?‘ ‗Fun, fun, there‘s nowt funny about me ill fortune, me old china.‘ Her mate rushed out the news, ‗Baron Morbidd has been beaten in combat by his own elder son returned from the Crusades and claimed the title for himself, retiring his own dad! They were having a bit of a go out amongst the villagers‘ wedding feast, at the old tourney grounds, they were.‘ So who‘s landed with the crusty old Baron Morbidd‘s eldest son, dare we ask? And how come our down to earth Della‘s away with the fairies … It‘s beyond me … answers on a postcard … no prizes ...

The Crocodile’s Farewell CMH The pre-wedding party at Bluddschott Castle would have been going down a bomb - well, if bombs had been invented it would have done anyway - when it was time for 'The Entertainment!' Harald the Herald, who was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, and who was hoping that the tips were going to be good. He'd already had a hot tip for the 2:30 race, but it proved to be a lemon, which would have run faster than the three legged donkey actually did. Introduced the acts as they staggered, sorry, walked forwards after a suitable period of intensive tonsil irrigation. Harald called out. ‘My Lord, Ladies, Gentlemen and others, I present the runner-up in the recent troubadours duel, 'Joselyn the Great', currently appearing thrice nightly at the Pink and Green Duck - guest appearances by arrangement - a Troubadour who had played before the Prince of Dynamyte, the Maharajah of Typhoon, the Calabash of Washruum! (and many other pubs).’ Jocelyn hated the first, or warm-up, spot as it was the worst spot in a show. ‘I hate the warm-up spot,’ he said to Percevere the man-at-arms who was acting as stage manager. ‘It's the worst spot in the show. You never get any applause and the tips are rubbish.’ He sang a few catchy numbers and got a lukewarm reception from the assembled guests. Then there appeared the clown. Dwayne, dressed in his granddad’s old motley put in an appearance and received the accolade of being promptly bombarded with stale bread rolls, from the fresh food buffet, and being booed off the stage. His act wasn't very good either. ‘And now, for your delectation,’ boomed Harald, who was improving with practice, ‘Ably assisted by her husband to be Baron Morbidd. I am proud to introduce the winner of the recent troubadours’ duel, Anne the Songstress. This is her final farewell performance as she has accepted the Baron's offer of his hand in marriage. A little bird tells me that, once she has found the tin opener to get him out of his armour and given him a quick rub down with a oily rag, they are off to get married by the Bishop of Baths-on-Sundays the day after tomorrow.’ Annabelle, as she was now to be known, performed a flawless set of timeless numbers which could be heard in every corner of the hall, and owing to a glitch in the amplifier magic, in most of Trentby as well. ‘If I'm going out then I'm going out with a bang,’ she said to Della when the latter complained about the volume. ‘You certainly did that!’ Della told her. ‘I reckon you were heard in Ye Olde Golfe Clubbe and that's got to be a record.’ ‘Can't be,’ Annabelle replied. ‘Records have a hole in the middle and I can't see one.’ Harald the Herald, being in fine form, announced the next act. ‘My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen. The next act is united in the annuals of show business.’ Give him full marks for trying, he'd nearly got it right, and anybody can make mistakes like that. ‘There are sword swallowers and there are fire eaters but never have both been attempted simultaneously, and as well as that at the same time! Never before has this act been seen by anyone sober, which rules you lot out for a start. I give you the unique talents of Crocodilus Bluddschotticus!’ Onto the stage bounced the Bluddschott moat crocodile dressed in a top hat and star spangle waistcoat waving Axcaliber like a fairy wand. His assistant, bearing a remarkable resemblance to a youthful Wyllfa the Druid with a neatly combed beard, came on carrying a table full of props. Merlin, who was in the crowd holding a watching brief, which was a change from his usual quart of strong ale, even if he didn't like the taste as much, turned to his neighbour, the Bishop of Baths-on-Sunday, and said. ‘See! It's like I said last week. Wyllfa's been at the elixir of youth

again. Probably that fake stuff from Amaricia, the one that doesn't last long before all those lost years come rushing back with a vengeance.’ ‘Oh... nasty... very nasty is that,’ said the Bishop who hadn't the faintest idea what Merlin was on about. ‘Hurts as well I'm told, never tried it myshelf of course, but that'sh what my brother’s wife shaysh. She losht twen'y yearsh for three weeksh an' had problems with the shtaff who didn't take kin'ly to being ordered about by a twelve-year-old. Well, that's what she shaysh anyway.’ ‘And you believe her I suppose?’ Merlin looked pensively at the rather merry old Bishop who was sucking his fourth bottle of Extra Strong Malmsey through a straw. ‘Never shed … said a word againsht her, did I?’ The Bishop replied. ‘If she shed it took her back twen'y yearsh to a twel' year old whom I to argue, hmm?’ Merlin sniffed, sniffed again, then, just to make sure, he sniffed again. ‘Paraffin? Who's got paraffin around here? I do hope that it's in a safety container or the whole place could go up in smoke before you could say Abracadabra.’ ‘Goo' idea ol' chap. A shmoke before an' a drink after or shomethink. I thing. I've got a couple of Nevercomeupwards hand rolled shigarsh shomewhere,’ he patted his robes all over before remembering. ‘Left them in the pub. 'll go and get you one. By for now and again.’ So saying he staggered off to find them. On the stage the crocodile was busy with the fire eating part of its act. It was going down very well. Hey, thought the crocodile, this is going down well. Even if he does call himself WJ, I'll have to make it up to young Wyllfa Junior there. If I can get a few butties off that table I'll start by not eating him as a finale. Now onto the sword swallowing bit. It's a good job I got that old sword off the Lady of the Lake before I ate her. Even if she was bony and only a couple of mouthfuls. ‘This trick is dangerous,’ called out WJ to the audience. ‘Do not try this at home as you could end up with a seriously shredded tongue.’ The crocodile waved Axcaliber, chopping through six candles and a rope holding the curtains back, then he lowered it, slowly, towards his mouth. ‘Sharp end first, sharp end first,’ WJ reminded him. Little by little, the sword disappeared into the crocodile’s gullet until only the handle was still visible. The crocodile then pirouetted to show there was no trickery, gripped the handle tightly and started to pull the sword out. To keep himself stable in the water a few stones had been part of his diet and as he started to withdraw the sword it struck against one of the flints lodged inside his gullet. The shower of sparks ignited the paraffin used in the fire eating part of the act and set it on fire. The crocodile now became a flame thrower with a difference. For short while the pressure built up inside him and caused him to swell alarmingly, then he opened his mouth to belch. This had the unfortunate effect of letting out a jet stream of fire which propelled him off the stage and around the room a few times. Fortunately, for the castle anyway, an open window provided an escape exit and, still belching flame, he took off in the general direction of upwards until he disappeared from sight. ‘You don't see that one very often.’ WJ told the stunned party goers. ‘I don't think there's going to be an encore though.’ Lady B, looking at the mess made by the flames, shouted out, ‘What do we do now then?’ WJ. always fast on the uptake, peered around the room before answering. ‘The traditional reward for riding the kingdom of a fire breathing dragon has always been half the kingdom, after that? Redecorate!’

Portrait of the baker Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house, not part of the British Museum displays.

Feedback: Notes from the Pompeii exhibition (Issue 288)

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Terentius Neo the baker and his wife depicted on the wall painting are a curious couple. From his name, it looks as if he was not born a Roman at all; maybe a foreigner, a perigrine in legal terms, but probably not an ex-slave or freedman, working in the city. Roman names – the so-called Trianomina, which usually wasn‘t the three names you may expect from the title, it could be up to a dozen some cases - tell you a lot and he hasn‘t got enough of them, but from the scroll I think it likely that he‘s just landed that most prestigious of things, Freedom. To be able to hold title to land and buildings was the hallmark of respectability and acceptability. He‘s had his portrait painted as a mark of that change in status, and had it ‗hung‘ in his dining room to prove it. Some things just have not changed over the centuries. His wife isn‘t, as you may think, sucking a pencil and holding a notebook. She‘s sucking a Stylus and holding a wax tablet – it‘s not a triptique so it wasn‘t a legal document – which did the same thing. The thing that looks like a pencil is a stylus, which is essentially a rod of wood or metal pointed at one end and flattened out at the other. You have a marker at one end and the eraser at the other, however, the fact that she‘s holding one at all says legions about her. However, if you look closely you will see that hers isn‘t your cheapo HB pencil equivalent. It has some decoration on it, which means that it‘s a metal one, probably bronze, and is the equivalent of an expensive fountain pen. It says that she could read and write and probably did the accounts, as well a helping in the bakery. All life skills that the lower Roman classes often didn‘t bother about for girls, sons may have been taught to read and write – you paid your local teacher on a daily basis, but, sad to say, many of them weren‘t up to much - which implies that she was the daughter of a merchant family where the skills would be a requirement. The painting may look like a simple family portrait, but don‘t be fooled, it is littered with status symbols. You can hardly move your eyes without tripping over one or three, they‘re all over the place. Of course the biggest status symbol of all is the fact that it existed as part of the décor in their dining room. Even during ‗The Enlightenment‘ they didn‘t go THAT far. (Clive Hewitt is a well known Roman historian and Roman period re-enactor.)

Contrary to the weather report that Wednesday morning, the promised sunshine had not materialised in Digbeth. There was an odd flicker or two of bedazzle across Birmingham‘s Bull Ring mirrored shopping malls whose reflections were giving an impression that spring was giving way to summer to those whose cup was half-full rather than half-empty. As the coach pulled in, Angus adjusted his bow-tie, it was a nervous home -coming to the second city‘s stage with little hope of joy. The expansion of his waistcoat belied a prosperous return for this prodigal son. Any thoughts of serendipity were far from the actor‘s brow when suddenly a familiar voice called his name and for a second the sun shone from behind a cloud and caught him bright as lime-light as he descended the steps. SMS

Contrary to most people‘s impression, Birmingham has more canals than Venice. Staffordshire, with its tradition of pottery-making and mining, has many too. Some of us, myself included, believe that an expansion of the canal network would go some way to relieving our traffic problems, by transporting heavy freight by barge instead of by road. One Wednesday morning, I was walking with my dog along our local towpath. The sunshine caused reflections to bounce off the water‘s surface. Then I noticed a familiar sight was missing. One of the narrow boats which was normally moored there was absent. You get to know the regulars and look out for the usual names. But this morning, the maroon-painted barge called ―The Serendipity‖ was gone. I waited several weeks for the homecoming, and the customary greeting from its owner, who oddly always sported a bow-tie.

PS. This is a true story, with a bit of poetic licence re the bow-tie! PMW


NB: RBW does not endorse any competition, workshop or event organised by third parties

Judges : Sean Borodale, local artist and poet, author of Notes for an Atlas and Bee Journal and shortlisted for the TS Eliot Award and Costa Book prizes, will judge the poetry competition and present the prizes. Janet Laurence, creator of the successful Darina Lisle and Canaletto stories, will judge the crime novel competition and present the prizes. She will be holding a workshop on 'Making Crime Pay' on Sunday 13th October Della Galton, widely published writer of novels and short stories, will judge the short story competition and present the prizes. She will be holding a workshop entitled 'How to write and sell Short Stories' on Sunday 13th October Prizes ● Poetry and Short Story: First Prize £500, Second Prize £200, Third Prize £100. In addition there is the Wyvern Prize of £100 for entrants living in the BA, BS, and TA postcodes. ● Crime Novel (our fastest growing competition!) The winning entry will be read by a major publisher and by a leading agent. In addition there will be a cash prize of £100. The judge may also arrange for an exceptional runner-up entry to be read by an agent or a publisher. Entry fees ● Poetry and Short Story: £5 for each entry ● Crime Novel: £10 for each entry. For an additional fee of £20, entrants may request comments from the judge. Enter On-Line

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Press Release: The New Writer magazine. TNW caters for a community of writers and writing groups in much the same way newbooks does for readers, but even so we took extra special care in relaunching it. You can see all 68 pages here

6 June 2013

Novelist Tom Sharpe dies aged 85 The author Tom Sharpe, who famously wrote the 1974 satirical novel Porterhouse Blue, has died aged 85 from complications arising from diabetes, had recently suffered a stroke. Sharpe, who was born in London in 1928, died in the Spanish coastal town of Llafranc. He wrote 16 novels, including Blott on the Landscape in 1975, which was adapted into a BBC TV series, starring David Suchet. He also wrote the Wilt series of comedies, the last of which - The Wilt Inheritance - was finished in 2010. His famous comedy Porterhouse Blue, 1974 features Skullion, the head porter of a fictional Cambridge college, Porterhouse. The satirical swipe at Cambridge life, was made into a series on Channel 4 in 1987. Sharpe was educated at Lancing and Cambridge. He spent time in the Royal Marines, serving overseas during the 1940s. Sharpe moved to South Africa in 1951, working as a social worker, teacher and photographer, and writing anti-apartheid plays during the 1950s. He was deported to Britain in 1961. His experiences in South Africa inspired him to write his first novel, Riotous Assembly, in 1971, and his second novel, Indecent Exposure, in which he mocks the apartheid regime. In 1975, he wrote Blott on the Landscape, centred on the proposed construction of a motorway in a fictional shire. The book was adapted by Malcolm Bradbury for the BBC in 1985. Sharpe wrote five books in the Wilt series: Wilt, published in 1976, was inspired by working as a lecturer in History at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. Henry Wilt, was a demoralised lecturer who teaches literature to apprentices at a community college. The novel was adapted into a film in 1989, with Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith. Sharpe had been living in Spain for twenty years, he was married with three children. (Web image — source unidentified)

9 June 2013

Iain Banks dies of cancer aged 59 Best selling, Scottish author, Iain Banks has died aged 59, two months after announcing he had terminal cancer. Banks, who was born in Dunfermline, Fife, revealed in April 2013 that the pain he had thought was back ache was in fact gall bladder cancer and that was unlikely to live for more than twelve months. He was best known for the novels The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road and Complicity. Banks wrote sci-fi novels, The Algebraist, Matter and many others under the name Iain M Banks. His most recent book in that genre, The Hydrogen Sonata, was released last year. A message posted on Banksophilia, a website providing his fans with updates on the author‘s health, quoted his wife Adele saying: "Iain died in the early hours this morning. His death was calm and without pain." Banks's first novel, The Wasp Factory, published in 1984 was ranked as one of the best 100 books of the 20th Century in a poll conducted by Waterstones and Channel 4. In 2008 he was named one of the top 50 greatest British writers since 1945 in a list compiled by The Times. After announcing his illness, Banks said he was "hugely moved" by public support for him. (Image Banksophilia website)

More pictures Pages 16 and 17 with

Peter Branson Visiting poet

The Romance of the Ashes

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On a miserably wet and cold day at the Oval cricket ground in August 1882, the England team, set a mere 85 runs to win by the Australians, were skittled out by Frederick Spofforth, the original “demon bowler”, and lost the match. In this debacle the great Dr. W. G. Grace scored 32, but the other ten Englishmen managed just 41 between them. A few days later, the following mock obituary notice appeared in the “Sporting Times”:“In affectionate memory of English Cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August 1882, deeply lamented by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. (N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”) (Like all good humorists, the author managed to combine two separate issues currently in the news; cremation of the dead being a controversial matter of doubtful legality, bitterly opposed by many in the Church) Thus began the most famous tradition in cricket: the contest between England and Australia for the “Ashes”. The 1882 match was not the first between the two countries, but it stirred the popular imagination as never before. And the “Ashes” did not yet actually exist. The victorious Australians were still playing in England when an English team set sail for Australia on September 14th. It consisted of just twelve players; an absurdly small squad by today’s standards, which was reduced even further when their fast bowler, Fred Morley, broke a rib in an accident. Only three men from the Oval match were included; the most notable absentee being W. G. Grace. The captain was a tall, handsome young aristocrat: the Honourable Ivo Bligh, second son of the Earl of Darnley. Bligh was an odd choice in many ways. He was just 23 years old, and had never played international cricket (the term “Test Matches” did not come into use until many years later). At Eton and Cambridge University he had excelled at tennis and racquets as well as cricket, and had scored over a thousand runs for Kent in the 1880 season. But he would never have been rated as one of the best batsmen in England, and although clearly a fine athlete, his health was never good. Nor would he make any significant contribution with the bat on this tour: his attainment of immortality came from a different source. On the voyage, which lasted two months, the team made the acquaintance of Sir William and Lady Janet Clarke. Sir William was said to be the richest man in Australia; a great philanthropist and past president of the Melbourne Cricket Club. He invited them to spend Christmas at his very grand home: Rupertswood, outside Melbourne. This was to be a momentous event both in the life of Ivo Bligh and in the history of cricket, because the Clarke household included a young lady who acted as the children’s governess and music teacher as well as a friend of Lady Janet. She was Miss Florence Morphy, aged 22, an orphan; the seventh and youngest child of a police magistrate of Irish extraction. Bligh was immediately smitten with her. Meanwhile there were matches to be played. It was an unusually wet summer in Australia, with results being affected by rain on uncovered pitches; but large crowds were attracted, often running to 20,000 or more per day. The first match against William Murdoch’s Australian team took place at Melbourne at the end of December, and resulted in England losing by 9 wickets after succumbing to the off-spin of George Palmer and being forced to follow on. The second match, also at Melbourne, began on January 19th, and this time there was a comprehensive victory for England, by an innings and 27runs. William Bates took 14 wickets in the match, including a hat-trick. It would be all to play for in the third match at Sydney a week later. In his capacity as captain, Bligh was often called upon to make speeches. He generally spoke of his goal being “to beard the kangaroo in its den” and “to bring back the ashes”. He was of course referring to something which did not actually exist, and must initially have puzzled his audiences, but Murdoch’s Australian team understood the reference to the “Sporting Times” joke, and were able to reply in kind. Very soon, Australian papers were taking up the theme: who could claim possession of the ashes? The Sydney match ran into four days. After the first innings it was evenly balanced, with England holding a lead of just 29 runs. On the third day a huge crowd turned up to watch Spofforth bowl out England. 7 for 44 for the dreaded demon bowler; England dismissed for a paltry 123: the match and the ashes were surely Australia’s. But no! Richard Barlow, bowling slow-medium left-arm, did even better than Spofforth: 7 for 40; Australia collapsing to 83 all out, with only two men reaching double figures: an easy win for England! Unlike the popular image of Victorian cricket, the match was an illtempered affair, with each side accusing the other of deliberately cutting up the pitch to aid the bowling of Spofforth and Barlow, and some of the players reportedly almost coming to blows at one point. There followed a fourth match in mid-February against a “Combined XI”, when even a century by Allan Steel (the only one of the series) could not prevent an Australian victory. It has been disputed ever since whether this constituted a “proper test match”; but at the time no-one appeared to ques-

tion that England had won the right to “take back the ashes”. Bligh had contributed very little as a player (his highest score was only 19, and he did not bowl); the victories resulting from the bowling of the northern professionals; Bates of Yorkshire and Barlow of Lancashire. But Bligh as captain was given the publicity and much of the credit. Bligh meanwhile had other matters on his mind. On January 3 rd he wrote to his parents requesting permission to marry Florence Morphy. Lady Janet Clarke had already warned him that Lord and Lady Darnley would not be happy about a son of theirs attaching himself to a penniless girl of no family; and she was of course quite right: parental consent was not given. This whole episode put us firmly back into the Victorian period. Here we have a highly educated man, on the verge of his 24th birthday, in the process of achieving great international sporting fame and success, yet feeling he cannot become engaged to be married without the approval of his parents - and the approval being denied, for reasons apparently of pure snobbery! Bligh pondered his next step. But what of the Ashes themselves? Here, unfortunately, the evidence is confused and contradictory. At some stage, presumably at Rupertswood, Bligh was presented with a tiny urn; such as might have stood on a lady’s dressing table holding perfume; but now containing ashes. Ashes of what? It is usually believed to be the ashes from burning a bail, or a stump; but it is sometimes said to be the ashes of the leather casing of a cricket ball. And when exactly was it presented? After the third match the Melbourne magazine “Punch” published execrable verses about the return of the “urn” to England. Does this mean that the urn had already been presented, and furthermore that this was common knowledge? Or was the magazine speaking purely metaphorically? Maybe more than one urn was presented? These puzzles are unlikely ever to be solved. What is certain is that Bligh sailed back to England in May 1883, taking the urn with him. It would stand on his mantelpiece for the rest of his life. What ranked highest in his mind, however, was winning his parents’ consent to his marriage. He went about the task with great determination, as befitted an international sporting captain. He told his father that, rather than give up Florence, he would settle permanently in Australia. After six weeks, Lord Darnley gave up the struggle, and wrote to Florence agreeing to the match, though with no great enthusiasm. Ivo Bligh returned to Australia to marry Florence Morphy in February 1884. The bride was given away by Sir William Clarke, and the wedding breakfast was held at Rupertswood. The Melbourne “Punch” celebrated the event in yet more extremely bad poetry. None of Bligh's family attended. After a honeymoon in New Zealand the happy couple returned to England. Ill health meant that Bligh played little cricket after this, and he never represented England again. Indeed, for the rest of his life he comes across as a curiously diffident personality. It was almost as if he had exhausted his entire life’s supply of energy and initiative in winning the Ashes and gaining his father’s consent to his marriage. (Alternatively, like many sportsmen since, he simply did not know what to do with himself after retiring) He tried working as a stockbroker, but soon gave up. He moved to Melbourne for a couple of years, but that didn’t work out either. It was Florence who emerged as the stronger personality, and she must have found these years frustrating. They had three children, but money was short and there was little prospect of improvement. Lord Darnley died in 1896, and Bligh’s elder brother, Edward, succeeded to the title. He was a highly eccentric personality, and had not managed to father a male heir when he died suddenly in 1900. So, unexpectedly, Ivo and Florence found themselves Earl and Countess of Darnley and owners of the family home of Cobham Hall. In many ways this was less good than it sounded. The great house was very expensive to run, a combination of death duties and collapsing agricultural prices meant that the estate was heavily encumbered with debt, and any wealth had to be shared with brother Edward’s widow. As a nobleman, Bligh had a part to play in the nation. The Darnley title was an Irish one, so he sat in the House of Lords as an Irish representative peer, and occasionally spoke in debates. He also served as a Deputy Lord-Lieutenant and a Justice of the Peace, but he still appeared a shy, diffident character. Florence, by contrast, relished her new status as a great lady. She became a close friend of Queen Mary, and she received the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, when he came to England. In the First World War she opened Cobham Hall as a nursing home for wounded Australian servicemen, with herself acting as Matron, and was created a Dame of the British Empire (D.B.E.) for her war work. She had indeed come a very long way from her former life as an orphan music teacher in Melbourne! Financial worries continued, however. Much of the family estates were sold, and in 1925 the family’s magnificent collection of paintings was auctioned off. This raised over £70,000, but since it included works by Titian, Poussin, Lely, Canaletto, Gainsborough and others, one can only guess at how many millions such a sale would fetch today! In 1923 Cobham Hall had to be rented out to an American, and the family moved to a smaller house in the grounds. Such a decline was not atypical of the old aristocracy at that time. (Cobham Hall is now a girls' school) Ivo Bligh, Earl of Darnley, died in 1927, aged only 68 His widow presented the little urn with the Ashes to the M.C.C., and it has remained at Lord’s ever since. Florence, now Dowager Countess of Darnley, managed to further confuse the story of the Ashes in 1930, when she told Bill Woodfull, captain of the touring Australian team, that Lady Jane Clarke had burnt a stump and presented it to Bligh in a little wooden urn - whereas the existing urn was made of terra-cotta. One imagines her as a formidable old matriach by this stage: her daughter referred to her as "the old dragon"! She died in 1944: the last direct link with the story of the Ashes.

This is a true story about the life of an old man, back when I was a kid, and all the thing he showed us (my three brothers and I) to do including spitting, and about how he and his sister lived in a cottage and two house cows. He always had the same tobacco. It was twist which had to be rubbed before replenishing the pipe, and at times, when he was working with both hands, he would cut a piece of baccy with his pocket knife, pop it in his mouth and chew it. Every now and then he would have to eject some tobacco juice, with a long ‘per-sqwit’ which if it had been aimed to go somewhere. It always got there in a long unbroken stream. He always wore boots, not a heavy type, but lighter sorts that would be polished from time to time. They had about ten lace holes and went well up above his ankles, almost to the calf of his leg. On working in the fields when there was mud about, he would wear some older boots and leather leggings or spat's.

Owed Tom Abbotts Owed Tom Abbotts lived in a cottage, with his sister Nell, They kept three cows and calves, and a few old hens as well, Cattle grazed across four acres, the rest was mown for hay, In his garden he grew his mangols, fed in short winters day. He helped his neighbours, when they’re short handed, With drilling hoeing weeding, with others he was banded, At harvest time he stacked bays, till in the roof was bound, Longest ladder then was cast, him get back to ground. All the years I knew him, he always had some wit, Smoked a pipe and chewed tabaca, and showed us how to spit, He had a bike sit-up-and beg, handle bars reached his chest, On Friday went to town on it, his hat he wore his best. His shopping bag hung on his bike, a long carpet bag it was, All stitched up on either side, flat by front wheel because, When it was loaded it was safe, hung by strong loops of cord, Should it be carried in his hand, it almost dragged with the hoard. As a young man stood up straight, he’d be all of five foot eight, Old and stooped and round of back, shorter still as life dictate, Feet a splayed for easy stance, and knees a slight of bend, One thumb hooked in waist coat pocket, tuther to pipe distend. He always had a cheery smile, his eyes were almost closed, When he had a dam good laugh, tears ran down his pointed nose, His face was brown and ruddy, from working in all weathers, On his nose and chin could see, red veins mapped his features. On his feet were black boots, well up above his ankle laced, His trousers had a gusset, hold his expanding tummy braced, It was a different colour , and could see when he bent over, And buttons of his bracers , straining hard to cotton anchor. Issue 290 Page 14

Waistcoat matched his trousers, a suit some point decide, Ten buttons some were missing, four pockets two each side, One it held his pocket watch, secured to button hole with chain, Another held his match box, England’s Glory was it by name. His jacket didn’t quite match, been stitched around the collar, Pockets drooped like open mouth, weighed down as if to cower, In one was his bacca pouch, top pocket reserved for pipe, Pipe was mostly in his mouth, not always did he light. He carried a little pocket knife, his baccy Twist to cut, When he rubbed it in his palm, into his pipe he put, With cupped hand around his pipe, he lit it with a match, Puff and suck till it was lit, mid curls of smoke detach. Eventually it went out again , and back into top pocket, Out with the Twist and cut a knob, chew into old tooth socket, This is where he learned all us kids, to squit with baccy juice, It went with long streak so far, to reach his poor old goose. Tommy had a bowler hat, kept on peg inside of his back door, As kids he let us try it on, and asked him what it was for, It was used to go to town in, now for only funerals touted, He kept it brushed and steamed, though it became out dated. Now it was only flat caps, that he was nare without, Into town he used his best, to walk around see whose about, One was used to milk his cows, grease and cow muck plastered And one used round house and village, not so much it mattered. Tommy’s ears were large and thin, for a man so short, Ragged round the top edge, frost bite they must have caught, They tucked back nice and even, his cap they’re there to hold, His head he kept it nice and warm, ears out in the cold. His garden always nicely dug, and cow muck spread a plenty, Grew his household veg and spuds, and runner beans a bounty, The biggest plot was that of mangols, for his pampered cows, The three of them all bedded up, roots chopped for them to brows. We called round my dad and me, and Nelly made us a cup of tea, One of Tom’s cows had calved, the others had dried off you see, Milk she poured all rich and yellow, beastings from his old cow, She had to stir most vigorously, tea too rich to drink right now. In winter time when he was younger, Tom he carted coal, Picked it up from Bridgeford Station, Seighford was his goal, Brought it over Bridgeford bank, with donkey and a cart, This it filled the time o’er winter, before drilling corn did start. So it was that he got too old, to work about the farms, Even gave up his cows and garden, that he loved and charmed, Then he lost his sister Nell, and lived a few more years alone, He himself succumbed to life, both still in Seighford neath headstone. Countryman (Owd Fred)

On Red Hill We scaled Red Hill as kids, passed council homes and coppice, farm track, steeds in tow, crossed millpond‘s dry pie-crust to outlaw-tumbling wood, wild bikes to stow, wolf-heads beyond barbed wire. What dwarfed the church and narrow minding streets, in my child‘s view, is gentle slope today, to silent fields where lark and lapwing thrived, the Peaks a dozen haze-blue miles, beyond the consequence of Manifold and Dove. My father, grandfather, died satisfied, the Welfare State and workers rights, the world they handed on: What would they make of us? Their struggle thwarted, ours has just begun; mountains to climb, fresh battles to be won. Peter Branson © 2013 Issue 290 Page 16

Rising Brook Library: RBW Workshop: Poetry Afternoon with

Peter Branson reading and discussing his latest published selection RED HILL (Lapwing Press)

Monday June 10th 2013

Brixham harbour: Exact sized replica of The Golden Hind. First impression: it is tiny. That so many men went round the world in such a small wooden boat is incredible. These 60 men must have had so much courage. Historical reference: Explorer Sir Francis Drake: his most famous ship, The Golden Hind, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe in an epic expedition of discovery 1577-1580.

Upsydaisy Baby wobbles on stubby legs. Unsteady. Clings to table-top like mad “Ready?” Mum holds out arms to catch. “Come on!” Babe lets go and takes a step. “Look John!” He’s walking. Upsydaisy! Little girl in party frock, So pretty, Daddy’s home from working in The city. Rushes down the hall To greet him Can hardly wait to Meet him. Tumbles down. Upsydaisy! Old lady hobbles down the street World-weary Painful joints and heavy bag “Hey, dearie!” Turns round to see Who’s calling Loosens grip and Shopping’s falling. Groceries tumble. Upsydaisy!

Young man in the pub on Friday Orders beer. Drunk a lot already. “Look here!” Crashes into someone, spills his drink. “Careful, lout!” Chap is angry. He calls out. Feathers fly. Upsydaisy!

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