HOME

Beach


In May 1941, a few weeks before my third birthday, my parents moved from Greenway Farm in Westbury on-Trym, near the much bombed Filton Airdrome, to Upland Farm in the Hamlet of Beach, where we saw searchlights shining during the night raids.  When we arrived my parents had a long conversation with the outgoing tenants, Lesley Watts and his wife, and probably, although I do not remember this, with Miss Florrie and Miss Annie Bush, our landlords from Upland House, the big house next door.

Beach spread-eagled from Hanging Hill to Golden Valley, a distance of about 2 miles, and lay between the villages of Wick (Another Blue Day, Kitehener Axeford) to the north and Upton Cheyney (Sunday School, Columbarnian Barn, Bluebell Woods) to the south. North-east from Beach was the abandoned limestone quarry called Grandmothers Rock, being the only sign of any activity other than farming. There were a few derelict houses and one old lime kiln, but other than that no sign that the hamlet had ever been much larger, despite the belief that it once had up to six inns. Folklore maintained that Dick Whittington started out from Beach on his way to London.

Later I became convinced that the information Lesley Watts found so necessary to pass on was the names of the fields comprising the farm and which became a major part of our lives.


 In May 1941, a few weeks before my third birthday, my parents moved from Greenway Farm in Westbury on-Trym, near the much bombed Filton Airodrome to Upland Farm in the Hamlet of Beach, where we saw searchlights shining during the night raids.  When we arrived myparents had a long conversation with the outgoing tenants, Lesley Watts and his wife, and probably, although I do not remember this, by Miss Florrie and Miss Annie Bush, our landlords from Upland House, the big house next door.

 Beach spread-eagled from Hanging Hill to Golden Valley, a distance of about 2 miles, and lay between the villages of Wick (Another Blue Day, Kitehener Axeford) to the north and Upton Cheyney (Sunday School, Columbarnian Barn, Bluebell Woods) to the south. North-east from Beach was the abandoned limestone quarry called Grandmothers Rock, being the only sign of any activity other than farming. There were a few derelict houses and one old lime kiln, but other than that no sign that the hamlet had ever been much larger, despite the belief that it once had up to six inns. Folklore maintained that Dick Whittington started out from Beach on his way to London.

Part of rural mentality is to accept the given without question, and in this case we never asked whether other farms and similar field names. One peculiarity of the farms in Beach was that their fields were not contiguous, but dispersed throughout the hamlet, maybe even beyond its boundaries. Upland Farm was not the worst in this respect, but six of its fifteen fields were outlying and as these had names, it was assumed that the fields of other farms lying between them also had similar names. Nevertheless the only names I ever heard other farmers use were of the type, the big field or the five-acre.

 Beach was bounded in the south east by a hill with a trig point at a summit, a part of the Cotswold scarp. We called it Lansdown, but to my father it was ‘The Peak of Derby’ though I never heard anyone else use this name. Although people spoke of Hanging Hill, no-one ever said where precisely it was, and we thought that it referred to the steep road hill to the east. A trawl of the web now declares that Hanging Hill is none other than our Peak of Derby (779 feet). Below the western ridge of this hill was a magical valley (Water Hammer, The Wisdom of Solomon) which had a water hammer, two magnificent cedars and some well managed woodland that probably belonged to a wealthy estate. On the south side of this valley was the village of North Stoke with an unmade-up lane that lead back through Pipley Bottom to Upton Cheney. Beyond was the very distinctive shape of Kelston Round Hill.


 The northern boundary was marked by a small brook (The source of the Nile) that flowed through Grandmother’s Rock and joined the river Boyd (Fisher King) perhaps a mile before Golden Valley. The disappointing thing about this brook was that fish, plentiful in the Boyd, would not live in it, neither was there much water vegetation. The western boundary was the ill-defined region where Beach merged with the farms of Upton Cheyney. The eastern part of Lansdown Hill, about a mile from the summit was the site of the minor civil war battle, the Battle of Lansdown with the rather tawdry Bevile Grenville memorial which, I believe showed St George with his dragon. Across the road from this monument was the much more interesting ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ fields, an extensive set of tummocks probably measuring 6-10 feet from trough to crest with no discernible pattern. We thought they were hurried burial mounds made after the battle, although at the same time we knew that this could not be the reason for their existence. We went there probably more than once for our Sunday School picnic. Later the area was largely enclosed by 'The Ministry' and a transmitter/receiving tower erected behind the uninviting mesh fence, but nothing ever seemed to happen there. Less than a mile from this site and near the switchback between Lansdown and Freezing Hill was the infamous smelter where the gold from the Brinksmatt bullion robbery was melted down.

 Beach was in the parish of Bitton, a village at the end of Golden Valley known for its paper mill where the paper for the wonderful old cream-coloured five pound notes was made and for an appearance in a Betjeman poem (plainsong on the bells). Golden valley had an abandoned coal mine and an ochre works, which may have been responsible for its name.


 In almost all respects, Beach was overshadowed by its neighbours and few inhabitants of either Bath or Bristol had heard of it, even though the 'Big House' belonged to the Butler family and Churchill is reputed to stayed there at some time during the War. A prototype model of the typhoon fighter plane crashed into one of our apple trees, and airmen were billeted on us for several weeks, but this was not headline news.

 Despite its present obscurity, the name of Beach shares with a handful of other places in the environs of Bath a distinctive honour. It appears very prominently in the first true geological map made anywhere in the world; William Smith's circular map, a forerunner to his more famous map of the geology of England and Part of Scotland.

 In the top left hand segment (at about 11 o’clock) the name Beach appears in large letters just over the county boundary in South Gloucestershire. Of the surrounding villages only North Stoke has comparable prominence.




Passover


This was a hamlet with fifteen houses,

two miles long and one mile wide,

spread out.

Once, they said,

there had been six inns

and no church,

but none of that is certain.


What was certain though,

was that within two years,

three young men,

eldest sons,

were called to meet their maker.





Sympathetic magic


Haresfield, Rushgrove,

yes, there’s magic there.

Cowleaze, Fairwells,

sounds to linger on.


Imagine from the air

that map of green and brown

and each one with a name

known only to its own.


Hedges and walls, not fences, mark them off.

If one should be removed,

a myriad things, or none, named or un-named

are dispossessed

and one or other name, or both, or none,

must then be lost.






Water hammer


Not two miles away

surrounded on three sides by hills,

an brick hut

in a wood

with a water hammer.


Someone had set it thumping and left it alone.

To us it seemed like the soul of the echo,

because there was an echo in those hills

like a phantom fullback,

darting this way or that,

and clutching your voice to retrieve it.


But I suppose the point was

that unless you had seen that round iron dome

thumping day and night,

filling the hills with sound

then dying,

you might not believe it.





The Wisdom of Solomon


Further down the valley, where it was always Sunday,

grew two great Cedars.

Cedars of Lebanon with fronds like down-turned hands.

Fortunately Solomon had not seen them,

or, if he had,

in his wisdom

had left them alone.





Birthday present


When I was seven or eight years old,

I was given a shilling for my birthday.

A beautiful coin;

just the right size to be what it was

and to mean what it meant.

But I dropped it.

Lost in the grass

and gone without trace.


Had I been asked,

"What do you use it for?"

"What did you spend it on?"

I could have said,


"I used it to buy time."or

"I bought time with it ."

A single square of time,

with sunshine, grass and clover stalks;

buttercups in bloom and silver falling.

But I did not know that then.







Killboylane


Between Rushgrove and Haresfield

lay a grassy path called Killboylane.1

In summer we would walk this way to school

past other fields,

and other farms,

the withy bed,

the wheat-field with its butterflies and flowers.

We must have been too deep absorbed to think

that, somewhere on this path,

part overgrown,

a boy lay dead.


Three questions might be asked.

Where, when and how,

but weren’t.

Again the wheat-field where the poppies grew

(the sun-baked smell that crosses time)

and flower there still,

but we walked by

and they left us behind.


And what they make me think is this,

one day will be a time

a place,

a reason;

only mine.






Another Blue Day


She was only five

and she walked out from behind a bus.

Her parents died that day

and again very much later when their plane crashed into a hillside

coming in to land in low cloud.





Lantern


"Do you believe in Ghosts?"

"I don’t think so."

"Then what was that you saw at the foot of the stairs

one night in your sleep?"

"A man and a woman

holding an old-fashioned lamp

and starting to climb."

"So why should your voice fail to sound

as you slunk back to bed?"





Lilac time


The village was haunted by the ghosts of old houses

The tumble-down house with its tumbled rooms;

the old lime kiln

and here the barest of outlines,

noticed only because lilacs never grow wild.

A site never mentioned,

though each year came a time to remember


When you wondered

how long would it take to lower the house

to its foundations,

or when it happened,

supposing somebody needed the stones,

which of course they would not

because stones grow in this ground,

stunting the main crop,

it seemed to be saying that flesh outlived bone.


Then we remembered laughter

and children lost in the garden,

drifting on two kinds of time;

the time of stones, that goes forward

and lilac time, that goes back.





Columbarnian Barn


Paths through the fields

are paths through our lives

that only on mushroom days

do we ever leave.

Those paths that have taken so many men

and so many journeys

even to keep them open.


The disadvantage is

that they may entrain,

that we will not raise our eyes and look;

but he did

and we followed.

He used the name like one who has seen the world.

The shape, so familiar,

a land-locked ark

in the narrow prow of the field,

beyond the isthmus where the path crossed,


Life-giving dove

pure white.

What act of breeding created it

filling the light like an angel

never descending,

but gone now, as others have,

over the flooded earth

to find land

and to bring back either the golden leaf

or the merry leaf

in its beak

according to our choice.


This was a place built for a purpose,

but what that purpose was

bears little relation to freedom and light and air,

although it depended on them,

but other men’s gold or joy

has been bought here

and laid down

layer upon layer.




Sunday School


They were sweethearts, soon to be betrothed

who signed the pledge renouncing Satan and his works,

(at least the ones they understood)

until that harvest time

he passed the Inn, turned, and after agonised debate

entered those gates for lemonade.

We should be certain here that love for lemonade is not a crime

In fact it draws us in, gets us involved

as in that torrid time

it did to him.


That part was not in doubt.

The one who told her

hoped only to stop his fall.


He lost his chance with barren reason then,

but took the daughter of the vine instead

and died of drink, she of a broken heart.

But stranger still

that self-appointed men

held charge of boys and girls

while parents slept.






Granulated zinc


Having a bath in front of the fire on a Saturday night.

A once-a-week story of country-folk,

in the galvanised tub.

The patchy flecks of zinc,

(fingered hands of metal pointing different ways)

and so distinct.

Galvanised, they said, but,

surely not.


Surely it must have been granulated in;

those granules scattered down,

and in some witches kitchen,

rolled on with a red-hot rolling pin.






The Humpty-Dumpty fields


Hidden away at the top of the hill,

hard green sand dunes.

Ideal for a Sunday School treat

(or a small local war)

except it was rather like taking a mystery tour

to your own front lawn.

Shapes that might have been made by men digging flints,

or earthing up bodies

then left to lie still.


There was also a statue of George and his dragon and horse,

naming the battle.

How you can see it,

men waving their swords and running from tummock to tummock

and shouting,

"You’re dead!"

or heart beating in hiding.


It was then we learned

that nothing happened close at hand.

Wars that count were fought on fields

with names like Naseby,

flat like Marston Moor

and fighting men were laid in Christian graves,

not pagan mounds.






Fisher King


Oh Good Lord!

have you not met the Fisher King?

You could see him further down the road

like the pelican that dips its beak in blood.

You could see him where the river bends

and

in the corner

where the stream, elsewhere so shallow

becomes deep enough to swim,

where sand collects and shelves toward the dark.

Someone has drowned there,

or so they say

hoping to warn us.


Someone has met his death

by water.





Darkness


"Give me a light to lighten my darkness."


But this was an electric light

with bare wires under a car,

and it darkened their lightness.





Cornerstone


Fairwells, Farewells?

That’s the one I find hard to remember.

The field by the crossroads

where he last drove his horse and cart

that ran, out of control.

Son he was called,

to distinguish him from his father.

Just past Fairwells it happened

and they said

it need not have been so bad,

but for the dry stone wall.






Field of the cloth of gold


In those days, in the spring, young men,

full grown,

but not too old to sing,

would often enter ploughing competitions.


Here you ought to note,

no point in entering at all,

either in ploughing or in singing

if Alec Watts should throw his hat

into the ring.


The field, a curving western hillside

destined to become a cloth of gold,

where the Judges

rustic men of substance

hold the furrowed lines

in one embracing view.


But, in their ancient wisdom

what criteria of promise,

or achievement, did they use?

The skill to overturn a maidens heart

and lay her smooth and yielding;

or the wit to seek for fortune

one spade deep,

or enter into some old promise

with the earth?


But, for those

Who stood outside the ring,

the only things we saw

were neat straight furrows

and a tidy headland.





Bluebell woods


"Did you take her to the bluebell woods?"

he asked, but not as an old voyeur

for he had been there and he knew.


He came to this village after the war,

an evacuee,

or a boy who could not be kept,

and he married the mother’s daughter,

(or so he thought!)

and they lived in a quaint little house

and walked in the bluebell woods;

a lover and his lass,

brother and sister,

Hansel and Gretel,

der and das.





Source of the Nile


This was not the Nile,

that had been flowing, as far as we knew,

from its source in the hills

for more than six thousand years,

but our own stream

and it never occurred to us

that it had a source,

at least one that we should find,

until we learned of those explorers in Africa.

 

There was the same feeling, of course,

going beyond the edge of the known.

though the journey took no more than an afternoon.


What did we see?


To summarise;

exploring this stream meant

paddling its length

looking for pools where danger lay,

or where fish might hide between narrow banks

overgrown by nut, brambles, hawthorn and ash,

opening out to those holiday places where cows came to drink,

then plunging  on,

in to the dark unknown.


Finally, and I shall always remember this,

the stream emerged from an open meadow,

utterly foreign,

but we could only marvel at what happened next

where the ground started to climb

and in a small hollow, surrounded by bushes

the water emerged;

uncaring spring.

We had found it, and not found it.

The mystery had eluded us.

We had travelled from not knowing that anything had a beginning,

to knowing that some things have no beginning

and returned home

whole,

balanced,

stronger and more complete

than

if beside the spring

had found the Virgin Mary

with her infant child,

or over a rise,

a silver lake lay shining in the sun.





Winnowing floor


The old-fashioned threshing machine will never die

as long as those who saw them working live.


You who never saw one, and will not do now,

should know of summer; harvest;

sheaves built into stacks to dry,

and how, one autumn day

a wooden fort appeared

foursquare as a boar brought in to stud; the busy grin.

If complexity of sight and sound and smell is life,

this lived.

The soul was called the drum

I never saw one, or how it worked.

But all could see the lapping wooden tongues regurgitating straw,

the pipe for blowing chaff, that curved and fell,

a dusty, rising cone.


The Thresher ruled!

Kneeling by the drum, he took each sheaf in turn.

And did he cross himself?

Then with his penknife cut the string

like cutting chickens throats,

and did they cry?

Well if they did, no sound escaped above the throbbing hum .


For those who stood no higher than a sheaf of corn

the one task safe from pitchforks, turning belts and wheels,

watching the wooden shutters where the grain emerged

to let the heavy stream flow through each hand;

seven gates that poured our tens of years

from fat to lean.


What part in this was played by cider,

hot sweet tea?

The work of taking stacks of straw apart

was not so hard as all that passed before.

The feeling when the farmer wiped his brow at harvest time,

the satisfaction of a job half done,

was not here now.


Once the Thresher fell into the drum.

We don’t know how high priests ascend to heaven,

but that he did.

Another time, the false teeth went alone.

For you who never knew them, and will not do now;

two ears that brought forth thirty-fold,

threshed clean.


Those far scenes, not as distant as this newer sight.

Gone are the men and sweat,

dogs chasing rats, the thrill

of sheaves becoming bedding straw;

the mounds of sacks.


And was there corn in Egypt?

Is there still?






Kitchener Axford


So it has come to this,

you are not dead then,


Oh Kitchener Axford!


I thought my boat

had no mooring lines,

no anchor chains to drag,

but there was one,


Kitchener Axford.


Our paths crossed for just a few years

beyond the school-room

(dust of our dust).

Everyone else grew

but you must not.

Your name belongs there.

The future has no place for it.

It must remain

tied down in long-forgotten ground.


We are the same age then,

you and I,

but where my fifty extra years

made a hurried path to now,

yours did not,

but sloped slowly up

through the late forties

into the early fifties

and then

doubled back.


Can we say,

"Your country needs you"

twice fleshed there?

And that from 1914 or thereabouts

an accusing finger, or a finger of despair, points out

into the fast receding future.






Who was thy neighbour


He lived down the road.

The next place on the left,

a wooden hut, on someone else’s land.

Thomas Hook.

Tom Hook.


He went off to the war

walking to camp at Liverpool,

along the railway track

(that’s what he said)

and came back changed.


And what we used to do;

throw apples on his roof to hear him swear

but, next day, pass him in the road,

"Mornin Tom."

"Ow be!"


As far as we could see

he had no envy of the big house where the gentry lived

that had not only water, but taps to draw it from,

and touched his cap

and said

"Good mornin ma'am"


"Yes, it's more so!"


Tickled pink, he must have been

to hear those words,

remember them

and pass them on.





Apple pie order


There were others, but this one stands out.

He was old, but appeared to be ageless.

A man who had sold his soul to the spirit of late summer

and cheeks once red, though cheerful, were pale as dumplings


Harry Rowley!

It suited him well,

a man from an older time.

Now he and his type have probably gone to ground

or sell and buy other things.

True to his name

there was something wonderfully froglike about him,

with a queer ancient hat, his voice and his odd plastic smile.


He was a dealer, known to be shrewd.

It was said that people like him, and his clients,

unable to count in numberless sums,

sized up the worth in pieces of silver

and sealed the deal with a nod and a word.

You could see them at market

playing a kind of chess with cattle for pieces.


When he came, my father and he walked the fields, as they put it,

"to look at the beasts",

Then sat with us at dinner.

to eat apple pie with custard or cream.


Later the lorry arrived

and the back wound down

to make an attractive track.

Always the animals tried to refuse,

though bars aided their hooves.

Shouting occurred and swearing perhaps (kindly meant)

and then they were gone. Sold on

to other farms

and to live among their adopted friends.

(sometimes the trade turned).

Nevertheless the wooden slats

seemed to spell the single word,

pain.


And all around,

although we could not detect it,

the sweet and unmistakable smell of fear.






Who was thy neighbour


He lived down the road.

The next place on the left,

a wooden hut, on someone else’s land.

Thomas Hook.

Tom Hook.


He went off to the war

walking to camp at Liverpool,

along the railway track

(that’s what he said)

and came back changed.


And what we used to do;

throw apples on his roof to hear him swear

but, next day, pass him in the road,

"Mornin Tom."

"Ow be!"


As far as we could see

he had no envy of the big house where the gentry lived

that had not only water, but taps to draw it from,

and touched his cap

and said

"Good mornin maam"


"Yes, it's more so!"


Tickled pink, he must have been

to hear those words,

remember them

and pass them on.




Culture shock


One day he went to prison.

Failing to pay his tithes.

He wasn’t long inside

just a short sharp shock;

"and they give I a bath

t’were enough to kill I!"

All very well to smile

how did you think it was?

Gentle maids with soap-laced hands

saying

"There, there Tom"

and "Welcome home."

rather like that other Tom

whose soul ascended white;

but he had years to run before that came to pass.






Kelston Round Hill


If you wished to make a place

that everyone would notice,

you could do worse

than find a round, isolated hill

and plant a walled copse of trees on top.


Then if you wished to be alone,

you could do worse

than walk there among them.





Escapement


"And what is this room,

dusty over the dairy in the old limestone farm house;

long, wedge-shaped and low at the back?"

"This is the cheese-room!"


And it became The Cheeseroom, which it remains.

Now, when the contents of all others

are parcelled out into their bin-bags,

the Cheeseroom remains,

one corner that cannot be emptied, and yet

there are no ghosts there.


"Off with its head!" yelled the Queen,or was it the Duchess?

Which may have explained why the grandfather clock mechanism

was stored on its side, awaiting repair

and meanwhile, teaching the principles of escapement,

not so easily learned. And what happened then?

My sister distributed all of those models of Alice,

including the Duchess, to friends in her class,

only to find they were not hers to give.

We remembered the riddle,

'what I give away I keep,' etc.,

but this was a gift

and God had not, at that time, revealed

the secret of gifts that may not be passed on.

She did not know this and, in consequence,

the Duchess was extremely severe.


Of course, the Cheeseroom, low at the back,

was the place to avoid in the dark, but, as I said,

there were no ghosts in the Cheeseroom,

except one, walking asleep, climbed into a trunk

filled with smothering cloth,

but the lid would not close.

Alice, of course, encountered it all,

though we did not know this.

From one side you grow and one shrink,

and get out of, or into,

many a tight situation, even in dreams.

She did not know this,

and neither did we,

but, as I said,

There were no ghosts in the Cheeseroom,

even then.





The Welsh Mountains


From there

once in a lifetime

you could see the Welsh mountains.

Snowdon, Plynlimon, Cader Idris

and the Black Mountains, Waun Fach, Pen Allt-Maur.


Either the light brings them near,

or something else,

as though a carpet rolled out

makes a special path

which says

"these are yours".


When they come

do not confuse the burning range

with a wall of mist in the valley floor.


Another day frogs lay dead on the road,

but the third sign never appeared

unless something that looked like a distant tornado

was coursing the Severn

one evening at hay-making time.





Brown's Folly

Any sentence containing the word 'real' retains exactly the same meaning if this word is deleted.  A.J. Ayer (attrib).


Yes, we had found this word ‘real’ and crossed it out

and then 'hey presto'

as if my magic,

nothing changed and nothing remained the same,

but is this also true of 'unreal' or 'folly'?


So here was Brown and this was his folly,

and it was our folly was to go there at night.


We heard the night sounds,

but I will leave these to your darkness-heightened imagination,

as for us, this was a journey with no end or beginning;

only a hillcrest with the tower

rising from invisible ground to never existent sky.


"In your opinion then, was this tower square,

that is, did it have the four usual sides,

or were any missing,

and can you see another one like it here?"

"Your Honour, I must object!

My client was observing at night

with neither a torch nor guide

he could hardly be

expected to answer such questions;

the tower is no more to him now than

a shadow in mist. "


"Objection sustained!"

So that was it then!

It had been nothing,

only a name

and is now less than a dream,

or, to put it another way,

we had crossed from the reality of day

through uncertainty to a kind of solidity,

which, although it possesses no fixed point for comparison,

has become everlasting.


And, because such places exist,

if you take any sentence containing 'folly'

and strike it out,

then half of your lifetime crumbles away.






Dutch elm disease


"Never trust an elm," we were told.

We believed and did not; leaving the broad spreading branch

for the cuckoo to launch its deceit.


However there was one thing they trusted the elmwood to do,

to preserve our body and soul against the life to come

(though still hoping the trump would blow soon).

But this has gone out of fashion

and the elms have grieved and died.


Yet it is reported that from those dead stumps,

green shoots sprout.

It seems that the elms have done for themselves,

what for us

they would not.




CONTENTS


TITLE


1 Passover

2 Sympathetic magic

3 Water hammer

4 The Wisdom of Solomon

5 Birthday present

6 Killboylane

7 Lantern

8 Another Blue Day

9 Lilac time

10 Sunday School

11 Granulated zinc

12 The Humpty-Dumpty fields

13 Fisher King

14 Darkness

15 Cornerstone

16 Field of the cloth of gold

17 Bluebell woods

18 Source of the Nile

19 Winnowing floor

20 Kitchener Axford

21 Who was thy neighbour

22 Apple pie order

23 Culture shock

24 Kelston Round Hill

25 Escapement

26 The Welsh Mountains

27 Brown's Folly

28 Dutch elm disease


INDEX