The Lessons Of History

The lessons of history are all around
Etched on death’s memorial
But who looks at memorials?

The war to end all wars ended
But the peace had not been won

Exchanging eyes
Has not proved a workable proposition
And yet the attempt goes on
And mankind is condemned to try again
To seek an end to conflict
By perpetuating conflict itself

Those lessons from the past
Unlearnt
At best misunderstood
Ignored
And so it continues
The errors of the past
Visited on countless future generations

Fear reigns
And stultifies hope
Because mankind remains
Because mankind will not change
Still comatose
Sleepwalking into conflict again
Again
And yet again

Original sin
Casts its sinister shadow
Over hope
And so
The cycle continues
War and peace
Unfeasible bedfellows
History hardly notices the difference

But we do
And suffer for it

The two illustrations above were scanned from my copy of Holbein’s ‘Le Triomphe De La Mort’ published in

1780 … Etchings of Holbein’s originals by Chr.De Michel

Two Londons

View from Decimus Burton’s Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner,  Adrian Jones’s sculpture of ‘The Angel of Peace Descending in the Quadriga of War’ (Watercolour – WHB)

LONDON  2017

In all that bright and glorious sunshine,
amongst those trees, those parks, those sculptural delights,
Hidden below that Impressive skyline,
Beneath and among those imposing sights,
How much deprivation is still concealed

As that which was to Blake revealed?

( Pen and Wash drawing and the accompanying verse above are by WHB)

What was revealed to William Blake as he wandered the streets of late 18th and early 19th Century London, he wrote about in the following poem.  It was first published in his ‘Songs of Experience’ in 1794

London-Seven Dial early 19th Century – Sketches by Boz

London    . . .   By William Blake

I wander thro’ each charter’d street
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

The Applegarth

Guisborough Priory, N.Yorkshire

The APPLEGARTH

When morning
meets my melancholy
I must refocus
dispel my clouds
and reconnect to nature
through her glory

The garth gate invites
pledges enchantment
such memories harboured here
once the cloister garden
of my medieval monastery
now still the repository
of the priory’s peace
ancient orchard
now transformed
but still a place
to rejuvenate the soul
to touch
feel and taste
nature’s serenity

   The morning mist
lingered low
over the once fallow fields
then no longer virgin earth
but become thick with apple trees
and those
long gone
and autumn dormant now
awaiting its wheat-carpeted
summer season

The morning advances
only half-appreciated
until the
the priory arch
proud against the sky
bursts through the mist
into the weak sun’s gaze
the veiled sky
allowing
the gathering sunlight
slowly
to prove its strength
and bring clarity
to a waiting world

And The pathway
its ancient course
 piercing its length
into the shrouded distance
remembrancer now
of those Augustinian brothers
traversing
this ancient orchard

who with such care
tended nature’s gifts
now bare of fruit
but never fruitless
no longer cosseted
by priestly presence
and full of nuanced context still

For me …

The Applegarth
my own memory
of this sanctified place
sings of golden corn
bordering that arrowed path
where also was
the winning post
the last gasp
of those long-past
teenage
distance running races
marking my triumphs
measuring my success
against the countless strides
I had wrenched
from my straining body
to accomplish
to lead the race
the end of endeavours
signifying my own
my personal
accomplishment.

The Applegarth,
a trope
my metaphor
for my life.

Photographs by WHB . . . 2016



 

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

The Vikings . . . Embroidery by Eileen Phelps – 2013

OUR VIKING FOREFATHERS

(Or perhaps it should be ‘FiveFathers’?)

Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven,
Five fierce and intrepid Norse men,
All were keen for a spot of adventure,
And some philand’ring as well now and then.

These five Vikings set off from their fiord,
Their longboat just bristling with gear;
Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets,
They thought they had nothing to fear.

But the North Sea didn’t prove easy,
They rowed until practically dead,
Till at last they spotted the Orkneys
Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.

They’d set out equipped to do battle,
To plunder, to pillage, despoil,
But they could not decide where to settle,
Where best to create more turmoil.

So they carried on rowing southwards
And kept their eyes skinned for a village;
For any old Saxon encampment  
With people and pastures to pillage.

Before long they came to an island
That was covered in seaweed and priests;
They decided to stop and replenish,
While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.

At first they weren’t kind to the natives;
They took all their women and corn,
But they could not abide all the chanting
And treated the abbot with scorn.

But in time they took to the island,
Found some fair Saxons to wed;
Even started attending the chapel,
Word of their atonement soon spread.

When I think of my Norsemen forefathers

Now I don’t see foreign insurgents;
I think of them solely as tourists,
Who created a bit of disturbance.

NOTES:

I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.

Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses.  I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in the North of Britain.

The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.

The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.

Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations.  Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations.  Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking

 towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.

These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.

. . . And Then There Were Four

London, Victoria Embankment, late 19th Century … Pen & Wash – WHB – 2014

Late autumn evening
treading wet leaves
on the broad embankment
 beside the dark river;
starry sky
and the pavement spotted
with lights
dark pools between
those balustrade sentries
the eighty year old
yablochkov candles
(the country’s very first

electric street lights)
still throwing the trees’ shadows
across the road
to Victoria’s gardens.

Perhaps memory twists my tale;
mike, dave, wally, ray,
with me five of us,
fresh lads
freshers too
up from the far country
to study
to see the big city
to re-start a life
men now
together
soliciting knowledge
tempting experience.

Interned for a Chelsea month,
then the anticipated incursion,
our first excursion
into the great city
set for new challenges
no plan
just exploration;
for the moment
nothing cerebral
just life in the moment
awaiting a happening
neophytic
greenhorns.

Walking where Victoria walked,
or did she ever really
enjoy her gardens by the river?
thrilling evening
walking that promenade,
drinking the sights
eating the sounds
devouring the smells and tastes
soaking up the river
and the beer,
Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.

We didn’t know it then
nor did any of us suspect
it was to be ray’s swan song
sweet Thames run softly
and be his swan song.

Turned up Villiers Street,
Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street,
tumbled into The Trafalgar,
seedy then,
well, rare student prices,
waitress in black and white
I remember
the white cap with lace
and black band
the tiny white apron
on black dress
alluringly short
wiping her hands
by rubbing them seductively
on her aproned thighs,
“what can I get you lads?”
… ribaldry …
ray “what time do you finish?”
… her answer
no more than a half-smile;

After the spam fritters
and the glorious knickerbockers
and more small pink hands
attentive hands
rubbed clean
on lacy white apron,
ray’s eyes never taken off them
then drinks
nothing heavy.

Ray fell
must have done
from a great height
smitten I would say
to his adam’s apple core,
eyes only for a pretty face
and those lacy edges.

Conversation ricocheted
across the tables
voices spurted out their verbiage
as those yablochkov candles
expended their light,
more raucous than uncouth.

Then the attempt to close
to dispense with customers
we head for the street
ray stays in his seat
“’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”

… But he never did.

Nor we him.
Ever again.

The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London.  It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.

The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.

Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station  and Trafalgar Square.  It contains many restaurants and eating establishments.  
The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.

Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.

CRICKET … LOVELY CRICKET

‘Watching Cricket’ . . .  Watercolour . . . WHB – 2001

With my dog and my lunch and my wife by my side

I’ll go watch the cricket today I decide.

The sun it is shining, a book in my hand,

I’m ready to watch the lads make a stand.

In the trees now the birds, they natter and chatter,

Makes me feel sleepy but what does that matter.

 I see deep square leg take a wonderful catch,

But then fall asleep for the rest of the match.

They missed my support, but I’m quite happy now,

I can go back to sleep ‘cos we won anyhow.

. .. and talking about Cricket, I am reminded of that great joyful Calypso – all the rage in my youth! (now you know how old I am!)

You can join me in enjoying it once again in this YouTube video  . . .

A RIVER REMEMBERS

Lynmouth, North Devon … Pen and Wash … WHB – 1997

From the high moor
cries a river

Long lingering Lyn
stretches her arms
from the  east
and from the west
faltering
before then
slowly
gathering the courage
to continue

Until at last
separately
these fledgling rivers
tumble
less tentative now
more fluent
and sure
almost impetuous
towards each other
through their sovereign gorges

Plummeting now
to where their destined
waters meet
in conscious confluence

A stillness then returns
caution again prevailing
tentative once more,
remembering,
regretting,
still grieved
by distant memory

But now able
with measured movement
to veer past
 the lighthouse
by the river’s mouth
and to slip softly
 into the welcoming sea.

On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 9 inches of rain within 24 hours on the already saturated soil of Exmoor, North Devon.  The East and West Lyn rivers, which drop down from Exmoor, were swollen even before the storm.   Debris-laden flood waters cascaded down the northern escarpment of the moor, much of it converging upon the village of Lynmouth in particular.   In the upper West Lyn valley, a dam was formed by fallen trees, etc., but in due course this gave way, sending a huge wave of water and debris down the river.

Overnight, more than 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless. The seawall and lighthouse survived the main flood, but were seriously undermined. The lighthouse collapsed into the river the next day.

Bosham (West Sussex) in Paint

Bosham, West Sussex . . . Watercolour – WHB: 2000

Bosham is a delightful village situated on an arm of Chichester Harbour (West Sussex). Bosham has a long history; it is thought that it was one of the first sites in Sussex were the Saxon St Wilfrid preached, around the year 681 AD. Three centuries later, it was at Bosham that King Canute, tongue in cheek, ordered the waves to cease their movement. Canute’s daughter is buried at Holy Trinity parish church, which features a superb 11th century chancel arch and a Saxon tower.

One of Canute’s successors, Harold, set sail from Bosham in 1064 on the voyage which was to eventually cost him his kingdom, after a storm cast him into the hands of William of Normandy.

Today, Bosham remains a popular boating centre, and it retains many charming 17th and 18th century buildings in the narrow, winding streets and alleys that lead to the harbour. The manor of Bosham House, which may stand on the site of a Saxon house built for Canute, was the home of Henry Hamblin, the popular writer and spiritualist known as the ‘Saint of Sussex’.

From: http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=3123

Two more watercolours of Bosham Harbour . . . WHB c.2000

Liverpool

Liverpool Docks . . . Watercolour – WHB: – 2011

The Port of Liverpool Building (formerly Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Offices, more commonly known as the Dock Office) is a Grade II* listed building in Liverpool, England. It is located at the Pier Head and, along with the neighbouring Royal Liver Building and Cunard Building, is one of Liverpool’s Three Graces, which line the city’s waterfront.[1] It is also part of Liverpool’s UNESCO-designatedWorld Heritage Maritime Mercantile City.

LIFE FORCE – ONE

LIFE  FORCE – ONE

When shadow turns to substance 
In the still of morning’s birth, 
Then once again I wonder 
How much my life is worth.

 Have I in the scheme of things 
At last outlived my time?
I want to last a fair span yet,
To hope is not a crime.

 I long to do a thousand things 
I’ve not had time to do, 
But is that just a selfish wish 
I’m not entitled to?

 So many of my friends have gone,
Lives past while mine’s still here. 
Do I deserve more time on earth, 
Or is my ending near?

 Such morbid thoughts occur to me 
More frequently each day. 
I rush to pack more living in, 
No halt, pause or delay.

 Despite the limits on my life 
My time is filled with actions. 
Yet still my mind frets at the thought 
Of those un-lived attractions.

 Why am I selfishly intent 
On hurtling to nirvana, 
Grasping at each passing chance 
More enhanced life to garner?

 I could so quietly subside 
Into a life of ease; 
No rush, no great exigency 
My daemons to appease.

 Yet I am not content like that, 
I must remain on course, 
To stay with, in the time I’m left,
This imperative life force.


The two photographs were taken by me in London’s Roman Amphitheatre, which can be found in its restored state in the basement of the City of London Guildhall.

These Roman remains, thought to date to the 1st Century AD,  were discovered when the Guildhall Art Gallery was being re-developed in 1985.  The original structure could house over 7,000 spectators seated on tiered wooden benches in what would then have been the open air, where they watched the execution of criminals as well as fights, usually to the death, between wild animals and gladiators.

More can be discovered about these little-known remains of the Roman Londinium on the City of London website at:

London’s Roman Amphitheatre