Friday, March 31, 2006

What takes you back?

For no reason that I can pin down, I found myself mulling over those things that take me instantly back to my childhood - not just childhood memories, but small sensual experiences that recall familiar sensations from nearly forty years ago. Sights, smells, sounds ... I ended up coming up with something that has imprinted itself on each of my senses.

Sight: The sea. We live, as I did during childhood, about as far from the sea as it is possible to get anywhere in this island nation. Although it was only two and a half hours drive away, as a child to be by the sea was to be in another world. We regularly visited relatives who lived near the coast and usually took a seaside holiday every year. Oh, the excitement of watching for that first glimpse ... "The sea! I can see the sea!". Every time I catch sight of the sea I relive that old excitement.

Sound: A striking clock. In my childhood clocks that struck the hour were commonplace, particularly among older relatives. Now I rarely hear them. One particularly special striker was an antique grandfather clock belonging to my beloved great-aunt and uncle (to all practical purposes my maternal grandparents). His deep chiming through the night spelled safety and security whenever I stayed with them. Today "grandfather" belongs to my mother, and I still feel that comfortable reassurance when I hear him strike the hour.

Smell: Very mundane, I'm afraid, but ... manure! Growing up on a farm, "muck" - as it was euphemistically known - was a valuable fertiliser and launched a regular assault on our olfactory senses. Time and distance has left me with fonder memories than I probably had at the time. Whenever we are driving and find ourselves behind a "muck spreader", or pass a field where manure has recently been spread, the rest of my townie family hold their noses and demand that windows should be shut. I take deep, appreciative sniffs. Sad, but true.

Taste: When I was a very young child, the local village boasted a grocery store owned by "Uncle Joe" (a relative of indeterminate connection - probably a second or third cousin of either my grandfather or grandmother - half the village was related in those days!). Even in the 1960s this shop was a museum piece, with dry goods such as flour and sugar kept in large bins and measured out on request. Uncle Joe used to cook and slice large hams in a room behind the shop. I remember standing like a little bird with my mouth open while he dropped in tidbits of freshly cooked ham. I have had a weakness for ham ever since. (Apologies to my dear, kosher Tevye!)

Touch: The warmth of an open fire. (Does that count as touch?) The farmhouse I grew up in did not have central heating, and the living room was always heated by a coal fire. The hours I spent sitting or lying on a rug in front of the fire with a book! As an adult I have never lived in a house with a usable fireplace, and in any case open fires have become a rarity as central heating has become universal. When I do find myself somewhere with a roaring fire, I am a ten year old again :).

So ... what takes you back?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Little Cherub is a girl!

I went for my twenty eight week growth scan today and we are thrilled to announce that we are expecting our third daughter :). She was more cooperative today than at the last scan and the sonographer managed to get quite a good view. She is doing very well and is now exactly the right size. As the measurements were also just right at both my last two visits to the midwife, it seems the small measurements at the last scan were just a blip.

Tevye is recovering from his surgery at phenomenal speed and was able to come with me to the scan. Tomorrow we are back at the same hospital for his post-operative check.

Our cup runneth over :)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Proud mamma!

Yesterday Angel played in her first brass band concert, making me a very proud mamma! Star and I went to listen; Tevye was disappointed to miss it, but even though he is recovering at a tremendous rate that would have been seriously overdoing things. As Angel is a good head shorter than anyone else in the band we couldn't see her in the first half, but changed seats so we could smile encouragingly for the second. Not that she looked as though she needed encouragement - she had a beaming smile on her face all evening.

The more experience we have of the band the more I like it. They could not be more encouraging of the younger members. Also it is one of the rare fields which allow adults and children to take part together. They even have whole families. One of the band leaders plays alongside his wife and two adult sons, and Angel thinks he also has a grandson in the junior section; the conductor's teenage son plays trombone with the band; and the age range in the "senior" band ranges from eleven to seventy or so. I also like the selection of music, which ranges from the gently popular, through theme tunes and folk music to classical. The highlight of last night's concert won on sheer fun - the theme tune from The Addams Family, complete with duck quacking effects from the percussionist and one of the tenor horn players being "shot" by the conductor!

I think playing in what is primarily an adult band at just turned eleven is quite an achievement. Well done Angel :).

Maternal boast over!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why don't Catholics sing?

He who sings, prays twice (St.Augustine)

I grew up in a Methodist family. Methodists sing hymns; they sing them loudly and well. Even as the reluctant young Methodist I was, the hymns of Charles Wesley and other greats sank into my soul. After ten years of non-Church-going, I finally admitted that I could no longer put off becoming a Catholic and attended my first ever Mass. I knew without a shadow of doubt that I had come home, but one thing puzzled me. Were the congregation supposed to be singing the hymns but just not doing it? Or were they not supposed to be singing, but couldn't resist humming along a little? In time I realised that yes, they were supposed to be singing. In fact, they even thought they were singing.

In the twenty years since there has been some improvement in Catholic hymn-singing volume, both in my original parish and elsewhere. I do my best to contribute, either through playing in a parish music group, acting an occasional organist, or just by singing enthusiastically in the hope that it might boost the confidence of those around me. For the last couple of months I simply haven't been able to sing. Along with all the coughing and puffing I've had recurring sore throats and my voice has gone. Disappeared totally. I open my mouth to sing and not so much as a squeak comes out ... which, to be honest, I find a disconcerting and depressing experience. Last Sunday I stood in enforced silence with an open hymn book and looked around at my fellow parishioners. Many also stood silently with open hymn books and closed mouths. Surely they can't all have lost their voices. Those who did open their mouths rarely opened them wide enough for anything audible to come out. I have been in Methodist congregations of ten who sing better than a Catholic congregation of one hundred. You never see Methodists with open hymnbooks and closed mouths. So ... why don't Catholics sing? Is this just an English Catholic thing?

My writing is a joke

Tipping my hat to St.Athanasius Academy, who tips hers in turn to Cay's Cajun Cottage, I couldn't resist finding out What Type of Writer I should be. The result ...

You Should Be a Joke Writer

You're totally hilarious, and you can find the humor in any situation.
Whether you're spouting off zingers, comebacks, or jokes about life...
You usually can keep a crowd laughing, and you have plenty of material.
You have the makings of a great comedian - or comedic writer.


Much excitement in our household. The dance school the girls attend is run by a young and enthusiastic teacher, who works hard to both challenge and enthuse her pupils. She is also a talented choreographer and considers some experience of choreography an important part of dance training. Angel came home from her dance class yesterday clutching a letter announcing a new Summer Choreography Competition at the school. Open to anyone from age seven up (the under sevens get to do improvisation instead), they can choose the size of their group (solo, duet, trio) and style of dance (ballet, modern, jazz, tap, national or acrobatic), and multiple entries are allowed. Angel is thrilled ... as she put it "I love choreographising". Er, that would be "choreographing" dear! Her dancing friends are equally enthusiastic. So far she has plans for a modern dance quartet with three friends - "It will be OK if we practice here, won't it, Mum?" - a duet of some sort with another friend, and an acrobatic duet with Star. They have four months to work on their dances. I foresee a lot of "Watch this, Mum!", and "How does this look?" between now and July!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Deo Gratias

Thanks be to God! Tevye's operation is safely over and he is recovering at record speed. So much so, that we were able to bring him home today. The infection had not progressed far down the rod so the surgery was not too extensive. We are very grateful for the skill of the surgeon who performed the operation, and to the junior doctor Tevye saw in Accident and Emergency who spotted that the problem was potentially serious and called in the big guns. We are also very grateful to all the people who have been praying for him and who have sent messages of support.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Crisis mode

We are in crisis mode here. Tevye is in hospital waiting for spinal surgery tomorrow. He suffers from quite severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and has had two major bouts of surgery in the past during which rods were inserted in his back to brace his spine. For the last few years his back has been doing well, only giving him pain if he has overdone things or is very stressed. Last weekend he began to get considerable pain at the top of his back, which deteriorated to the point where he went to the Accident and Emergency unit of our local hospital on Tuesday. It turned out that the top end of the topmost rod has become infected and needs to be removed to prevent the infection spreading. He is booked for surgery tomorrow morning.

Although this has all come as shock - this time last week he was fine! - we are thankful on various counts:

* The intense pain has gone. On Tuesday night he needed morphine for the pain; on Wednesday morning it disappeared.

* It looks as though the infection has been picked up quickly (although we will not know for sure until the surgeons get a look inside). If left, it could have become very much worse.

* This didn't happen three months ago, when I was dealing with intense nausea and first trimester exhaustion.

* It didn't happen in three months time, when Little Cherub is due.

* The predicted recovery time is only a matter of weeks. His previous surgeries involved two months in a full body cast and a six to twelve month recovery period. He should be back to normal (or thereabouts) by the time Little Cherub arrives.

* We have a number of wonderful friends here who will do anything they can to give us practical help, and many, many friends around the world who are keeping us in their prayers. To enjoy so much loving support is a privilege.

My resolution for Lent was not to complain. It seems I'm being given a particularly good opportunity to put that into practice. I am also trying hard to remember that we have no cause to be afraid. God is with us. He has a plan. We could use any extra prayers you care to send our way, though!

Monday, March 13, 2006


Angel and I have been trying to build a Zook. What is a Zook, you ask? Zooks come from Bamzooki, a BBC children's TV series in which children construct virtual robotic insects that compete against each other in performing various tasks - running fast, climbing over objects and so on. You can download software from the Bamzooki website to make your own Zooks, and we are finding it a lot harder than it looks! After much effort we managed to make our Zook's legs rotate in something approaching a sensible direction and stop it simply bouncing instead of running. Unfortunately, it is now nosediving and turning turtle. Angel did succeed in making one run backwards, which I'm beginning to think was quite an achievement. If you have children (or adults!) who would like an engineering challenge, get your Zook Kit here. If you manage to build a working Zook, please let us know how you did it!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Be not afraid!

Lent began on Ash Wednesday with the priest marking our foreheads with ashes as a sign of repentence and as a reminder of our own mortality:

Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you will return.
This year a series of tragedies have reinforced this liturgical reminder of the fragility of life: Missey, a homeschooling mother died during a caesarean section, leaving five young children; the tiny daughter of a lady on a UK pregnancy bulletin board was stillborn at 25 weeks gestation; another homeschooling mother miscarried a longed for baby; the pregnant sister of yet another died leaving three children; a young girl (Candace Joy) has spent the last month fighting for her life after her body was attacked by a vicious flesh-destroying bacteria; a homeschooling family lost their two month old baby to SIDS. Each time I turn on the computer recently it seems that sorrow is being piled on sorrow. Each time I am reminded of our own human frailty, and worse, the frailty of our children, both born and unborn.

I was pondering this last Sunday as I walked to Church. God never promised us freedom from sorrow; indeed, the Gospels make it clear that we are to take up our own Cross alongside our Lord. He did however assure us that He has a plan, that every minute of our lives is part of that plan, and that we need never be afraid. When the late, great Pope John Paul II was elected to the office of St.Peter, he began his papacy with a clarion call: Be not afraid! A man who had lost all his immediate family - mother, elder brother and father - by the time he reached adulthood, and who had lived through the dark days of Nazi occupied Poland where death lurked round every corner, with priests and seminarians a particular target, Karol Wojtyla knew better than most the fragility of life - yet he could shout loud and clear: "Be not afraid!"

This Lent I am learning to remind myself that we should be aware of our own mortality, but that we should not be afraid of it; that we should be prepared to share the load of other's crosses, but not to fear our own. I have been reading my favourite psalm, which assures us that God has us in his care from the moment of our conception:
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being. (Psalm 138)
I remember the words of the English medieval mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
And I keep Pope John Paul's call in my heart:

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Botheration and confustication!

I got the last two posts out of order, and have absolutely no idea how to put it right. Please read in reverse order.

Little Cherub is getting bigger

I saw my community midwife today for a routine check and apparently I look the right size, feel the right size, and measure the right size for twenty four weeks. So it seems Little Cherub has been growing nicely in the three weeks since my ultrasound scan :).

Beginning Lent

We prepared for Lent in traditional fashion by cooking (and eating) large quantities of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday - widely known in the UK as Pancake Day. Now I admit I have been known to eat some rather unusual combinations of food myself, but I drew the line when I caught Star about to add whipped cream to a pancake smothered in grated cheese and vanilla ice cream. Ewwww!!! Though why I thought the cream would make it any worse, I have no idea.

I was proud of myself for getting the girls to make Lenten Crowns on Monday instead of doing my usual trick of leaving things until past the last minute, which in this instance would have meant making them after Ash Wednesday. Angel and Star took very different approaches. Angel managed to find half a dozen purple tea-lights lurking in a drawer, giving hers a suitably Lenten appearance. (I'm not sure that the lavender scent is particularly suitable for Lent, but it goes with the colour.) Star's effort was rather more flamboyant, but she had to settle for white candles. Now we just have to get into the habit of remembering to light them.

We went to the 9.30 Mass on Ash Wednesday, where the girls were somewhat taken aback by the spectacular large black crosses Father made on everyone's foreheads, thoroughly outdoing our previous priest's delicate smudges. Unfortunately Star was undergoing an unintentional fast, which did not exactly aid either her temper or her attention span at Mass. In one of those bad parenting moments that sneak up on us with sad frequency, both Tevye and I had given her instructions to get and eat breakfast, but neither of us had supervised her. We should have known better. In the car I checked ...

"You did have breakfast, didn't you?"
"Oh yes!"
"What did you have?"
"A plum."

By the time we got home she had been up for four hours, subsisting on one solitary plum. I decided to consider the grumpy seven year old my first Lenten penance. A self-inflicted penance.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 1

This week I have been reading How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger, in which she describes a tour of England she and her family made in the 1950s, visiting sites associated with beloved children's books. I dream of one day being able to make a literary tour of England of my own - in the dim and distant future when time and money allow - along with a kindred spirit who shares a love of the same books. For now all I can do is dream, and I thought it would be fun to share my fantasy virtual tour of literary England. So please join me as we set off on day 1 ...

Day 1: Oxford (C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Oxford is just under an hour's drive from our home and is associated with two of my absolute favourite authors so I have to make it my starting point - even though I have visited most of these places several times, and have already had the opportunity to share them with friends. Our first stop is Wolvercote cemetery to visit the grave of J.R.R.Tolkien and his wife. Here I'll pick a small sprig of rosemary as a souvenir ("rosemary for remembrance").

Strangely, one thing I have never yet done in Oxford is have a drink at the Eagle and Child pub, known to Tolkien, Lewis and their friends who made up the Inklings as the "Bird and Baby". Definitely an omission that needs to be rectified! If we time things right we could go to Mass first at the Oxford Oratory, just a hundred yards or so down the road. Tolkien regularly attended Mass at this Church and one of my favourite poets, the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, was once a curate here.

One of the most beautiful of the Oxford colleges is Magdalen, where C.S.Lewis taught for thirty years. We can walk in the grounds, watch the deer in the deer park and look up at the Lewis's room in the "New" Building ("new" here is relative, as it was built in the eighteenth century).

After Magdalen we can visit the oldest college in Oxford and a personal favourite of mine - Merton, where Tolkien was Professor of English.

There are so many other tempting literary stops in Oxford that it just isn't possible to visit them all. If we have time we could add in Blackwell's bookshop (the largest in England), the Bodleian library, which dates back to the fifteenth century and holds copies of every book published in the UK, and if - like me - you enjoy Harry Potter, Christchurch College to see where some of the Hogwarts scenes were filmed for the movies.

Phew! After all that, my feet ache! I need to sit down with a nice pot of tea ... and sandwiches ... and scones and cream ... and cake. I think we should follow in Tolkien and Lewis's footsteps and round off the day with afternoon tea at the Randolph Hotel.

A Literary Tour: Day 2

Day 2: Winchester (Jane Austen, King Alfred, King Arthur - sort of!)

From Oxford, we are going to make a short hop down to the even more ancient city of Winchester, capital of King Alfred the Great's Wessex. My literary pretext is the desire to pay homage beside the grave of another great author, Jane Austen, but Winchester is too good to miss even if it had no literary links. Above you can see the house near Winchester College where she died, and below her tombstone (if you click on the picture, hopefully you will be able to read the text).
Jane was buried in Winchester Cathedral, one of the great medieval English cathedrals. Today's building was begun in the late eleventh century, on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church. Until the Reformation it was also a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Swithun, bishop of Winchester in the ninth century. To me it seems a very appropriate burial place for the quintessentially English Jane.

After visiting Jane we are going to abandon all literary pretensions and take a walk for the sheer pleasure of it. If you have ever read one of Elizabeth Goudge's cathedral city novels (or The Cathedral by Hugh Walpole) you will be familiar with the English cathedral close, a little town within a town where the cathedral staff and dignitaries lived - and in Winchester, still live. Behind the cathedral the close is a jumble of buildings of assorted dates, ranging from remnants of the medieval monastery, to beamed seventeenth century and Georgian houses. After strolling through we head out past the old bishop's palace to another ancient building still used for its original purpose - the almshouses of Saint Cross. Set up in 1130 to provide support for "thirteen poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely or not at all support themselves without other aid", the almshouses are still home to thirteen "Brothers". Apparently it is still possible to knock and ask for the "Wayfarer's Dole" - a piece of white bread and a cup of beer - but I'm not brave enough to try this! I'll settle for tea and cake in the cafe, once the refectory where hundred poor men were fed each day.

Fortified by the tea and cake, it is time to hit the royal trail. Winchester is King Alfred's city. I would love to have a literary link here, but I don't have any great books on the great Alfred to recommend. One of my favourite authors of children's historical fiction, Geoffrey Trease, wrote a book about him, but Mist Over Athelney has long been out of print and I haven't yet run across a copy. In my children's historical fiction collection I have a tatty paperback copy of The Namesake by C.Walter Hodge, another out of print story of Alfred, but I'm ashamed to say I have never read it. I should, as I have a soft spot of Alfred, who as the youngest of four brothers became king against all the odds. He succeeded in turning the tide against the Danish invaders who had swept across most of England, converted his enemy Guthrum to Christianity, set up an effective defensive system for his kingdom of Wessex, and even turned his hand to personally preparing translations of great Christian works from Latin to Old English. Judging by his biographer, Asser, he inspired real love and loyalty in those around him. Truly a great king, and Winchester quite rightly honours him with a statue in the city centre. (Ha! I just realised! King Alfred himself was an author so counts for my literary tour.)
Before leaving Winchester, we are going to drag our tired feet up the hill to the Great Hall, all that remains of Winchester Castle (Oliver Cromwell had the rest knocked down in the seventeenth century). Here we can find a reminder of one of the earliest great works of English literature, Sir Thomas Malory's version of the Arthurian legends. In the fourteenth century King Edward III founded the chivalric Order of the Garter and had his own version of King Arthur's Round Table made. It still hangs in the Great Hall, with the names of Arthur's knights painted round the edge. Your eyesight would need to be better than mine to make them out, though!

After all that, I for one am more than ready to eat. When we visited Winchester last summer, Tevye and I found a very nice Italian restaurant just round the corner from the Great Hall. Just what I need. Care to join me?

A Literary Tour: Day 3

Day 3: Keyhaven and Lymington (Elizabeth Goudge)

If I were to pick my top ten favourite books, there would be at least one from Elizabeth Goudge in there. I might cheat and include her trilogy about the Eliots of Damerosehay as one book. As with most of her writing these are truly heartwarming, with characters who make difficult but morally right choices and ultimately reap the benefits. All her books have a strong sense of place, drawing on memories of houses, towns and areas she has known and loved. In the Eliot trilogy - The Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace (US title: Pilgrim's Inn) and The Heart of the Family - that place is an old and beautiful house she calls "Damerosehay". The house that was the model for Damerosehay no longer exists, but the location does - the edge of the New Forest on the south coast of England, adjoining the salt marshes of Keyhaven. Elizabeth Goudge first visited the area as a schoolgirl and never forgot the impact it made on her. She describes it in her autobiography, The Joy of the Snow:

Somehow I was by myself at the edge of the sea, the others as non-existent as though the sea mist had swallowed them for ever. I do not know how I had managed to escape them but escaping was one of my few skills in those days. It was so still that the half-moons of water from the incoming tide moved as silently as shadows on the sand. The thinning mist half hid, half revealed the sea-marshes to my left. I was so awed that I could not move. I kept listening and watching but I could not hear anything, or see anything clearly. It was all hidden in the mist ... Keyhaven. The harbour and the old houses, the yachts at anchor and the circling gulls, the rough road through the marshes and the old cornfield that had sprung up by itself after a grain-ship had been wrecked there, Damerosehay and its garden, the oak trees and the ilex tree. It was all there with me in that moment that seemed out of time and all I knew about it was my sense of awe. I do not remember how I found the others or how they found me. For all I can remember I might be standing there still.

I once spent a few days at nearby Milford-on-Sea, but although I already knew and loved the books I didn't realise that it was so close to the setting for Damerosehay. Rather than exploring the coast we mostly headed inland so this is new territory for me. Although Elizabeth Goudge complained that much of the area had been ruined by "modern development" (no doubt worse since her day!) these pictures suggest there is enough wild seascape left to get a feel for what it must once have been. These days it is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and includes a bird reserve. Maybe we will be lucky and get a misty day to add to the effect - the sort of early morning mist that clears to blue skies and fluffy clouds.

From Keyhaven we can walk across the salt marshes to the little town of Lymington, another of Elizabeth Goudge's beloved places:

It was a little port always humming with activity about the harbour, but the streets of old houses that climbed above the harbour were, as I remember them, quiet streets. There was life in them but it did not seem to have changed much since the days when aristocratic refugees from the French Revolution made their home there.

Although it isn't mentioned in her autobiography, it doesn't take much detective work to recognise it as the setting for one of her children's books, I Saw Three Ships. The book even has a French refugee in it, so it just has to be Lymington. If you want a gentle Christmas read aloud for a girl aged around six to ten, this one is worth searching out. Lymington itself also looks well worth a visit.

Surely some of those pretty little shop fronts belong to tea shops or book shops. And wouldn't it be good to find a nice homely bed and breakfast for the night in one of these old streets to rest up before we set off on tomorrow's tour.

A Literary Tour: Day 4

Day 4: Chesil Beach, Dorset (John Meade Falkner)

From Lymington we travel west along the Dorset coast, through Christchurch, Bournemouth, Poole to Weymouth. If, like me, you like to know where you are, you can follow our route on this map. We are close to Thomas Hardy country, just north of Weymouth in and around Dorchester, but that isn't our destination. I confess, I just don't like Thomas Hardy. I find his novels depressing. From Weymouth we head a few miles further along the coast, following the line of Chesil Beach. I've been doing a little research and discovered that Chesil is a fairly unusual geological phenomenon known as a tombolo - a bar of pebble beach nearly twenty miles long acting as a barrier between the sea and a salt water lagoon behind, known as the Fleet. In the eighteenth century Chesil and the Fleet provided an ideal setting for smugglers aiming to avoid excise duty by bringing contraband wine and brandy from France. We have come here on the trail of one of my all time favourite books: Moonfleet, John Meade Falkner's classic story of Dorset smugglers. For older boys (or girls, come to that) it is a must read ... and if you haven't read it yourself, you have missed a pearl. It has all the adventure of Treasure Island, but also an element of self-sacrificing heroism. Every time I read the ending, I sob.

We often spend family holidays in Weymouth, so I easily recognised Chesil Beach as the setting for Moonfleet. I imagined that the village of Moonfleet itself was entirely fictional. It wasn't. While there is no village called Moonfleet, it was based on the village of Chickerell just inland from the East Fleet, and there is a real Moonfleet Church, clearly the one described in the book. Finding this on Google sent a shiver up my spine!

When we go into the little Church we read this sign on the wall:

The Old Church, Fleet
* Dedicated to the Holy Trinity and belonged to the Priory of Christ Church, Twynham, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
* This Chancel is all that remains of the old Church which was inundated in the great storm of 1824 when the Nave was wrecked.
* Memorial Brasses are in memory of Margaret Mohun, died 1603, mother of seventeen children, and Maximilian Mohun, died 1612. The family vault is under the Chancel floor.
* During the old smuggling days this vault is said to have been used by smugglers for the storage of wines, spirits and other contraband. A secret underground passage runs from this vault, which is supposed to have communicated with the Fleet Water.
* In 1824 a great tidal wave washed over the ridge of the Chesil Beach and over the Fleet Water and passed onwards, the water reaching a depth of about thirty feet at this point.
* This Church is no longer used for services as another one was built in 1829 about half a mile inland.
* Visitors are asked to respect this old building and to give a small donation towards Church expenses and repairs.
If you know Moonfleet you will know why seeing this makes me shiver. If not, then you need to read the book and find out. Here is the author's description of the Mohune vault, discovered by the main character John Trenchard from the underground passage:
Walls and roof were stone, and at one end was a staircase closed by a great flat stone at top - that same stone which I had often seen, with a ring in it, in the floor of the church above. All round the sides were stone shelves, with divisions between them like great bookcases, but instead of books there were the coffins of the Mohunes. Yet these lay only at the sides, and in the middle of the room was something very different, for here were stacked scores of casks, kegs, and runlets, from a storage butt that might hold thirty gallons down to a breaker that held only one. They were marked all of them in white paint on the end with figures and letters, that doubtless set forth the quality to those that understood.
From here on John's adventure in the vault goes bad ... and then worse ...

Chesil Beach was not only a haunt of smugglers, whose real stories were often as strange as fiction (if you want to know more, take a look at this website); it has also over the centuries been the graveyard of many ships. The picture here shows the wreck of the Madelaine Tristan, one of the last of the sailing ships, smashed on Chesil in 1930. Moonfleet reaches its finale with the story of a shipwreck:
There was a deafening noise as we came near the shore, the shrieking of the wind in the rigging, the crash of the combing seas, and over all the awful grinding roar of the under-tow sucking down the pebbles ...
The book ends with a description of Moonfleet Manor, and blow me down if there isn't a real life Moonfleet Manor. Another shiver! Is it the real Manor? Surely it has to be! Now a hotel, this is where we are spending the night regardless of expense. How could we resist?
The Manor House is a stately home again, with trim lawns and terraced balustrades, where we can sit and see the thin blue smoke hang above the village on summer evenings ... we never leave this our happy Moonfleet, being well content to see the dawn tipping the long cliff-line with gold, and the night walking in dew across the meadows; to watch the spring clothe the beech boughs with green, or the figs ripen on the southern wall: while behind all, is spread as a curtain the eternal sea, ever the same and ever changing.

A Literary Tour: Day 5

Day 5: Cornwall (T.H.White, Daphne du Maurier, Rumer Godden)

Today starts with a longer drive as we head south-west to Cornwall. Although I have no Cornish blood, part of my heart belongs in this wild, beautiful county that has never quite counted itself as part of England. During my childhood we had relatives there and spent many summer holidays in Cornwall, first in Padstow on the north coast, and later at St.Just, a few miles north of Land's End, the far south-west tip of Britain.

Cornwall has many literary connections and we will start our tour at another Arthurian site, Tintagel Castle. Like the Round Table in Winchester, the connection is more fantasy than reality, for Tintagel Castle was built by Richard, earl of Cornwall (brother of King Edward I) in the thirteenth century. The castle is spectacularly located on a rocky promontary climbing steeply from the sea, in two sections linked by a short causeway. The Cornish coast is, quite simply, stunning, with a succession of rocky coves and sandy bays. Add a ruined castle and it is close to perfection. Many authors have written versions of the story of King Arthur, but I have a special fondness for the most tongue in cheek one: The Sword in the Stone by T.H.White, a humorous telling of Arthur's boyhood. For a more substantial retelling of the Arthurian legends, I like Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

From Tintagel on the north coast we are going to drive south, skirting Bodmin Moor to the west. I am not a particular fan of Daphne du Maurier, but have read and enjoyed two or three of her books in the dim and distant past.One of these was Jamaica Inn, so we really ought to stop off at the Inn - maybe for a late lunch? Built in the eighteenth century as a coaching inn, it is still a pub and hotel.

After our break we can set off across the wilds of Bodmin Moor. Only a mile or two south of Jamaica Inn is Dozmary Pool, yet another Arthurian site. Legend has it that this is the lake into which Arthur's sword Excalibur was thrown as he lay dying.A little further south-west and we reach the area that was once the centre of the Cornish china clay industry. The literary connection here is one of my favourite authors, Rumer Godden. One of her lesser known books (sadly out of print) is set in this area. China Court is the story of a house built on the proceeds of Cornish clay and the family that lived there. I found it a few years ago by chance in a hotel library - I love it when hotels have an eclectic selection of books available for guests to read! We only stayed there a couple of nights, but it was long enough for me to finish the book. I've never seen it since and have forgotten the details of the plot, but I remember enjoying it thoroughly. The clay pits were not pretty, but in their day were vitally important to the Cornish economy. Today the area is being developed for leisure, with cycle and walking paths, and in one disused china clay pit the Eden Project. Built just a few years ago as a project for the Millenium, the centrepiece is two giant conservatories, or "biomes" - one with a tropical climate and one temperate - which together with the outdoor plants make up a spectacular botanic garden. I've yet to visit the Eden Project and I'm tempted to add an extra day to the tour just to fit this in - despite the lack of literary connections.

Today's tour is a busy one, but somewhere we need to fit in afternoon tea of Cornish splits (similar to scones, but with a lighter texture) and clotted cream. Tomorrow we will be going in search of the perfect Cornish pasty.

A Literary Tour: Day 6

Day 6: Cornwall (Winston Graham)

Today's tour is pure self-indulgence, an excuse to visit some of my very favourite places. In the mid 1970s the BBC serialised the Poldark books by Winston Graham. As a teenager I was utterly hooked on this family saga set in an eighteenth century Cornish tin mining community, and the TV series led me into reading the books. Before the series started I had already fallen in love with the ruined tin-mining landscape of Cornwall - the disused engine houses now open to the elements, the chimneys marking air shafts down to the tunnels below. Some are perched in impossible positions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And yes, sometimes the locations were truly impossible, and many miners lost their lives when the sea to inundated their workings. I hesitate to recommend the Poldark series as my criteria for good books in those days were rather different to those I use now, and it is so long since I read them that I do not remember any detail. (Note to self: Add Poldark to my reading list. Time to check these books out again!)

Although the books were set a little further north, much of the Poldark series was filmed in the Land's End peninsula. This is the remote area of Cornwall I love the best, so today we are going to explore this extreme edge of the British Isles. Our starting point is the small town of St.Just where my great-uncle was the Methodist minister until he died in 1976. Often I would spend part of the summer there and walk the mile or so to Cape Cornwall (left) where I would spend two or three hours sitting at the base of the mine chimney, watching the sea and reading a book. We will walk there by road, sit for a while at the top of the Cape to rest and enjoy the view, then walk back by the scenic route. We start with a section of the coastal path (it is possible to walk round the entire coast of Cornwall - how I would love to do that one day!) as far as Ballowal Barrow, a Bronze Age burial chamber. Then we turn in land and walk through the green Cot Valley - passing more mine workings as we go - and back to St.Just. We make our way to the bakers in the town square and invest in two Cornish pasties for lunch. I'm hopeful this shop is still there, as their pasties are some of the best I've ever tasted. Last time I visited, some fifteen years ago, they were still up to their old standard. Cornish pasties in Cornwall are in a different league to those bought anywhere else! We can sit to eat them in Plen an Gwary, a medieval amphitheatre adjoining the town square where miracle plays were performed regularly until the early 1600s.

From St.Just we drive across to Penzance (remember Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates?). A little further round the coast we come to St.Michael's Mount. My literary connection here is truly tenuous. Window seats for sitting and reading. This is my dream house. If money and present occupants were no object, this is where I would choose to live. A former Benedictine monastery (Henry VIII again!) it sits on top of its own little island. At the bottom are a miniscule village and equally tiny harbour. At low tide it is joined to the mainland by a causeway wide enough to drive across. At high tide it is cut off and can only be reached by boat. Best of all the house has its own private medieval chapel. It also has windows overlooking the bay ... with window seats. What more could anyone want in a house?

This evening we are going to the theatre. Not just any theatre, but the Minack Theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the sea - in Cornwall it sometimes seems that everywhere overlooks the sea. Even on a summer evening we need to go prepared for the weather with warm clothes, rugs and serious rain gear (no umbrellas as they block the view for other theatre goers!). I was impressed by the optimism of this Frequently Asked Question on the Minack's website:

Q. Is the theatre air-conditioned or heated?
A. The Minack is an open-air theatre. The temperature is dependant upon the weather!

In England rain is not considered a reason to cancel outdoor performances. I know this from experience, not from the Minack, but from "enjoying" outdoor classical concerts in torrential rain. The last of these was soggy despite waterproof jacket and trousers, golf umbrellas, and a waterproof groundsheet. Thunderstorms or gales might be considered a reason to call off a performance, but even then I wouldn't guarantee it. The element of meteorological risk adds spice to the anticipation of the performance. But hey! We are going to be lucky and get a beautiful summer's evening, with just a hint of cold breeze from the sea. Take a look at this year's programme and decide what performance you would like to see.

Tomorrow we will be leaving behind us the black and white flag of Cornwall - the cross of St.Piran, patron of Cornwall and tin miners - and heading back across the River Tamar to England proper.

A Literary Tour: Day 7

Day 7: Wells, Somerset (Elizabeth Goudge)

As we head back up through the West Country it is time to hit the Elizabeth Goudge trail again. This time we are visiting the setting for my favourite of her cathedral city books: A City of Bells. Although she changes the name, the story takes place in the city of her birth, Wells in Somerset, where her father was vice-principal and then principal of the Theological College. Wells is a small city dominated by its medieval cathedral, which is a gem.

Elizabeth Goudge was privileged to grow up literally in the shadow of the cathedral. The garden of the Principal's House:

... had something in it which few gardens can boast; a cathedral for one of its walls. Beside the Cathedral, under an archway, a gate opened into a small graveyard and from there another archway led into the cloisters. Whenever I liked I could run through the green garth to the cloisters, and I often did. I liked being there alone and gazing out through the arches at the central square of green grass that seemed to breathe out cool quietness as a well does.
She also had her own private route to the beautiful moated Bishop's Palace:
On the south of our garden a low wall separated us from a peaceful curve of water, a kind of lake, with flowers growing beside it, that stretched out like a friendly arm from the main waterway of the moat. Beside it was a green watery place that was then an extension of our garden, but I think is separated from it now. It was reached through a low gate just the right size for a child. ...The path that led through this wild green place ended at a door that led into the palace gardens, and we had been given a key of the door so that Nanny and I, and any visitors who might be staying with us, could go into the palace gardens whenever we liked.
After exploring the cathedral we can enjoy a leisurely stroll round the Bishop's Palace - still the official residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells - and Vicar's Close, a street of fourteenth century houses build to accommodate cathedral clergy.

After our stroll has given us an appetite we can go back to the cathedral. Tevye and I discovered many years ago that one of the hallmarks of Anglican cathedrals is that they are a good stopping point for lunch or afternoon tea. There are not that many places where you can eat for a reasonable price in medieval surroundings. It looks as though Wells Cathedral restaurant is no exception.

A Literary Tour: Day 8

Day 8: Bath (Jane Austen)

I make absolutely no excuses for visiting multiple locations connected with certain authors during our tour. I have already done it with Elizabeth Goudge; now it is the turn of Jane Austen. In any case, the stunningly beautiful city of Bath just has to be on our itinerary. Jane lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806, during its Georgian heyday. Mercifully, Bath has been protected from inappropriate development, and most of its Georgian buildings are intact. We can start at the Jane Austen Centre, a few doors away from the house Jane herself lived in.

Once our appetite for Jane and her surroundings is whetted (if it wasn't already!) we can spend the rest of the day exploring Bath. Not that one day will feel like enough as there is so much to see:

The Royal Crescent ...

The Roman Baths ...

The Assembly Rooms (so Jane Austen!) ...

Bath Abbey ...

Just look at that fan vaulted roof! Living stone. How on earth did they manage it with the limitations of medieval technology?

And there is more, but I'm afraid we are out of time. To restore us after the exertion of the day I suggest dinner in a very nice riverside bistro Tevye and I discovered the last time we went to Bath.