In Search of Alfred Lord Tennyson


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Pictures and Poems 5 : Flower in the Crannied Wall

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m looking for Tennyson, been looking for years. Started with Mr Whitney reading Crossing the Bar to a class, mostly bored, of nine year olds but I liked this sort of thing and went home by way of the library. Found the verse in the reference section (for some reason) and my junior library card wouldn’t let me loan from there; so I copied it out. That night learning it by heart.

And in another class…

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

Came a year or two later and I tried to get to whole thing. Testing myself as I pushed newspapers through doors on winter mornings while ducking cannons to right of me, cannons to left of me. Much later, while a Manchester student I got word my sister had died and I cried and had nowhere to go for it was in the early hours and no trains ran. She was seventeen, had barely lived and travelled little, if at all. She was the first person close to me who’d died. I felt I barely knew her. The darkness was huge. Grief came like a flood and I had only poetry that night. I turned to Tennyson and I read In Memoriam from A to Z. It took til dawn.

I envy not in any moods
         The captive void of noble rage,
         The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
         His license in the field of time,
         Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
         The heart that never plighted troth
         But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.


Later still I discovered Idylls of the King and tramped the West Country from Tintagel to Aller, From Queen’s Camel to Glastonbury Tor armed with legends. I’d loved the Arthur stories from a small boy but found the best telling in Tennyson. From Bedivere seeing the great brand Excalibur make lightenings in the moon as he finally flung the sword away to the mirror cracking from side to side in the tower of the Lady of Shalott, I was entranced.I’ve never wandered too closely to the man himself. From what I know I think I’d find him troublesome. He was demanding, divorced from reality and never washed. He had a band of loyal friends who let him be what he was and what he was was difficult ( and not a little smelly). My admiration is huge but its mostly for what he did rather than for who he was. I’d gladly invite Keats or Stevie Smith or Thomas Grey to my imaginary dinner party of poets. I think I’d pass on Tennyson. But he was a wild and captivating man to look at. The hanging locks, the grizzled beard, the face like a thousand crags and huge Ulster coats and a hat you could seek on the top of a crumpetty tree.

One of that group of friends was the artist George Frederick Watts and it was to him that the task fell of honouring the poet with a statue. Watts was in his 80s and never lived to see the statue unveiled. But what a wonderful job he did. Nine tenths of the glory of Lincoln cathedral (Once the tallest building in the world) is round the front. The back is magnificent too but is almost always caught in shadow. This is the less visited side, the quiet side, the gloomy side and this is where Tennyson can be found.

If you visit Lincoln (and you should!) enjoy the castle and the close and the amazing front and interior of the mighty church. But take a little time to wander in the shade and visit Tennyson, and his dog, and spend a little time contemplating the two most important subjects in anybody’s mind; those things that are known and understood and those things which are neither known nor understood. For millennia we have searched for truth and beauty, for understanding of our lives and world through religion and science. Answers (real answers) come rarely but the questions remain in every head and are seldom so well expressed as in the six lines of the poem that Watts captured in the towering reproduction of his friend.

Flower in the Crannied Wall 

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

And there, in the presence of one of the corniest rhymes in the history of English poetry is the answer to the question “Why are we here?” Put simply; to find out as much as we can.

Pictures and Poems : The Lake Isle of Innisfree


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The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B.Yeats

The poem is about a going back to something simpler, something purer, something more spiritually uplifting, something freeing, liberating. Three simple quatrains containing as much as I think it is possible to put into twelve simple lines of verse without losing the ease of expression. It’s like sitting by the side of the lake and seeing. At first just the water, the trees, the skies and eventually an entire landscape in all its fascinating detail. It’s a nature poem first and foremost but in this  each element contains its opposite. The longing for simplicity betrays social complexity; the yearning for the natural reveals a man-made present and the hope for spiritual renewal unearths the worms of unease.Here we have in miniature Ireland’s response to Thereau’s Walden. The desire to leave behind the urban sprawl (pavements grey), industrialisation and technological phenomenon of the modern world and to live in a hut. To provide for oneself through nature’s bounty supplemented by careful husbandry. The call of the pure is similar to that felt by the English Romantic poets a century before. That truth and beauty can be discovered through a return to nature. But what truth? What beauty?

In the first verse is the gratification of physical needs. That a simple wattle shelter to rest in and a garden with bean rows and bee hives is enough. It’s a rural idyl, a dream shared by many of us. In the second verse is the need for the spiritual renewal of the natural world. Like Walden Pond, the Lake Isle exists. It’s an uninhabited island in Lough Gill, County Sligo where Yeats spent many hours as a child. This return to the innocence of childhood in search of truth and spiritual renewal again links it with the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge. It find echoes through the twentieth century in the likes of Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) in his field dream stopping children from falling from the purity of innocence into the corruption that lies beyond puberty, in Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock where half a million are going “to camp out on the land and set (their) souls free”Whether Yeats would find peace and truth among vast crowds tuning in and dropping out is a moot point; but there is a political link. Here is a country which for centuries has been under the oppressive yoke of Great Britain finding an appetite to resist, to assert its independence and its sense of its own identity. Ireland had been looked down upon by its supposed colonial masters. The west of Ireland was a land of poverty, famine and despair. And yet it is to here that the poet wishes to escape to find fulfilment and to discover who he really is. The poet asserts that far from its portrayal, Sligo and the West is a  place from which to build a nation. The poem is political. The first three words are the language of revolution and Yeats wants nothing less. “I will arise”. Here is what we are fighting for and where I go I’d like you to follow. Yeats is creating a new vision of Ireland wrought out of its rich tradition of story and song.

The yearning for freedom and the sense of liberation in the poem still draws. I’ve always been a revolutionary in spirit; though often a lazy one. Yeats’ verses drew me to Ireland by the old ways; I went on a bicycle and I went slowly. Not for me the modern day trappings of the velocipede: the stretch knickers and go faster logos and head-down-arse-up carbon fibre sleekness. My bicycle was a quarter century old and creaked and groaned. It spent as long resting on its side as I sketched on some grassy hummock or fumbled with words in a notebook or took the occasional photograph. I only had a cheap camera and feared the memory card would fill up if I took too many (it never crossed my mind that I could buy a new card). I was drawn to Sligo and when I got there I slowed down still further. I had a copy of Selected poems in my bag and I found a different vantage point to read each one. Seldom has poetry gained more meaning for the hungry student than in those Sligo days.

The area is dominated by the most astonishing mountain I think I’ve seen. Benbulbin might not be the highest but it matches most for history and legend and its shadow is the chosen resting place for the poet.

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

I pedalled slowly, stopping often and feeding on the views, the skies, the sounds, the mountains, the sea, Yeats’ grave. Lough Gill was busy with coach loads from Surrey when I got there. It didn’t matter much. It’s only one lake among hundreds out in the west. I went in search of an understanding and think I got something of it. I found a quiet place to brew tea and recite a poem I’d learnt by heart years earlier but had never learnt so well.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats


Afterthought: The simplicity of the poem’s music is deceptive. Many people have set the words to music but I’m yet to hear a version that catches the true rhythms of the piece. 

Picture and Poems : My Mother Brought Flowers

My Mother Brought Us Flowers by Simon JohnsonA simple post.

My mother had a great passion for gardens. We moved at regular intervals by which time she had transformed a drab patch of ground into a mass of blending colours. Each time, on the day before the furniture van pulled up, she’d go round with spade and trowel. She’d dig out bits of plants and stuff them, with a handful of soil, into polythene bags and pack them in cardboard boxes. The gardens were so profuse you couldn’t tell where she’d been but this raiding of one fed the next. By the time she died, over twenty years ago, she had stocked and nurtured half a dozen great gardens. In her later years she started passing on the same diggings, propagations, cuttings, splittings to us. Her gardens disseminated across the country from Thurso to Exeter. About a third of the plants in my garden are directly from hers’. She created wonderful displays which still live on and will continue to do so as long as I can wield a fork and hopefully into the next generation.

My Mother Brought Us Flowers

My mother brought flowers to the marriage.

Just touches of colour against the brick and grey

Of Barrow backyard where she grew borage

Blue and soon red geraniums display.

With baby two approaching they stir

To low road cottage where soft rain falls

On banksides. She plants roses round the door

And trains honeysuckle on whitewashed walls.Each garden left behind as move by move

Took Scotland’s northern shore and Kirby moor

She cast wide swathes of lilac, pinks and night

Scented stocks. Each garth feeding next refrain

With splits, cuttings, roots which she passed on

To us. She’s been long gone, her flowers still remain.

Simon Johnson


Pictures and Poems : Pike by Ted Hughes


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“...lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them”

The aim of these posts is to try to put myself into the poem, into the mind of the poet and to do the same in reverse: to put the poem into my mind so I become a part of it and it a part of me (an essential thing if I’m going to get to know it). I started storing poems and bits of poems in my head at a very young age and I continue it to this day. I’m not sure it’s ever helped me in my careers or earned me a single penny. But it has been, and continues to be, enriching.One way of doing it is to put yourself in the footprints of the poet and go to the place that inspired the verse and see if something rubs off. Some are famous; Lulworth Cove for John Keats’ Bright Star, Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, St Giles Church (and of course churchyard), Stoke Poges for Gray’s Elegy, Westminster Bridge as captured by Wordsworth in September 1802. I’d like to visit some or all or those but am keen to add a few lesser known spots. Ted Hughes is well enough known and his poem ‘Pike’ is still an occasional visitor to English classrooms. Until I listened to poet Steve Ely and read Ian MacMillan’s book where Ely takes him to the very place, I’d always presumed it was set somewhere in the Calder Valley. Hughes was always described as coming from Mytholmroyd (pronounced my-them-royd). It took Ely to point out that his formative years were spent among the pits and engine sheds of South Yorkshire. The clues are in the verses. It says the pool is 50 yards across and next to a monastery. Not many of either up Calderdale.

So it’s three poets that have brought me to Roche Abbey with a sandwich, a can of Ben Shaw’s Yorkshire lemonade and a very creased edition of Ted Hughes 1960 volume, Lupercal which I bought after being inspired by my English teacher Colin Simpson in 1974. I mention my English teacher as both Ely and Macmillan credit their love of Hughes to inspiring teachers.  And Hughes himself took up writing verse after his teacher, John Fisher, at Mexborough Grammar School inspired and encouraged him. It’s all about lighting lamps without diminishing your own.I want to find Laughton Pond. The dapper hipster in the abbey shop has never heard of it and there’s no-one else around so I make my own way. Get to within (what I later discover to be) 10 yards of the pond, take a wrong turning and head off entirely in the wrong direction. There is a pleasure in getting lost, in going wrong, that often leads to discoveries, but I’m keen to reach my goal so I ask a man who seems the part. Camouflage pants, heavy boots, olive green tee shirt and a fine arm of the tattooist’s art. He’s even got a dog with him. South Yorkshire mining towns are a mix of (once) industrial urban, and the surrounding fields. The grim and the glorious. Many who spent their working lives hundreds of feet below ground loved to spend as much of the rest as they could in the open air. The pits have long gone but the tradition continues. No sweet, liberal-minded conservationists here. They’d often have a gun, a jack russell or a couple of lurchers and a set of nets and snare wire. They knew the countryside through hunting in it. They know their way around. But they might not want to share the knowledge with one who started out that way but has grown a little bit Greenpeace, a little bit academic, a little bit like the sort of nonce who wanders around looking for the exact spot where a poet sat and fished seventy or more years ago. He sends me altogether the wrong way. But not out of spite or some secret pleasure in wasting my time. He knows another pond and thinks this is what I’m looking for. The other pond turns out to be two miles away. If only I’d thought to add a map to my packed lunch.I find it, the other pond that is. It takes an hour or so because I get distracted; make a few detours, find myself among more butterflies than I’ve seen since my childhood, a trespass into private woodland, some further advice from a wobbly cyclist with a spliff to guarantee the wrong direction, the avoidance of a bull and the every now and then presence of buzzards soaring, mewing and screaming. By the time I get back to the abbey I’m fair tuckered. The hipster has now been joined by a more grounded mate.

“Oh aye, it’s just round the back here. Left out of the door and left again. You’ll be there in two minutes.

I don’t begrudge the wrong turnings, the altogether out of the way and the weary legs. More learning has  taken place through mistakes than by jumping straight to the right answer. And the pond is worth it. Almost glassy still at first and then blubbed with rising bubbles, the scatter of flies dancing on the surface, some ducks and perfect peace. Just the sound of the waterfall that marks the outflow, a slow swish of breeze in the trees and intermittent birdsong.

I read the poem. Not once but three times and realise that Hughes has caught not just the pike but the whole pond and every tree and reed and sky and passing cloud.

I sit and listen and watch. No water lilies from where I am, no amber caverns of weed but it can’t have changed much since 1943. As I start on my sandwich it strikes me that it was during the war when the 13 year old Hughes sat here and fished. I feel the years fall away. No ghosts here but a superb sense of presence both above and below the surface. I’m undisturbed for half an hour when a dog walker goes by. A sturdy youth in a Spanish football jersey with a puppy that will grow up to scare a few. He liked the idea of the pond being “as deep as England” but he hadn’t heard of Hughes. “Mind you” he added, “I’m not from Maltby, I live in Hooton Levitt.”

Pike by Ted Hughes

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
They dance on the surface among the flies.

Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,
Over a bed of emerald, silhouette
Of submarine delicacy and horror.
A hundred feet long in their world.

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads-
Gloom of their stillness:
Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards.
Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds

The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed at this date:
A life subdued to its instrument;
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

Three we kept behind glass,
Jungled in weed: three inches, four,
And four and a half: fed fry to them –
Suddenly there were two. Finally one

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.
And indeed they spare nobody.
Two, six pounds each, over two feet long
High and dry and dead in the willow-herb –

One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet:
The outside eye stared: as a vice locks –
The same iron in this eye
Though its film shrank in death.

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them –

Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished
With the hair frozen on my head
For what might move, for what eye might move.
The still splashes on the dark pond,

Owls hushing the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed,
That rose slowly toward me, watching.

Pictures and Poems : Anne Brontë, The Narrow Way



“But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.”

Above the harbour at Scarborough, between the castle and the ancient church is a small graveyard much visited for the sake of a single grave. That of Anne Brontë. Visitors are divided between pilgrims and passers by. Some have read her novels and admire her as being the third great novelist from a remarkable family. Many enjoy a few minutes repose and the inspiring views out over the south bay and beyond along the Yorkshire cliffs and headlands towards Bempton, unaware of just why the grave is marked as special.

I like to sit there. If you go in the evening there’s a better than even chance that you’ll have the place to yourself. I occasionally converse with the incumbent of the grave. Silently of course; I like to keep my madness to myself. And the conversations are not all one-way. It’s a good place to feel poetic. Scarborough is a handsome town and there is nowhere better to appreciate its charms. Reaching the spot isn’t easy though. From whichever direction you come its a haul. The best way is straight up from the harbour: a mix of historic ginnels, lanes and handsome terraces. Steep rows rising up literally through Paradise (the name of the hill just below the churchyard). A few post war developments don’t tick any beauty boxes and mark areas bombed in the first world war. Scarborough, along with Hartlepool, was the unlikely first victim of enemy shelling. You have to earn your rest, which is one of the messages hidden in the metaphors of the poem. Pleasure can come with pain, kindness with hurt, love with betrayal, heaven (whatever that means to you) is often attained through hardship; restful bliss through endurance. It’s a hell of a place to contemplate poetic philosophy.

The place caused controversy in 2010 when the church made the lower half of the graveyard into a pay and display car park. Richard Wilcocks of the Brontë Society was asked his opinion: “Car parking in church grounds and on reclaimed churchyards will always be controversial, and I would not wish to comment on the rights and wrongs of the church allowing their land to be used in this way, but would certainly respect that personal opinions will be varied.” It could be used as a starting point on using words to say nothing and demonstrates a faux diplomacy I don’t associate with any of the Brontë sisters.

And being able to drive to the grave takes away the effort required to fully enjoy the calm and the view. It’s the rose without the thorn.

As a footnote I might add that the grave is now largely eroded to the point whereby you can no longer read the inscription. A plaque has been placed there to remedy this. Very few words were used. Nothing about her achievements in poetry and novel writing or a short career in teaching.

“Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd P Brontë, incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died aged 28, May 28th 1849.”

No, just who her father was and the date she died and her age, which the stone carver got wrong. She was 29. I’ve lived exactly twice as long and done so much less. I may not be able to write like her (few can) but I can read and appreciate the wonder in her poetry, in Agnes Grey and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall. She helped establish a feminist literature which examines oppression and isolation and the sacrifices that are made to survive and pursue happiness. Few regard her as being as great as her sisters (incidentally Charlotte chose this resting place for Anne) but Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights set the bar very high. I think she matches them. There were truly three great writers in that family.

Sitting near her grave on a summer’s evening as the lights begin to glow below in the old town is a good place to contemplate her thoughts.

The Narrow Way

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou shouldst stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.

It is the only road
Unto the realms of joy;
But he who seeks that blest abode
Must all his powers employ.

Bright hopes and pure delights
Upon his course may beam,
And there, amid the sternest heights
The sweetest flowerets gleam.

On all her breezes borne,
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Arm—arm thee for the fight!
Cast useless loads away;
Watch through the darkest hours of night,
Toil through the hottest day.

Crush pride into the dust,
Or thou must needs be slack;
And trample down rebellious lust,
Or it will hold thee back.

Seek not thy honor here;
Waive pleasure and renown;
The world’s dread scoff undaunted bear,
And face its deadliest frown.

To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure;

Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight;
What matter who should whisper blame,
Or who should scorn or slight?

What matter, if thy God approve,
And if, within thy breast,
Thou feel the comfort of His love,
The earnest of His rest?

Twelfth Night : July 2013

Midsummer Madness Theatre Company

July 2013

Some shots from rehearsal and set-up.

I have a few photographs from Midsummer Madness’ Twelfth Night from a few years ago. The archivist in me says I should use this blog to collect as complete a record as I can of our annual Shakespeare family picnics by the Avon. We’ve actually been going to watch Shakespeare plays in Stratford since 1976 but the RSC people aren’t that keen on you taking photographs of their plays so I settle for a pic or two of the free festival performances outside in The Dell: especially those with friends and family involved. The family picnics now rank with Christmas as occasions for the clan to come together. Actually its the only event that regularly attracts  from both branches of the family. Something that is often reserved for weddings elsewhere. We’ve been doing it for years now and not a single fight has broken out.

These are all of the set-up and last minute rehearsals. If memory serves this was not only an enjoyable performance but also a brave one with several last minute changes of cast and actors learning lines and moves in only a few days. The sun shines and crowds gather. It’s delightful to see the variety of people who are attracted to these plays; a far wider spectrum than you’ll find in the main houses. I like those who come across a play as they do their tourist stroll, decide to watch for a minute or two and are still there an hour later.

Twelfth Night in the Dell (Part Two)

Sun And Moon Theatre in Stratford on Avon

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (Illustrated and Slightly Abridged)


And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium.


If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.


I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, Conceal me what I am, and be my aid For such disguise as haply shall become The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke:


If the duke continue these favours towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced: he hath known you but three days, and already you are no stranger.


What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to life.


By my troth, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier o’ nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.


By my troth, I would not undertake her in this company. Is that the meaning of ‘accost’?


Cesario, Thou know’st no less but all; I have unclasp’d To thee the book even of my secret soul: Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her; Be not denied access, stand at her doors, And tell them, there thy fixed foot shall grow Till thou have audience.


She’ll none o’ the count: she’ll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit; I have heard her swear’t. Tut, there’s life in’t, man.


Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.

It is the more like to be feigned: I pray you, keep it in. I heard you were saucy at my gates, and allowed your approach rather to wonder at you than to hear you.

‘Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on: Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive, If you will lead these graces to the grave And leave the world no copy.

Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her! She made good view of me; indeed, so much, That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue, For she did speak in starts distractedly. She loves me, sure

Fare ye well at once: my bosom is full of kindness, and I am yet so near the manners of my mother, that upon the least occasion more mine eyes will tell tales of me. I am bound to the Count Orsino’s court: farewell.

Nay, my troth, I know not: but I know, to be up late is to be up late.

A false conclusion: I hate it as an unfilled can. To be up after midnight and to go to bed then, is early: so that to go to bed after midnight is to go to bed betimes. Does not our life consist of the four elements?

What is love? ’tis not hereafter; Present mirth hath present laughter; What’s to come is still unsure: In delay there lies no plenty; Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Out o’ tune, sir: ye lie. Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Mistress Mary, if you prized my lady’s favour at any thing more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule: she shall know of it, by this hand.

Give me some music. Now, good morrow, friends. Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song, That old and antique song we heard last night: Methought it did relieve my passion much, More than light airs and recollected terms Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times: Come, but one verse.

Come away, come away, death, And in sad cypress let me be laid; Fly away, fly away breath; I am slain by a fair cruel maid. My shroud of white, stuck all with yew, O, prepare it! My part of death, no one so true Did share it. Not a flower, not a flower sweet On my black coffin let there be strown; Not a friend, not a friend greet My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown: A thousand thousand sighs to save, Lay me, O, where Sad true lover never find my grave, To weep there!

‘Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once told me she did affect me: and I have heard herself come thus near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion. Besides, she uses me with a more exalted respect than any one else that follows her. What should I think on’t?

This wins him, liver and all.

I could marry this wench for this device.

Why, then, methinks ’tis time to smile again. O, world, how apt the poor are to be proud! If one should be a prey, how much the better To fall before the lion than the wolf!

Why, then, build me thy fortunes upon the basis of valour. Challenge me the count’s youth to fight with him; hurt him in eleven places: my niece shall take note of it; and assure thyself, there is no love-broker in the world can more prevail in man’s commendation with woman than report of valour.

Why appear you with this ridiculous boldness before my lady?

A blank, my lord. She never told her love, But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought, And with a green and yellow melancholy She sat like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? We men may say more, swear more: but indeed Our shows are more than will; for still we prove Much in our vows, but little in our love.

Sad, lady! I could be sad: this does make some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering; but what of that? if it please the eye of one, it is with me as the very true sonnet is, ‘Please one, and please all.’

Nay, if you be an undertaker, I am for you.

One, sir, that for his love dares yet do more Than you have heard him brag to you he will.

I shall be much bound to you for’t: I am one that had rather go with sir priest than sir knight: I care not who knows so much of my mettle.

Antonio, I arrest thee at the suit of Count Orsino.

Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged: good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad: they have laid me here in hideous darkness.

Go with me to my house, And hear thou there how many fruitless pranks This ruffian hath botch’d up, that thou thereby Mayst smile at this: thou shalt not choose but go: Do not deny. Beshrew his soul for me, He started one poor heart of mine in thee.

This is the air; that is the glorious sun; This pearl she gave me, I do feel’t and see’t; And though ’tis wonder that enwraps me thus, Yet ’tis not madness.

What would my lord, but that he may not have, Wherein Olivia may seem serviceable? Cesario, you do not keep promise with me.

OLIVIA Where goes Cesario? VIOLA After him I love More than I love these eyes, more than my life, More, by all mores, than e’er I shall love wife. If I do feign, you witnesses above Punish my life for tainting of my love!

A contract of eternal bond of love, Confirm’d by mutual joinder of your hands, Attested by the holy close of lips, Strengthen’d by interchangement of your rings; And all the ceremony of this compact Seal’d in my function, by my testimony: Since when, my watch hath told me, toward my grave I have travell’d but two hours.

He has broke my head across and has given Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb too: for the love of God, your help! I had rather than forty pound I were at home.

That’s all one: has hurt me, and there’s the end on’t. Sot, didst see Dick surgeon, sot?

So comes it, lady, you have been mistook: But nature to her bias drew in that. You would have been contracted to a maid; Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived, You are betroth’d both to a maid and man.

Look then to be well edified when the fool delivers the madman.


A great while ago the world begun, With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Sun and Moon Theatre Twelfth Night 2017. Clockwise from back left: George Bradley, Jessica Holyoake, Chelsea Marie with Dotty the Shakespeare Spaniel, Richard Knox, Lizi Bennett, Sam Pike, Melissa Barrett, David Johnson and Mike Gilpin. And we’ll strive to please you every day! Well done all and thank you for a wonderful performance.


Twelfth Night : Sun and Moon Theatre

The Dell Stratford on Avon 18th June 2017

The sun beat down on the hottest day in Stratford since 1976. Sun and Moon’s Twelfth Night drew a crowd of a couple of hundred people and held them. This is a wonderful play. It’s dark and light, fast and furious and slow and tender. If performed well there is a full palette of emotion on show. It was performed very well! Twice!! This audience laughed, fell silent, sang along, engaged and even shed a quiet tear or two. A wonderful afternoon on the banks of the Avon in one of the best theatrical settings in the world. I love this play and I loved this production.

David Johnson as Sebastian. This is as strong a Sebastian as I have seen contrasting impressively and appropriately with his characterisation of Sir Andrew. The cameo where he fights as both characters just off stage is a master-class in slapstick and comic timing.

Sam Pike as Sir Toby Belch. This is an armoured car of a performance. Sir Toby apparently has no concern for who he hurts and what gets in his way as he sets out to squeeze all the pleasure from life that he can. His actions and his ultimate vulnerability are cleverly shaken when he receives bad news from the war.

Mike Gilpin as Feste. Here is a subtle and clever performance of a subtle and clever character. Feste, like other supposed fools in Shakespeare is actually the sharpest eyed of them all. Through a poetic turn of phrase, a fine singing voice (and guitar playing) we are charmed by the clown and allow him to guide us through the inter-weaving plots of the play.

Jessica Holyoake as Maria and Sam Pike as Sir Toby. The carefully underplayed tenderness between these two adds greatly to the effectiveness of the more raucous scenes. Maria is a main driving force of the action and is played with a carefully balanced mix of authority, deference and rebellion. A fine performance.

Chelsea Marie as Olivia and Melissa Barrett as Viola. Here are two wonderfully contrasting performances. The complexity of their relationship and its untangling is developed wonderfully. Their scenes together are highlights of the production.

George Bradley as Antonio. Antonio is sometimes reduced to something of a theatrical device to move the plot forward. Not here. George Bradley gives him an understanding of the complicated politics of Illyria and a deep ambiguity of his dilemma of being caught between his own safety and the obligations of right and wrong over Sebastian. This Antonio acts as a moral arbiter for the play. A deeply sympathetic performance.

David Johnson with Dotty. Sir Andrew is everybody’s victim. Dotty gives him someone he can rely on not to dupe him or rob him or make a fool of him. Everyone deserves to be adored at least once.

Richard Knox as Malvolio and Chelsea Marie as Olivia. This is one of my favourite Malvolios. Here we retain a sympathy for the victim of the play’s nastiest practical joke while understanding entirely why the rest of the household gang up on him. This is a clever performance making Malvolio both a figure of fun (and an entertaining one at that) and as someone whose pain we share. A good Malvolio requires considerable range. This is a very good Malvolio.

Chelsea Marie as Olivia. In her first scene Olivia needs to rebuke and be rebuked by her fool, exercise authority over her household, receive an unwanted messenger from the duke and to transform from a woman in mourning for her brother into someone rapidly falling in love. It’s quite an ask but Chelsea Marie performs it faultlessly. This is a warm, caring and very beautiful Olivia. A memorable performance.


Lizi Bennett has perhaps the hardest job of all playing various roles from Curio to the Officer who arrests Antonio as well as adding accomplished violin playing and lovely harmony singing. The music adds enormously to the enjoyment of the play and I for one would like to see (and hear) more of it. Few companies of this scale have such accomplished musicians who also know how to act.


The success and failure of any production of Twelfth Night rests in the breeches role and in Melissa Barrett Sun and Moon have a fabulous Viola. Acting is done as much in what is not said as it is in the fluent and musical delivery of some of Shakespeare’s best lines. This Viola expressed complicated emotions in every word and every pause. Brilliant.



Full ensemble harmony singing and playing in an idyllic setting. What a way to end the play. The sun it shineth every day. This production travels to Barnstable, Paignton, Exeter, Bristol and other venues Check out Sun and Moon. This is a performance worth seeing. Shakespeare at its most meaningful and enjoyable.

Shane Part 4 (The Novel)

Short Review of the Novel

Shane by Jack Schaefer

How many films are better than the book? Rebecca perhaps? Or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Undoubtedly good films but the books set the bar pretty high. In general I’m not sure that novels make good movies and comparing the film adaptation with the original book is fraught with difficulties and contradictions. I’m talking about good books here. I’m sure film makers can and have improved on many a lesser tome. I liked Love Story on screen and struggled with it in paperback form. There is a good case for saying that Peter Jackson gave a dimension to Lord of the Rings which appealed to those who didn’t much like the books (self included, but then I’d had enough of the films after episode 2). I’ll leave it there. I’ve opened the discussion and will continue it with friends and family for some time to come. I’ll state here that the movie Shane is better than the book. But then Shane is just about the best western ever made and it dazzles with visual riches. The book is pretty darned good though. And a major reason why the film is so good is that the book is so good. Most of the key scenes, moments, inferences and viewpoints are there between the covers. Like No Country For Old Men (film is good, book is better), the film parallels the book almost page for page and lasts about as long in both media. Actually the book is better than very good. It does so much and in a language entirely suited to its pulp fiction genre and audience. I was going to give it 4 stars and then I couldn’t think why I’d take a star away.hqdefault

Nevertheless the film is still better.



Emulating Auntie


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First Published a while back (Dec 2016). I’ve been meaning to do another food blog ever since but have never got round to it.

I do, however, continue to take eating very seriously.


Mostly Concerning Food

Bumper Christmas Edition (Without any Christmas Food)

I like looking at fancy food and love even more being taken to a decent restaurant or two to enjoy something complicated made with great precision and skill. I’m incredibly impressed when fellow bloggers are able to emulate these recipes and even come up with a few of their own. But I don’t often cook this way myself. This diary is essentially a record of how I try to emulate the good working-class cook of the 1920s and 30s. My cooking idols are my late mother and her three formidable sisters. They were brought up on a smallholding in North Staffordshire and all learnt their crafts around the scrubbed wooden table in the tiny kitchen. (The house is still there, has been extended to double the size but it still baffles how a family of seven could have lived there on the proceeds of a few acres and a handful of cows).

They went their own ways before the war but to visit an auntie was to be immediately at home. The gardens bloomed with the same cottage flowers in huge swathes of contrasting colours, the decor was basic but the ornaments were all highly polished. A sepia print or two of the Lakeland hill farmers my grandmother was descended from and a photograph of a fine house near Kendal where the younger sisters were taken in after the early death of my grandfather. My Auntie Marie used to say that my grandmother’s greatest achievement was keeping her girls out of service.

The kitchen was always the active heart of the house. Always a fresh smell of baking (they all prided themselves on having a slice of freshly baked cake for any unexpected visitor), a large pan of soup was often on the go and, when it came to mealtimes, the portions would do justice to a banquet. You were never stinted with one of this sisterhood. Roasts, stews, cold collation, salads, pickles, jams, jellies and marmalades; it mattered not a jot if you were with Bunt, Marie, Mac or Mum. Rarely fancy (a baked Alaska was talked about for months afterwards), occasionally original, always tasty, always plenteous and always homemade. I veer into dishes they’d never heard of in the old homestead but the central core of my cooking is a conscious attempt to keep this tradition alive. I don’t know how long this blog will survive but while it does it is, in large part, a record and celebration of what poorer people who liked their food were eating in times gone by.dsc_0077More and more of my time is spent on the computer. Working late into the night can be hungry work. A decent midnight feast helps. Cheese and crackers are an almost perfect combination but cheese and Christmas cake are even better. Should be Lancashire but you can’t always get good Lancashire cheese in supermarkets. Hawes Wensleydale is a close second. Here I’ve had to put up with a strong cheddar.dsc_0079Ah, Jaquest. By far the best small food producer in this whole region. I’ve always sworn by kippers from Fortunes of Whitby but these match them for deep smokey flavour. (And they save a long trip to the coast). I’m still arguing with myself as to whether they are best grilled or poached. I don’t think there’s a lot in it taste-wise, or texture wise, but I think the bones come out easier if you’ve poached them.dsc_0081My mother taught me how to poach an egg. I’ve never come across anyone who can do it as well as either of us. We never had asparagus as children. It was far too expensive.dsc_0082Supermarket pastrami is very much the weak link here. Happiness is a baked potato, a sprinkle of salt, butter and a big pile of grated cheese. This is from Jaquest. Cave-aged cheddar bought in a proper sized piece. Jolly waited patiently under the table and was rewarded with the pastrami.dsc_0083A handful of rocket helps no end; taste, texture and visually.dsc_0084Apple pie fresh out of the oven.dsc_0085Shortly afterwards.dsc_0087Happiness has many forms.dsc_0088Fishcakes with a runny cheese sauce centre tempted me when in Lidl. Not bad. Not worth travelling for though.dsc_0089Good black pudding (Scottish…can’t remember the firm) with lightly pan-fried scallops on toast. My aunties didn’t often cook with scallops.dsc_0091I’ve acquired a hand peeler that cuts carrots into thing spaghetti type ribbons. Blooming wonderful in a stir-fry.dsc_0097Black pudding, fried eggs and brown bread and butter. Why don’t more hotels and B&Bs offer stuff like this instead of the inevitable “full English”. Less on the plate and tastier please Mr hotel keeper!dsc_0098My favourite easy meal. Toasted cheese and tomatoes. Brilliant for late night working.dsc_0100A handful of well-drained spinach adds enormously to a piece of poached smoked haddock.dsc_0101A simple long grain rice chicken risotto. Doesn’t need the chicken. Spinach, peas and peppers have enough flavour between them.dsc_0103A good sized fillet of line-caught wild Salmon on lightly cooked spinach and granary bread and butter. Just looking at that and remembering is going to require a pause and a trip to the kitchen. I don’t often get hungry writing these but I am hungry now. Given the choice, always choose the wild over farmed salmon. For so many reasons.dsc_0104I could, and have, described so many foods as happiness on a plate but the true holder of this title in England is shepherd’s pie.dsc_0106I married someone who put baked beans between the meat layer and the tatties. In this one I’ve stirred some spinach into the beef. It made a huge difference to flavour and made it much moister.dsc_0110Another of my attempts at scones. The current Mrs Johnson does them so much better than me. It’s a case, along with Yorkshire puddings, of some people being blessed by the cooking angels. These aren’t bad but not a patch on T’s.dsc_0112Spaghetti with aubergine in a tomato sauce. I’m a late convert to the aubergine. I blame writers of seventies cookbooks. We got ten years of bad advice and it put a lot of people off.dsc_0115Pan-fried goose breast with a plate full of the vegetables you’d get round my aunties. You’d probably get a good dollop of gooseberry jam as well.dsc_0116This was Sunday tea at our house. Most of it would have come from the garden in summer (just as it does now…the gardening genes have been passed on as well. Many of my own plants were taken as splits and cuttings from my mother’s garden).dsc_0117A good pork pie is a good pork pie. A bad pork pie isn’t worth eating.dsc_0119Poached eggs, poached smoked haddock. A perfect combination.dsc_0120Cold collation with Jaquest’s award-winning cured pork. It is only one of many prize-winning (and we’re talking national competition here) products from this wonderful shop. If you’re anywhere close to Bolsover call in. I’m not sure if they do mail order. They’ve got a website though. You should be able to find it. Not many shops called Jaquest in the Bolsover area!dsc_0123 dsc_0126Like many, I can truthfully quote Oscar Wilde and say that I can resist anything except temptation. In the run-up to Christmas, chocolate biscuits are cheap, plentiful and very good. In my childhood, we’d very rarely see them, and if we did we’d get one, maybe two. I confess to being a complete pig for anything that was rationed (in our family…I’m a little too young to remember wartime rationing) as a child.dsc_0127A pan full of spicy “Wagamama” type chicken noodle soup with peppers, chillis, bok choi, mushrooms and, in this instance, because I didn’t have any noodles, orzo. (pasta grains…looks like big rice)dsc_0130 dsc_0131A working lunch from the depths of the freezer. Sometimes I fancy what used to be called convenience food. Frozen Bird’s Eye fish portions with oven chips. 99% of our food as children was prepared in our kitchen. Sometimes we craved the stuff we saw advertised on the telly. Mum made it all herself because she could, because it tasted better, because she knew what was in it and, having 7 children and limited “housekeeping”, it was a lot cheaper.dsc_0134Take a chicken fillet, lay it on a layer of spinach on puff pastry. Fasten it into a pasty with a layer of fried mushrooms on top. Bake for about 40 minutes and serve with couscous, green beans and a great deal of pleasure. I suppose its a sort of chicken Wellington. Whatever it was, it was blooming lovely.dsc_0135There must have been a lot of those cheese sauce fish cakes. I was glad to see the back of them.dsc_0136We no longer have a fishmonger in the village but we do have a travelling fish van that parks up every Thursday morning. It’s quite a treat to see just how fast the lady can dress a crab. £3.95 and done before your eyes. Fabulous.dsc_0138A simple beef stir-fry.dsc_0144If you buy Jaquest’s venison salami you are in for a treat of flavour. I can think of few foods that contain quite as much taste bud stimulation per gram as this. Truffles maybe. There is a skill to learning how to slice it. It’s worth mastering.dsc_0147It’s too flavoursome to have on its own. With some good cream cheese (anything except Philadelphia) on blinis is good. The smoked salmon is also Jaquest and is as good as you can get. The out of focus ‘thing’ at the back of the photograph is a lemon. Honest!dsc_0153De-boned roast shoulder of lamb.dsc_0154With mint sauce.dsc_0155Jaquest own dry cured unsmoked bacon with their smoked Halloumi cheese.dsc_0157Makes a serious bacon sandwich.dsc_0159 dsc_0160Pasta is great. A few vegetables, some cream, some spaghetti. Quality food in 20 minutes.dsc_0161More from Jaquest. These are simple potato fish cakes made with generous amounts of their hot smoked salmon. You’ll have to believe me (and I don’t often lie) just how good these are. I gave some to Steven and he agreed. And Steven never lies.dsc_0162 dsc_0163Cream of celeriac soup.dsc_0169That’s the full piece of cave-aged cheddar I got from Jaquest. If you ever wish you could find food that tastes as good as you remember it from the fifties and sixties I seriously recommend you pay them a visit. This is wonderful cheese. The cold meat was not bad either. That was from M&S.dsc_0180This was my attempt to try to make a proper Vesta curry using real ingredients. Anyone who remembers Vesta curries will realise that this is a contradiction in terms. The only spice I used was medium curry powder and the sauce is largely a packet of passata. It tasted rather nice. The rice is a variation on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for Basmati rice and was wonderful.dsc_0181Poached eggs on toast are a full meal in themselves. dsc_0182Chicken Kebabs on spiced Basmati rice.dsc_0184 dsc_0186Carrot cake mix. This is  a Primrose Bakery recipe and worth buying the book for this alone. You will not find a better carrot cake. I’ve made it several times now and it is simply a Wow! cake. (Enough over for 9 carrot cake buns!)dsc_0187I made a checkerboard cake for my birthday with white chocolate ganache between the layers and dark chocolate ganache to cover. A lot of work but worth it for when you slice it and a chess board appears.dsc_0192The completed carrot cake with icing made from cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and orange zest. There’s over a pound of carrots in this baby.dsc_0194 dsc_0195My birthday presents.dsc_0196Lots of orange zest needed for the two cakes means plenty of fresh orange juice.dsc_0198Pasta, vegetables, creme fraiche. Delicious and easy.dsc_0199 dsc_0207Practice Christmas dinner number one. A glutton’s (mine) portion of roast chicken.dsc_0210And yet more poached eggs to finish. This time with the spinach served on top.


Happy Christmas From

Simon & Jolly