Tommy Atkins and the Canary Girl

Outside: a wet Friday afternoon in Stroud; inside: a spare set, two tables, two chairs, John Bassett and Kim Baker in ‘Tommy Atkins and the Canary Girl’.
Outside: muffled drone of traffic, occasional motor bike and bicycle bell; inside: letters, telegrams, postcards, duckboards, trenches, no man’s land, mud, shell holes, barbed wire, mustard gas, the dead and dying, lice, shell shock, rationing, girls with phossie jaw and yellow hands, 12 hour shifts, 25 bob a week, ambulances, hospitals, nurses, barrenness, conscription, unemployment and a war to end all wars.
Kim and John transported us all utterly into the internal above with their interplay of characters, snatches of songs and poems. If I was that nervous about the fact that I had forgotten about turning off my mobile ‘ phone, what must it have been like waiting for that whistle to send you over the top or waiting for that telegram?
Totally recommended – I am looking forward so much to teaming up with John and Kim next year on our 2014 Stroud and Gloucester WW1 centenary productions and workshops.

Folk in a Box

You get home from Southwold after a 5 hour drive and you’re slightly tired, even though you don’t drive. The fields resemble a Kansas harvest breadbasket, Keats whispers in the wind: ‘Where are the songs of Spring?’ and Seamus Heaney is dead, school’s back on Monday, war clouds are gathering. The holidays are well and truly over.
But a walk up the Albert on Stroud Fringe Saturday night restores your faith in humanity and the infinite possibilities of friendship. Not just old friends from ‘No Pasaran!’ like Becky and Dell, but also a new welcome from Folk in a Box. Out the back of the pub was a a group of bohos and hipsters even more boho and hipster than the usual for even the Albert. Behind them was a box.
I entered the sepulchral gloom within the portmanteau and sat opposite an invisible minstrel. What might happen? What could happen? Friend or foe? Confusion is the usual handmaiden of darkness – what if humiliation is the consequence? Robbery?
Instead, the troubadour strummed a guitar and sang me a song straight from the heart. Two strangers lost in darkness, yet establishing a union through the medium of music, a harmony where none existed before. ‘Folk in a Box’: singing inside a box, yet making waves through seven handshakes wherever they go.

Next Walk, Sunday, March 10th: Stroud, the Heavens and Flann O’Brien

Who Needs Google Earth?
I know that debate rages, dear readers, within you and without you, as to the respective merits of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” and his wonderful “At Swim Two Birds”. Personally, I probably enjoy re-reading the latter even more than the former; be that as it may, it is the Policeman that we need to guide us on our next walk: Mothering Sunday, March 10th. Meet outside the Prince Albert at 11.15 or outside the Crown and Sceptre at 12.30 for a walk around the Heavens and the Edgelands of Stroud – three hours at the most, then into Number 23 in Nelson Street for a chinwag in the bistro.
But here is your preparatory reading:
Chapter 3 in Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” has a diverting section on walking, emanating from the pen of the imaginary mad-savant, de Selby. O’Brien’s eccentric, but, alas, fictional genius, saw roads as “the most ancient of human monuments, surpassing by many tens of centuries” the most ancient of stone edifices created by humanity. De Selby talked of “the tread of time” and how “a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there.” The unconstrained thoughts of de Selby led him to the conclusion that “If you go with such a road…it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground.” I am sure you can see the converse: “…if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines…”
De Selby also wrote of urban walking, of “a complicated city with nets of crooked streets and five hundred other roads leaving it for unknown destinations.” Needless to say, “a friendly road” “will always be discernible for its own self and will lead you safely out of the tangled town.” Thus, I think we can say that we do not need Google Earth or even an OS map to guide us both into Stroud and out towards the Heavens or Rodborough Fields or the Slad Valley. Instead, we might carry a copy of Colin Ward’s “Talking Green”, stopping to look at paragraph two on age 44: “Cherished corners of the landscape can be changed beyond recognition in a few hours. Trees, streams, footpaths, buildings, symbols of permanence which transcend ownership, may suddenly disappear.”
Just as the price of liberty might be eternal vigilance, so might be the price of the right road.

Happy New Year and Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night
Mapping of the Springs
Toadsmoor Valley
Sunday 6th January, 11.30 am
On the basis that the Christian festival of Epiphany walked hand in hand with a winter festival involving the Lord of Misrule and a consequent turning of the world upside down, what better day to have for our first springs-walk? Despite the Shakespearian trope of gender-swopping and cross-dressing as in his play, Twelfth Night, first performed on this day, it is probably more practical to make sure you are sensibly shod and attired – just in case “the rain it raineth every day.’
We shall revisit the folk-lore of the bean and pea in the feast – or, rather, cake, for us – and whosoever has the legume shall become the Lord/Lady of Misrule. S/he shall lead our motley throng with the map as s/he attempts to locate and name the springs of the Toadsmoor Valley.
The hunt is on for the six springs within in the steep-sided Toadsmoor Valley, as depicted on pre-war maps. Will we be able to find them, or in the spirit of Epiphany, might we discover others? The walk will be between three and five miles in length – depending on what we discover. Bring along something to eat – and your curiosity.
Precise meeting point to be confirmed – watch this space or Facebook or