The Lodger: History and Sociology

I can’t remember where I once read a piece about ‘the lodger’ as an archetype within British society, but I think I can recall the sociological and historical essentials: ‘the lodger’ sits squarely within late Victorian society, and then stretches his/her legs through the next one hundred years, until the swinging nineteen sixties, before disappearing into owner occupation. Parallel with that, ‘the lodger’ had a shelf life as a sub-genre of crime fiction, specifically of murder fiction.

Lodgers existed in agricultural British/English society before the gentrification of yeoman farmers during the ‘Agrarian Revolution’ of the 18th century, but lodging was to become an urban trope, with the industrial revolution. The 1842 report into urban sanitary conditions revealed the almost unimaginable over crowding in the slums of our new industrial cities, but this was mostly family multi-occupancy. The novels of Charles Dickens do, it is true, portray individuals, who lodge within the homes of other families, but it was the rise of white collar service industries in the late nineteenth century which put the lodger on his armchair pedestal.

Shabby-genteel clerks, commercial salesmen, shop assistants, typists, secretaries, and so on, were occupations that accelerated in number in the heyday of Victorian and Edwardian imperialism. You got a wage but you needed a room to rent – and you lodged with families who were themselves struggling with bills. It’s how the working class lived: and familiarity bred superciliousness, suspicion and snobbery, with the intrusion of strange lower middle class lodgers into the diction of ‘This is a respectable ‘ouse, I’d ‘ave you know.’

It was a world of suburbs and back streets and tube lines and railway yards and hissing gas mantles. It was a world illuminated by elementary education and ‘Penny Dreadfuls’. It was not the rural milieu of Mayhem Parva and Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (‘snobbery with violence’); instead, it was the world of George Orwell’s essay on the Decline of the English Murder. It was the world of the News of the World: of poison, money, sex, melodrama, social class and domesticity.

All this makes ‘The Lodger’ sound as antiquated as John Betjeman, or a WH Smith railway station kiosk’s fiction stand, or Ealing Studio’s ‘The Ladykillers’, or Joe Orton’s ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane’, and yet …

History is not always linear, there are sometimes circularities: the era of the masses buying their own home or having a council house is over; that heyday that started between the wars has gone … Three or four generations, that’s all, before the market economy took it away.

The market economy also changes dictionaries (Farewell Bluebell! Good morning Broadband!): the word ‘lodger’ is rarely used nowadays, it’s more ‘multi-occupancy’, I suppose. The lexis might alter, ‘but the memory lingers on’, and, indeed, that liminal figure is now reappearing in this zero hours, intern, new, freelance, capitalist paradise.

You have been warned …

By the way, it’s a bit foggy tonight, isn’t it?

Who’s that at the door?

Stroud Film Festival launch
with Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and live score from Minima
 Friday 13 March
Launch 6pm, Film Screening: 7pm 
Goods Shed, Stroud GL5 3AP

I was borne in Stroude in 1602, the fifth sonne of Charlotte Alice Bingham and Samuel Benjamin Bingham.

This is my laste depositionn ande statemente. I was borne in Stroude in 1602, the fifth sonne of Charlotte Alice Bingham and Samuel Benjamin Bingham. I have lived inne the reignnes of a queenne, three kings and a commonwealth.

My storyye starts whenne the Archbishop Laud did commande the railing offe of altars in the kingdomme. This causedde sorre grievance in Stroudwaterre. We railed inne oure turne at this papist sacrilege and kinglye ordinance. I joined inne withoutte fully knowinge the whye and wherefore. The tendere greenness of youthe.

I joined in too but withe more understandinge and withe right goode reasonne, when Prince Rupert stole our cloth, yarne, woole, canvas and buckram for the making of uniforms. It was difficultte to find a spinner or weaver with a goodlie worde to say about the kinge throughout the Stroudwater, in consequence, inne those ungodlyye times. Bute we did note knowe what was to followe. We did note knowe that this was juste a foretaste.

Fore oure livings worsened when the King’s armie marched through Steanbridge and up to Painswicke. We stoode with our hattes in our hands but with hate in our heartes as the horse and dragoones passed bye. This was in the summerre of 1643 before the Siege of Gloucestere.

Bute Parliamente’s victory there brought scante releiffe to us. The Kinge’s menne made a continuous habitte of stealinge our victuals to feede their garrisonnes in the aftermath.

The goodlie Colonel Massey rode out from the citye to helpe stoppe this malfeasance in the springe of the following yeare. He placed a garrisonne at Painswicke, but this onlye brought forthe a royal cannonade. The doores of St Marys were sette ablaze ande the towere was struck with shote.

A multitude of Parliamentaryye prisoners suche as mye younge self were kepte there. Good Richarde Foote etched an inscriptionne on a church pillare during our incarcerationne. ‘Be bolde, be bolde, but not too bolde.’ I resolvede to be as bolde as needs mustte.

It was in the Mayye time of that yeare that the boldenesse of Parliamente at laste brought us more lasting relieffe from the bondage of Royalist terror. The capture of Beverstonne Castle at last putt an ende to the depredationnes in the Stroudwater Valleys against the mastere clothiers, and the poore weavers and spinneres. This leftte me more time for the studyye of the Bible and for conversationes with rantering sisters and brothers whom I mette in the fields and lanes betwixtte Stroude and Painswicke.

It was at the Christmastide before the meting out of justice for the kingge when I firste encountered Ezekiel the Ranter. He tolde me of the Diggeres and Levelleres and Quakeres and how the riche ‘havve too muche earthe, which by fraudde, deceitte, and oppressionne they have gotten together, and exalte themselves above our fellow creatures, and grinde the faces of the poore, and they are as slaves.’ This opened mine eyes. I askede for more suche lessons.

I was a good pupile ande hearkened Ezekiel to make me learnne the Digger words of Gerard Winstanley offe by my hearte. I have them stille close bye me nowe by my bedde side. ‘Every one shall lookke upon each other as equalle in the creationne. We are all the sonnes and daughterres of Gode and Adame and Eve.’ ‘Governmente that gives liberty to the gentry to have all the earthe, and shutte out the poore commoners from enjoying any partte, ruling by tyrannical laws. This is the governmente of the Antichrist.’

Whenne I hearde that the Diggers had commenced the creationne of the rule of Godde with a commune at Slimbridge downe by the Severne, I made my waye alonge the Frome to reache the widde river and thence to Slimbridge. It was a welcome to meete with so manye fellowe Diggers. We tore down fences and enclosures so as to sow, till, ploughe and harveste in commone.

Alas. Just as the true borne leveller soldiers were shot down by Cromwell’s armie at the church in Burforde, so our Eden was to be laide waste bye his menne too.

I escaped with a bloddied heade ande made my waye to the Quakerres at Painswicke. Here I knewe I woulde receive succourre. The Grande Juryye of the Countyye spoke of our communitye as ‘Ranters, Levellers and atheists, undere the name of Quakerres’. This to uss was praise. I stayed some goode yeares there and witnessed the praiseworthie practicse of namelesse internmente. The beliefe was in equalityye in deathe as in life. We used noe titles. Alle were thou to a goodlye Quakkerre.

It was at this time whenne I beganne to smoke a pipe. I founde the tobaccoe of the countyye most conducive to visions of heavenne. Virginia tobaccoe from the colonyes was notte to my likinge. So my ittinerancce ledde me to Winchcombe and the tobaccoe plantationnes there.

We driede the leaves in oure gardenes and stored them in oure cottes, before secretinge the tobaccoe on its pathe to Londone. We disguised this nicotiana rustica as Virginia but ite gave thou heavenlye vision as no Virginia tobaccoe did. The smuggling and illicte trade attracted the attentionnes of Colonel Wakefield, the Governoure of Gloucester, and troopes were despatched to brake oure plantationes.

We congregatede as a multitude againste the soldiers who were armede withe cocked pistoles. But our resolutionne was steadfaste and our two hundreds forcede the calvalrye backke whence they came.

Theyye triede againne that yeare butte the tumulte ande determinationne of whatte nowe numbered five or six hundredes of our goddlie menne and womenne sentte them awaye and backke to Gloucester once more with theirre tailes betweene theire legges.

Bute whene the lamentende Commonwealthe did ende, so oure woes increased. The newe kinge sent more soldiers to ruine ourre croppes and ride downe oure plantationnes.

I have ite on goodly authoritie that Samuel Pepys did evenn write aboute us ate Winchcombe.
‘It seems the people there do plant contrary to law, and have always done, and still been under force and danger of having it spoiled, as it hath been oftentimes, and yet they will continue to plant.’

Sow we doe, Mister Pepys.

And nowwe I shalle take a pipe ande peruse once more ourre colonyye’s sharedde Bible and Pilgrimmes Progresse. Forre thisse is the last depositionne and last statementte that I shall make about the tumultuous times of my liffe.

Signede,
Esau Bingham

Two names in a landscape, two names on a map,
Two recusant affirmations of faith,
Near Knapp House Barn, where travelers gathered
To journey through metaphor and field,
From Purgatory to Paradise,
From a copse at Slad to Painswick pastures.
But I came as a Puritan, not Pardoner,
On my personal Pilgrim’s Progress,
To walk these redemptive hills and valleys,
In search of dispensation and indulgence.
Our throng of allegory was all there:
Evangelist, Obstinate, Help, Pliable,
Wordly Wise, Good Will, Despair, Faithful,
Legality, Civility, Ignorance, Hopeful,
All climbing through glades of wild garlic,
Sweet meadow-seas of Timothy,
Cock’sfoot, Sweet Vernal and Bugle,
(The Wicket Gate, Slough of Despond,
The Hill of Difficulty, the Shining Light)
Along Civil War holloways, steeply
Banked with diffident Honesty,
(The Valley of Humiliation, Vanity Fair,
House Beautiful, Mount Clear)
Past Swift’s Hill, Elcombe, Steanbridge,
Trillgate Farm, Bull’s Cross, Longridge,
Damsell’s Farm, sluice and weir and Damsell’s Mill,
By witches’ broom and yellow archangel,
(The River of Death and Delectable Mountains)
Up shaded streamside bedrock paths,
To reach Paradise and mythic Celestial City,
There in a thistledown cow pat field,
Below a hidden lane beneath the A46,
Where Paradise House does indeed have many rooms,
And CCTV too.

The history of the Stroud Football Poets and www.footballpoets.org

The recent media interest in the possible loss of digitalized memories, whether textual or visual, and the forthcoming publication of Lewis Dartnell’s book, The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World After an Apocalypse did make me think a bit … (What will happen to all this memorialization that lies in the laps of the website providers, rather than in our diaries, scrapbooks or photograph albums? We can’t keep it in the attic.) But his piece in the Guardian on February 17th reminded me of something I had forgotten about Stroud’s recent history: to wit, the British Library’s archiving of selected websites.

One of these websites includes www.footballpoets.org Now, this is something that fills me with pride, and I thought a short piece about how this prestigious archiving came about might be a half decent idea. How did a website cobbled together on the never-never achieve this accolade?

Dennis Gould takes the credit first. It must have been back in November 1995 when I was full of woe in the Duke of York, as I lamented to Dennis that a knee injury had just put paid to my football playing days. He told me to stop moaning and told me to write about the game instead and showed me some of his booklets of football poems. That got me going – and friends duly joined in. We performed in pubs around and in Stroud; Trish had Stroud Football tee shirts produced (now collectors’ items) and within a year, we were performing at literature festivals and so on.

We caught the Nick Hornby zeitgeist, but with a fanzine style left wing anti-Murdoch anti-Sky anti-capitalist ‘People’s Game’ nostalgia, together with a practical collectivist approach to writing and performing, as well as a political and cultural determination to re-appropriate the myth of Englishness from the Right. We were there at the beginning of Kick it Out.

Appearances for Philosophy Football followed at the Festival Hall for Euro ’96 and the 1998 World Cup. We established – much to our surprise and without any deliberate effort – a national media profile. This included, of course, the media frenzy about my dog Basil almost getting the England manager’s job.

All this was under the name of the Stroud Football Poets. But www.footballpoets.org owes its birth to Dave Cockcroft and a meeting with me at the Golden Fleece. Dave gave a lot of his time to establish the website, and as I wandered off into writing No Pasaran! and radio ballad style productions about the history of the Co-op and the life of WH Davies and so on, so Crispin Thomas took over the reins of www.footballpoets.org Crispin deserves the plaudits, alongside Dave, for the longevity of the website, alongside its idiosyncratic brilliance, as well as its archiving as a website which tells a story about British culture in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Well done Dave and Crispin; well done Dennis Gould.

The Face that launched a thousand Chips

Conversation up the Albert on a Friday night turned to the great question: the mystery of the chip machine in Bath Road. Could there really have been such a thing? If so, how did it work? Who stocked it? When was it? And so on and so on … we then heard from someone who remembered it … it cost half a crown, he thinks … all else lost in the mists of time … I have contacted Remembering Rodborough and Stroud Local History Society for further information … but in the interim, I have written the below as an act of homage to what might have been the only chip machine in the world … btw, my reference to a picture at the end of the piece is about the need for a proper portrait, not a Banksyesque creation …

Is it a phantom, or is it a dream?
Could there really have been a chip machine,
Down there in Rodborough, on the Bath Road,
Not in the days of warriors and woad,
But back in the Sixties, in ‘Sixty Four,
When you paid in your money, and out of the drawer
Came the hot manna, you all licked your lips,
A bag all wrapped warm, and all full of chips.

A half crown was dear, we all know that’s true,
But where else in the world could the dream come through?
Not just mere money at a hole in the wall,
But a great bag of chips – so let’s all heed the call,
And all gather around, by Frome Hall Lane,
On Friday nights, again and again,
Down by the Bath Road’s old Language School,
Let’s pay the chips homage, won’t that be cool?
And laud the person who invented these chips,
By painting a picture of head, nose and lips,
With a caption that daintily flutters and trips:
‘The face that launched a thousand chips.’

Tyburn Tree England: 1724 and 2014

Tyburn Tree England

In dear old 18th century Tyburn Tree England,
So severe was the penal code, that you
‘Might as well be hanged for stealing a sheep as stealing a lamb’:
Why bother to be hanged for petty pilfering?
You might as well do a big job.

It was different for the aristos, however:
They could change the law to make their big jobs legal –
‘The Black Acts’ and enclosure criminalized walking
And privatized public spaces, slavery funded Augustan culture,
Whilst the government dined so well off the fat of the land,
That John Gay was forced to satirize them all
In ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, where the prime minister,
Sir Robert Walpole and his gang were no better
Than the most hardened of Newgate’s criminals.
It ran and ran and ran.

Now the classically English take on our island story
Is ‘The Whig View of History’, where everything gets slowly better,
In a gradualist, incremental, organic, non-revolutionary manner,
There is nothing cyclical about the narrative at all:
It is a linear line of beneficence and improvement.
But today, I read Aditya Chakrabortty’s piece:
‘Today’s Britain: where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks
MPs who fiddled thousands got off lightly yet they have created a system where the hungry go to jail’ and ‘people who’ve had their benefits sanctioned, stealing televisions or other items sufficiently expensive to guarantee they’re sent down.’
Is this the new Tyburn penal code for the poor?
‘You might as well be warm in prison for stealing a telly rather than cold at home after being fined for stealing food from a shop?’

Addendum (news breaking from the sea):
In the 18th century, British sailors threw Africans overboard in the Atlantic to gain on insurance. In the 21st century, Africans drowning in the Mediterranean might be ignored so as to offer reassurance.

For My Brother

For My Brother

When we were young and full of fun
And all our days were carefree
Do you remember that September
We climbed the old pear tree?

The finest crop grows at the top,
That bramble jam we ate,
Our mother made and carefully laid
On shelves with name and date.

We took a stick and went to pick
The biggest blackest berries,
Pulling down to near the ground
Clusters hung like cherries.

Remember the gate where we used to wait
For the early morning light,
To show in the field the wonderful yield
Of mushrooms, gleaming white.

The nuts we found so full and round
And filberts too, so rare,
That lovely autumn on Sapperton Common,
What joy we used to share.

Wild harvest brings a host of things
Mushrooms, nuts and fruit,
But best of all, with every fall,
Comes memory, absolute.

Written by my Auntie Kath for my dad, recalling the early 1920s in Gloucestershire.

Re-reading Cider with Rosie: From Rural Idyll to Social Realism

Re-reading Cider with Rosie
From Rural Idyll to Social Realism

Born in 1951, I grew up with Cider with Rosie even though I grew up in redbrick, new town Swindon. This was only partly determined by ancestry and the consequences of the coincidences of time and space. But my dad was born in the same year as Laurie Lee and my mum a year later. My paternal grandfather married a woman from Stroud in 1914 and some of Granny Butler’s (nee Elsie Bingham) forebears hailed from Steanbridge Tything, near Slad. Gran and gramp retired to Leonard Stanley in the early 1960s and we were constantly up and down the branch line to Stroud from Swindon Junction, with a certain book never too far from someone’s family hand.

Other historical factors were at work as well, however; factors way beyond the personal: the generational impact of a couple of centuries’ worth of industrialisation upon southern English society as a whole, and upon the working class in particular. As I grew up and read more widely, I could see how my late 19th and early twentieth century parents and grandparents were carrying on with some of the ways of a pre-industrial working class. And not always deliberately and consciously – and certainly never with irony or in a knowing self-referential way: it was rather more that they thought that the old way of life was more authentic, I suppose.

My grandfather’s dad moved to Swindon from London in the 1880s to find work in the carriage and wagon works but grampy was devoted to his suburban escape to a half-remembered folk dream, symbolised by the vegetable plot. Dad carried on these traditions and, I still can vividly recall how when he rose early to plant the spuds on Good Friday, he would look at me and say:” You want to breathe the air before it’s been breathed on, son.’ This was the folk wisdom of the town dweller that still had the world of Thomas Hardy and William Cobbett fresh in their veins, I thought.

Mum’s side of the family was similar: agricultural labourers from Wiltshire and Berkshire villages around Swindon, drawn from the barn and farm to the forge and furnace. But Mum was a village girl at heart and would sing and perform rustic tales with gusto, right up to the end. I have the 19th century family bible and her father’s choir book; a member of the church choir at Wroughton, he met his future wife there, before life in the railway works and the birth of his children in Swindon. It seemed destiny that Edward Thomas should write ‘For These’ (a list of rural delights and reasons for enlisting) on the day my mum was born in July 1915.

I mention Cobbett, Hardy and Thomas deliberately – for even though these authors were not in our home, their atmosphere was. How well I remember walking into my grandparents’ bedroom at the age of four and smelling autumn in the air: I peered underneath the bed to see the whole space filled with apples fresh from the trees. Good old fashioned russets. So, when Cider with Rosie was published, it quickly (and unusually, for ours was a non-fiction household) appeared on the welsh dresser.
So through no conscious thought on any of our part, we completely fitted into the wider national context, a context that guaranteed a lost rural idyll reading of the text of Cider with Rosie. Macmillan’s governments (‘Most of our people have never had it so good’) were hell-bent on modernisation: slum clearance, the age of the high rise flat, cars, motor ways, the end of steam, the Beeching Report, HP and easy credit, consumer goods, the end of rationing, ITV, ‘Butskellism’, low unemployment – the list went on and on and sociologists, needless to say, talked endlessly about the embourgeoisement or the new affluence of the working class. Keynesian economic growth was seemingly here to stay and it was modernity all the way. Products would validate themselves through advertising with just one self-justifying word: ‘New!’ The publication of Cider with Rosie seemed to be an almost deliberate act of juxtaposition.

The literary and cultural context also emphasised the singularity of the book. The late 50s and early 60s ushered in the age of the urban working class hero in novel, theatre and cinema. Look Back in Anger, Room at the Top, the Liverpool Sound, Billy Liar, Elsie Tanner, Arthur Seaton, Shelagh Delaney, This Sporting Life, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and so on, and so on, and scooby dooby do, all helped hallmark a new decade with the cultural stamp of urban modernity.

The oxymoronic consequence of all of this was a new nostalgia for the past. Cider with Rosie came along at just the right time, but the wider cultural interpretation of the text and its subsequent mediated messages were almost predetermined – not so much Granny takes a Trip, as Rosie leads us up the garden path with cider along old memory lane. With so many contemporary cultural messages about social realism, the social realism in Cider with Rosie was often ignored or forgotten. It seemed to portray, for many, a lost world of innocence.

Christina Hardyment points out, in her wonderful Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, that Cider with Rosie is ‘equally lyrical’ and ‘unsentimental’; and is ‘both lyrical and pragmatic’. The ‘novel spoke powerfully’ ‘to an age’ that was metropolitan, urban and suburban and even though the book proffers an obvious reading based on ‘social realism’, the surrounding context, coupled with the imagery of dazzling lyrical writing that is also ‘frequently comic’, and buttressed by the elegiac tone of the final chapter, all contributed to a reading of the text as a lost world of community, rather than a lost world of poverty.

The last chapter is heart-achingly nostalgic: the motorcar and the bus; the pictures and the wireless; the church year, the Sunday rituals, the decline of the church; the death of the squire; the deaths of the elderly; the courtship of Lee’s sisters and of Harold; the quarrels within the family – both the family and the village community have lost an earlier innocence. You feel that you might well meet John Betjeman on the road to Stroud, moaning about Slough and friendly bombs, or JB Priestley complaining about arterial roads, filling stations and Woolworth’s.

Priestley, in fact, offers an interesting optic with which to view Cider with Rosie. He wrote English Journey in 1934, and decided, on the basis of his journeying from ‘Southampton to Newcastle’ and ‘Newcastle to Norwich’, that there were, in fact, three Englands: the guide-book Olde Englande; industrial urban England and modern ‘post-war’, ribbon development England. Cider with Rosie’s final chapter seems to fit perfectly into Priestley’s jigsaw: the locality and the community seem to be moving from the first to the third of Priestley’s Englands. It is easy to forget, however, that Lee’s community, a century or so before the book’s narrative, was almost a part of Priestley’s second England: Slad was part of the industrial England. It was no rural idyll at all.

A wave of strikes took place throughout industrial England in 1824-25, when trade unions were given partial recognition; Slad and the Stroudwater area were no exception. John Loosley’s The Stroudwater Riots of 1825 paints a vivid picture of the dipping of clothiers in the brooks and waters; a mass meeting of 3,000 weavers at Vatch Mills threatening GBH and destruction; more duckings of clothiers in Stroud, Woodchester, Minchinhampton, Frogmarsh, Bisley and Chalford; the swearing in of special constables; a mass meeting of 6,000 at Selsley; the reading of the riot act; the dispatch of a squadron of hussars. This was no innocent rural Eden; this was more like a crucible of class struggle: “I have the honour to inform you…that the squadron under my command was called out yesterday to disperse a mob…which had proceeded to acts of violence. We accomplished this object with some trouble including the slash of sword only.”

So much for historical and publication contexts, what about the text itself? What is there specifically within Cider with Rosie that could lead to a reading based on a perspective of social realism? The impact of war? The impact of Empire? A hierarchical class system based on deference? A patriarchal society? A gullible, credulous and inward looking community? Limited state provision of education? Limited old age pensions? The workhouse? No national health service? Limited job opportunities and horizons? Poverty? Unhealthy, damp and crowded homes?

Now it is well known that every age rewrites history, and different ages can also suggest new interpretations of literary texts. Laurie Lee was able to walk away from Slad, go to work in London, wander through Spain, and then see military action in Spain in the fight against fascism. Today, young people still migrate to London in search of work, but face the prospect of exorbitant rent or house prices. Unemployment is reaching unimaginable heights for young people in Spain and far right parties are on the march in Europe. The welfare state, set up to ensure there was no return to the 1930s after ‘The People’s War’ is waning. More and more young people in our country are returning to live with their parents and carers: it is not so easy to walk out anymore.

The stock response to this is: ‘Build more houses! Anywhere and everywhere!’ My reading of Cider with Rosie suggests: ’Build more houses on brownfield sites! Built by local councils!’ A new age of austerity might well require a new reading of Cider with Rosie, a reading based upon social realism rather than rural idyll, but contemporary social and ecological realism also demands that we protect the rural idylls – but not for the few. But for the health and wellbeing of the many: ‘The Spirit of 45’.

Peterloo

Henry Hunt was a West Country man (by no means forgotten!) and a follower of the radical Sir Francis Burdett. The parliamentary reformer, Edmund Cartwright, toured the country in 1812-13, holding meetings north and south, including Stroud; who knows, perhaps Hunt visite read more

Laurie Lee and Lorca

Last night in Granada, Alice shouted out:
‘Dad, we’re going somewhere where Laurie Lee went!’
So today, high up near Orgiva’s Alpujarras crossroads,
In the thunderous heat haze of the Sierra Nevada,
Far from Granada’s streams and rivulets
(Lorca: ‘a wasteland populated by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain’),
With dry as dust river beds and hard as rock
Sunburn crags for company,
We sat beneath the lemon trees,
Olive, palm and bamboo screens
To shelter us from an unremitting sun blaze,
Thinking of Almunecar, to where Lee first walked out,
Roaming through a country on the edge of civil war,
He, sans hat, sans water, sans language,
With just a violin to chatter and converse;
How far-fetched Stroud’s green wooded spring lines
Must have been to a sun sick traveller,
Trudging through the arid, high heat of Great Depression Spain –
Cider, Rosie, Slad, Sheepscombe and Stroud,
A half-remembered dream,
Drifting through the swirling smoke of the pistols
Of Lorca’s fascist assassins.