Thursday, 15 December 2011

December 2011

Blog 27
James Watson: A Writer’s Notebook

Ned Baslow’s Letter to Harold Godwinson has caused a stir in the office at Watsonworks as readers will find in our CORRESPONDENCE section. His comparing the Normans to the Tories has not gone down well at the Conservative Party HQ in Tunbridge Wells. We expect a similar flurry of protest, at least among the Greeks, following Ned’s Letter to Homer which is included here uncensored.

Also in this December 2011 edition, the Literary Encounters series, which has varyingly touched down in Medieval Florence, contemporary Kyiv, post-Soviet Prague, the trenches of the Spanish Civil War, the streets of Guernica bombed by German Heinkels and the bull ring of ancient Crete, visits the whispering forests of East Timor.

* Encounters 7: Mother Forest meets Brother Business
*Notes in Passing: Invasion of the Nordics
*Poems of Place: Jarrow Visited

Mother Forest meets Brother Business

From Justice of the Dagger (Collins Cascades) in which the forest people of East Timor are presented with a business proposition.

At the village of Muyu Father a man called Marquez, escorted by two soldiers, came from the timber company. He held up sheets of paper to Muyu Father. ‘It is all agreed with your people. This is a signed document.’
Muyu Father took the paper, held it at arm’s length as if it were a poisonous insect. Marquez turned it round. ‘You’ve got it upside down, stupid.’ He knew a little of the language of the forest people. ‘It is an Order in Council. It requires you to vacate your village.’
‘Move. Remove yourselves. Within seven days – you understand?’
‘How is this? Our people have lived here since Great Island rose from the sea.’
‘Not any longer,’ snapped. Marquez. ‘In any case, your people have no claim to the land. And it is not true you have occupied this village for a long time.
‘In fact you people are wanderers, you build a village and then when it gets stiff with shit, you move on, leaving a mass of litter in the forest.’
Muyu Father retorted, ‘All the forest is the Mother’s gift to us, so long as we cherish it. We move our villages to let the leaves grow once more. Mother Forest gathers back what belongs to it. Always.’
Marquez was not happy to be dealing with a tribesman who was also a philosopher. ‘The forest belongs to the government, Chief, and the government decides what to do with the forest.’
Lyana heard these words in torment. Hers was not the right to speak, but nothing could suppress her thoughts: it is you who have no rights. This island is not yours. You stole it from us, with your guns and your aeroplanes. It will never be yours even though you fill the valleys and the mountains with your battalions, even though you kill every one of us as you killed by family and all my clan.

Muyu Father rarely showed anger. Sometimes by his calmness he made Lyana angry. ‘And the forest, what has the forest decided?’
Marquez paused. ‘You talk as if the forest had a mind of its own.’
‘It has a mind. It has a soul. If you listen, you hear the heartbeat of the forest.’
‘As far as I’m concerned, friend, this forest is a goddam nuisance. It’s full of flies and lizards and snakes – and people like you who get in the way of progress.

‘When I look at this forest, Chief, I see timber. I see sawmills. And I see things being made for the good of humanity. Timber for homes, timber for furniture, timber for building boats.’
‘Oh yes,’ Muyu Father replied. ‘Some trees must fall. Some must be used, yes. We agree –’
‘Listen, I don’t want to be preached to on conservation by natives. This forest has fifty years of timbering in front of it. Anyway, the government has issued licences. And those licences mean one thing to your people – move on!’

All the villagers heard these words. As one voice, they asked, ‘Where do we move?’
‘Further into the forest. There are thousands of kilometres of it not yet turned to timber.’
Marquez hated the forest and thus he did not begin to understand it. Muyu Father said, ‘Sir, the forest is not like a long road. Everywhere is its centre, like the circles of the moon.’
Marquez was hot. The sweat made his feet squelch in his boots. His shirt was dripping into his trousers and his trousers stuck to his legs as if his body fluids had turned to glue. ‘The government knows what is best for you and your people, my friend.’

‘How can it know, when it is so distant, and when it does not listen?’
‘It’s you who should be doing the listening, Chief. Then you’ll see sense. You’ll go to the special villages built for you; send your children to school to be educated. To be frank, you people need civilizing. This is the twenty-first century –’
‘And your people, sir,’ interrupted Muyu Father, ‘’you talk with guns. Yours is the justice of the dagger. You have brought massacre. Our people lie dead in the forest –’
‘Because your people rose up against the government,’ stormed back Marquez. ‘Attacked the camps of the soldiers. And because you listened to the Resistance who would stir you up in hatred against the government.’
‘We do not listen to the Resistance,’ returned Muyu Father.
‘That is what you say. Soldiers who stray in the bush, they die. Not because of the snakes, but because your people obey the rebels, do their dirty work while they vanish in the forest to start new troubles elsewhere.’

‘We do not listen to the Resistance,’ repeated Muyu Father, glancing at his son. Muyu nodded, though reluctantly; and his gaze met Lyana’s: her elder brother had joined the resistance movement. The soldiers of the government caught him. Tortured him. Gave him a ride in a helicopter; and over the sea, invited him to ‘take a walk’; as the soldiers put it, mundi laut – gone for a swim.

Marquez knew he was wasting his time and his breath. ‘No more arguments, Chief, the earth movers, the Yellow Giants as you people call them, come in seven days time, one hour after dawn. Take all your property with you.’
‘Property?’ The word has no parallels in any of the many tongues of the forest people.
‘Belongings – your pigs, man, and your bows and arrows, though if I had my way I’d have them confiscated.’

There was a waiting as the two men glared at each other. And the forest whispered in a new wind from the south.
‘Come on,’ said Marquez as Muyu Father stood still as a hunter aiming at his prey. ‘Give me your word. I don’t want any trouble…What I want, Chief, is empty huts. You will not yet have made the acquaintance of Captain Selim, but I imagine his reputation will have already reached you. Do not cross him. Obey him to the letter – quit this place without fuss – and you will survive.
‘Seven days, Chief. Very generous in the circumstances. Then we shall be coming in for a dawn start.’ Marquez fixed his gaze upon Muyu, sensing the youth’s hidden rage. ‘And with machine-guns ready for any hot-heads who protest.’

For a second the eyes of Lyana held Marquez’s stare. She is a beauty, he thought, but that look alone could cut a man’s throat. He was tempted to warn Muyu Father – keep the girl out of sight of Selim. Instead, he wagged his finger and repeated, ‘Empty huts, Chief!’

* Justice of the Dagger was a Waterstone’s Book of the Month.

Previous encounters:
Boy Meets Girl (Besieged! The Coils of the Viper; Blog 21, 17 March 2011). Girl Meets Girl (Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa; Blog 22, 14 April). Dissident Girl Meets Dissident Poet (Ticket to Prague; Blog 23, 11 May). Enemies Meet Face to Face (The Freedom Tree; Blog 24, 6 September). Encounter with Bombs (The Freedom Tree; Blog 25, 13 October). Athlete Meets Bull (The Bull Leapers; Blog 26, 19 November).

NOTES IN PASSING: Invasion of the Nordics
If a stroll through any Waterstone’s is anything to go by, the world of crime thrillers is under Nordic occupation. There is no avoiding the sons and daughters of Larsson, even though several of them were making a name for themselves long before the phenomenon of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In fact Larsson was a relative newcomer, better known as a journalist, in this country a regular contributor to Searchlight magazine.

In fact, Larsson’s Millenium trilogy almost never got off the ground. An interview on radio with the publisher of the English edition of the first volume revealed an almost barren take-up. His response was to do something the rest of us writers ought to consider: he took to the highways and byways (mainly tubes and trains) and gave the books away to anyone willing to take them.

Helping hands
It wasn’t critics, massive advertising, celebrity recommendations or high-profile marketing that scored for Stieg Larsson but reader recommendations. It helped, of course, that the Larsson trilogy (part 2, The Girl Who Played With Fire, part 3, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest) proved compelling narratives, expertly orchestrated, and introducing a more than feisty heroine, Lisbeth Salander, in a story dealing with issues both specific to Sweden and of relevance and interest to contemporary readership everywhere.

It didn’t take long for publishers and bookshops to guide other Nordic writers, some already best sellers, into the wake of Larsson. For instance, the Vintage Books cover of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, gives prominence to a quote from the Independent – ‘The Next Stieg Larsson’ though it might be equally correct to refer to Larsson as the next Jo Nesbo.

The difference, in my view, is that Larsson is better: he writes more fluently, is less narrowly obsessed with manic serial murder of young women scenario, not to mention Larsson’s superiority in terms of narrative pace. Nesbo crawls along. When the reader’s attention is engaged, as in The Snowman, that’s fine and welcome, but when the distant past burgeons in on the story, weighing it with coil upon coil of detail and complication, as in his earlier book, The Redbreast, this reader had to ask, ‘Do I really care what happened next?’

The weight of stereotype
This does not occur with Larsson, even though the reader has to hold on to continuities over three volumes and well over a thousand pages. Another difference is in the chief male protagonists. Mikael Blomkvist, the campaigning journalist in the Larsson trilogy, escapes the stereotype that often prevails when the ‘hero’ of a crime thriller is the detective.
Harry Hole in The Snowman has at least moved on in terms of interest from the (honestly) boring Harry featured in The Redbreast. He is as dull as the weather; indeed one feels that the wet and the cold (characteristics of Nordic fiction as a whole) have cooled him off as a person, often rendering him inert.
This problem with the detective protagonist recurs in other Nordic tales. In Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back we encounter Inspector Sejer. He is sharp, persistent, patient; but he is a plodder. He and his young assistant, Skarre, have a relationship distantly similar to that of Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis.

Curiously the Morse novels also reflect some of the dry and dour atmosphere of the Nordics; it’s only when TV carries the viewer into the glories of Oxford and enriches characterisation with non-verbal communication and fresh new dialogue (by writers such as Alan Paton) that the stories take on colour and humour.

Gloves and mufflers
It could be, of course, that the ice and snow, the shivering winds which are so characteristic of stories written by the Nordics are inescapable and a necessary component. After all, the Wallander TV series (the two Swedish versions plus the British) are, not to put a too fine a point on it, no advertisement for holidaying in Sweden any more than the Danish The Killing series persuade us to rush to book a flight to Copenhagan. The opening line of Henning Mantell’s novel The Dogs of Riga neatly summarises the entire genre of Nordic crime fiction: ‘It started snowing shortly after 10am.’

What constitutes the ‘right pace’ in a story is a matter of reader judgment. Fossum’s Don’t Look Back works on a narrower, quieter terrain than do her male rivals. The body count in 400 pages is modest, but there is more scrutiny: the crime here allows the author to dissect a tiny Norwegian community with scalpel sharpness.

Talking of scalpels, a common factor of Nordic crime novels (and TV series) is the brutality of the killings. The horrors described in the Millennium trilogy were given dramatic emphasis in the films that followed. In Hakan Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point our murderer specialises in beheadings. Nesser is also characteristic in the way he spins things out, taking 321 pages to reveal what the reader has guessed since page 200; only the crime-busters themselves don’t get it.

The author almost confesses as much when he puts the following words into the mouth of the now-revealed axe-man: ‘I thought it took you a bit long, even so…’

In a similar way to Harry Hole’s entanglement with a distant past in The Redbreast, Inspector Erlander in Reykjavik author Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia neglects the crime he is supposed to be solving for one that obsesses him from the past.

This reader spent most of the time wishing he’d just get on with the crime he was being paid to solve; either that or make the crime-past as interesting to the reader as Erlander seems to find it. The book drifts along, indulging in loads of aimless dialogue. It has none of the menace of Nesbo or the dynamic incident of Larsson. The problem seems to be to find original character traits in stock police stereotypes.

What the books do have is loads of atmosphere; it’s cold, it’s bleak, the territory is under constant snow or icy hail; the chilling factor of the murders is already anticipated, underscored and sharpened by the weather. One is left hankering for a little glow of Oxford in the night.

POEMS OF PLACE 5: Jarrow Visited

Below the grey gleam of the Slake,
Tide-abandoned, rustles the polluted Don –
Oily and sluggish, tin-canned,
Rubber-tyred and rusty-prammed
Beneath the ancient black stones
Of Bede’s golden kingdom.

Curlews share the rainy wind with ragged gulls
And one rapt pilgrim by the shore.
His eyes have scanned, fingers touched,
Mind encompassed everything in books –
Till now, when his senses faithfully portray
The real Jarrow, its illuminations shed:
This lunar fortress of Esso towers
And Shell Petroleum, of sad vessels
At lonely wharves turned to rusted stone;
Of gibbets in Slake mud where Vikings once
Broke open the dawn with blood and fire.

Then why the resonances, loud as a peal of bells
For this intruder on his cheap day-return;
Beyond the sight, what perception?
Hear the boots on cobbled streets –
Jarrow’s crusaders are on the march, banners high
While sounding brass bears them south
To gentler climes yet bastions deaf to reason.

Here, times without number, the battle for sensibility,
For civilisation, has been fought over but never won,
Between song of pen and whistle of sword,
Between the promised land and King Brass
Leaving loosestrife and charlock sole victors.

Only the dream remains, its vision blunted
On the cold sea wind: and this dreamer –
Straining in solitary vigil, to capture
The timeless canticles of Bede’s flock,
The furnace heat of Red Ellen’s oratory.

Nature eternal has the last word:
Once upon a time humans passed this way.

Our postbag has approached ‘Dear Father Christmas…’ proportions as a result of Ned Baslow’s first Letter to Celebrities. Clearly Ned is fast on the way to becoming a celebrity himself. See below for his latest contribution; but first, three items from the postbag.

Dear Blogmaster
It has clearly escaped your redacting eye that Ned Baslow, though neither an ox nor a moron is not above putting the two together as in ‘King Harold (nèe Godwinson)’. While acutely aware of the gravity of the statement, I am astonished that it has been left to Ned Baslow to reveal after all these years that Harold was born a woman. But in that case should it not be Godwinflaed?

If he had written ‘Harold née Godwinflaed or Godwinfleda’ then this would have been an indication that the Anglo Saxons had mastered gender realignment surgery some time before 1066. An opportunity lost to point out that yet again the Saxons led the werold.
TW, South Ealing.

Dear Editor
Mr. Ned Baslow is perfectly free to hand out advice to Harold Godwinson but comparing the Normans to present-day Tories is to do neither of them an ounce of credit. First, where would we be without the Normans? And don’t say ‘under the Tories’. They’ve given us castles and cathedrals that make Britain one of the chief tourist attractions of the world.

You only need to watch films about Saxons, with their unkempt beards and their late-night booze-ups to realise what the country would have turned out like if Harold had taken Mr. Baslow’s advice and considered his predicament rather than pitching in his boneheaded housecarls without a decent breakfast.

True, under the Tories very few of us have access any more to a decent breakfast, but in my book Harold Wilson was as much to blame as Billy Norman, not to mention Jack Straw, who at least answers your letters (which Harold Wilson never did).
MC, Rishton-Under-Lyme.

Dear Ed.,
Looks to me like King Harold never got Ned Baslow’s warning letter. The rest, as they say, has been history.
DAC, St. Leonard’s-on-Sea.

We have also had a number of emails, mainly from teenage readers, who want to know how you become a Housecarl. We have passed on their enquiries to Google Search.

See below for Ned’s 2nd letter to celebrities.

Ned Baslow: Letters to Celebrities 2
The editorial team has exercised its right to abridge Mr. Baslow’s contribution.

Dear Mr. Homer,
It is a lucky coincidence that the manager of our local post office is Greek, a Mr. Papandreou, though we call him Mr. P or Phil the Greek (not to be confused with Prince Philip, our Prince Consort). My wife Betty gets in to lots of conversations with Mr. P, especially since she joined an Open University course which seems to be really worked up about Greek civilisation.
Betty’s brain is now buzzing with questions about your good self, your authorship of The Iliad and The Odyssey; and I have to admit I’ve taken a peek at your stories, my particular favourite being the one about the goddess who turned blokes into wild animals; oh, and the one about the Cyclops with one eye: a real no-brain.

Betty says all that is symbolic, but to be honest with you, she’s not altogether convinced you could have got away with stories that size and never thought to write them down. In short, what’s the secret? I mean, those books took our Betty three months to read, and she confesses she skipped a chunk here and there, particularly the battle scenes which, to be honest, Mr. H, get rather repetitive, that is until you get to the Wooden Horse.

I guess you’ll be pretty pleased, by the way, at the number of films and TV series that old horse has inspired. It takes a bit of believing, though – I mean, you wheel this flipping great nag through the city gates, the Trojans doing the pulling and pushing, and yet not one of them asks, ‘Is it hollow?’ Even my Benjie spotted that one, and he’s only nine.

Betty’s theory is that the Trojans were caught napping, literally, found the Greeks plundering them and their wives, so they cooked up the horse-story in order to illustrate, and give proof to, the old saying, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’.

Which brings me to my query on Betty’s behalf: what real store can we put on your having anything whatever to do with these (in my humble view, overlong) masterpieces? Further, if the ancient Egyptians had been writing their hieroglyphics for thousands of years, how come you seem to have been unfamiliar with pen or paper, or should I say quill and parchment?

Now I can hear you saying, what about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? They weren’t around to check their facts about J.C., and yet by and large they get the same events more or less in the same order; but that is my point. Plainly M,M,L and J got together. It’s obvious – a case of what Betty’s tutor refers to as ‘collusion’ or (the Lord spare us) a ‘coalition’.

So I am putting it you, Mr. H, on behalf of Mrs. B, that The Iliad and The Odyssey were created by a team of scriptwriters who scrabbled around for a pseudonym to protect themselves against the wrath of Zeus, Athena, Poseidon and the like, in exactly the same way that scores if not hundreds of poets have adopted the name Anon to cover both their tracts and their tracks.

A single iota of proof of your authenticity would be welcome. For example, how is it that you had no Christian name; that there are no blue plaques put up by the Greeks in their towns and cities to celebrate the so-described greatest poet of the ancient world; why no statues, or a tomb full of your bits and pieces, your memoirs on tape?

Please regard this letter as a genuine academic enquiry. But more, there could be something in it for you of a positive – nay, profitable – nature. The Illy and the Oddy have sold a fair number of copies down the centuries. I reckon we’re talking millions. Betty says they’ve even been translated into Kazakstani and Sherpa.

So the royalties, in addition to film rights, might by this time equal the gross national product of a fair size country, and would certainly have a steadying effect on the economy of your alleged homeland, which has had more downs than ups in its history since your day.

I look forward with excited anticipation to receiving some clarification from you; or as my Betty has charmingly put it, ‘Mr. H – show me the evidence!’ If writing is a problem (some theorists, Betty says, believe dyslexia was your handicap), we would be happy to receive a phone-call, preferably between six pm and eight – but do please check whether Greece has finally decided whether it will be an hour ahead or an hour behind Greenwich Mean Time.

With many thanks for your patience in reading this letter (or having it translated) and in the hope that we can settle the question of your existence swiftly and to the satisfaction of all.

Sincerely and Confidentially,

Ned Baslow (for Mrs. B.Baslow)
‘Yer Tis’
Old Roman Road

In Blog 28 Ned offers a few words of apology, on behalf of William Blake and the British Museum, to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, 18 November 2011


November 2011
Blog 26

James Watson: A Writer’s Notebook


*LITERARY ENCOUNTERS 6: Athlete Meets Bull
: Capa challenged
*Poems of Place…3: Dolbadarn Tower
: The Celebrity Letters of Ned Baslow 1

Athlete Meets Bull

An edited extract from The Bull Leapers, set in Crete
at a time somewhere between legend and history. In
the kingdom of Minos slave athletes were brought, under
duress, from other parts of the Greek world to take part in,
and often to die in, the favourite sport of the Cretans – bull leaping.

Piros knelt at the altar built into the limestone wall of the arena. His companions, young men and women wearing loin-kilts of stiff brown cloth and light boots laced past the calves, bowed low around him, invoking the protection of the Goddess. The silence of the crowd gave way to excited conversation. The women’s dresses shone in the morning sun like the tail of a giant peacock, proudly unfurled. Its shimmering motion was matched by the women nodding or bending their heads, for their frizzed black hair was garlanded with strings of pearl and gold chains studded with jewels.

Brilliant blues and reds contrasted with the glaring arena sand. White walls stood in vivid outline against the misty green slopes of Mount Jukta – cleft, it was said, by the gigantic club of an angry god.

In this flourish of colour, Piros himself appeared no less distinctive. He was as black as the court ladies were sallow. His limbs were trim and muscular. His lips and nostrils were thicker than those of any other person there, and he had no need of court hairdressers to make his hair curl close to his skull.

Although he was only seventeen he had long been the favourite athlete of the crowd. He was called ‘The Egyptian’ because he had been a slave in the kingdom of the Nile. His mastery of the bulls had won him admiration throughout Crete. He was agile, cool-headed, wise in the ways of these creatures made mad by darkness and blinding light, and starved to make their tempers sharp.

The mark of Piros’ fame hung around his throat, a chain of gold supporting a disc engraved with the head of a bull. It had been awarded him, at the request of nobles and court ladies, by the man he now approached.

Nickname ‘The Bull’ for his powerful and frightening appearance, Prince Tauros looked older than his twenty-one years. He sat with his mother, the Queen, and his two sisters. Queen Pasiphae was a disdainful woman with arched brows, thin features and shrewdly intelligent eyes. Princess Ariadne, a girl of sixteen, also had a nickname, but one given her in admiration. She was called ‘Princess Fairlocks’. It was claimed that the Earth Goddess, as a birthday gift, had once brushed her hair with enchanted silver. Ariadne’s younger sister was Princess Phaedra, dark and solemn…

At the rasping summons of a conch horn, the painted gates opened. The bull stood motionless in a cloud of dust and sand, dazzled by the light. Its head swayed heavily, tail flicked. Its hooves stamped impatiently on the hot ground. A roar from the crowd broke over the bull’s head, confusing it, filling it with panic. It tried to halt the noise by wheeling round and snorting, only to discover that the sounds had swelled in volume. They had become united and were advancing to torment the bull with invisible thrusts.

Across a golden distance immediately ahead, a figure moved forward. All the noise and light seemed to concentrate in it. The figure danced, arms waving, and the voices seemed to burst from it, growing louder as it approached. Head down, blood pounding behind its eyes, the bull began to trot. It fixed the position of the black shape. Sand rose. The light was blocked by a swift shadow. There was a sudden pressure around the horns, a weight on the head that forced it downwards. Then a soft touch on the hind quarters, and beyond the settling dust there was nothing, only a yellow mist and specks of light.

The shadows came fast now, one after another. The bull tossed its angry horns and struck nothing but air. It felt the weight again and again, the strange final touch on the hind quarters, followed each time by the triumphant shouts and the sounds of hands beating together.

Despite its rage, the bull recorded the habits of its attackers. It knew their direction; that a shadow left the ground and a moment later there was the weight on its lowered horns. With every sortie the bull proved a more formidable adversary. It learned to raise its head as the shadow left the ground. Then there was a more rewarding encounter, with the impact of flesh and a cry different from the others. The light touch of hands on the hind quarters did not come.

Above its own stormy breath, the bull sensed a change in the noise. It was less certain, less triumphant. The creature spun around. Instinct was beginning to dispel its earlier desperation. The taunting had gone wrong. Something white and low moved close by, not dancing now, not waving, its head bowed.
The bull stood with sweat steaming on its shoulders and back, no longer terrified but filled with eagerness for the attack. The voice, a few strides away, was human, and in the whiteness there were eyes. Out of line of the bull’s vision, it sensed a flickering of shadows, but it had seen enough of its target to make no mistake. The weight on its horns was immense, uneven, then fell away, leaving spurts of hot liquid that coursed into eyes and nostrils.

The bull knew victory. Spattered with the blood of the young leaper, it now came straight for Piros. The Egyptian danced right up to the moment the horns were an arm’s length away. Then he was in the air, searching confidently past the blooded points to clasp the horns from each side. The bull’s head jerked upwards violently but Piros was already plunging forward, body straightened to the horizontal, legs beginning to bend at the knees.

He touched down on the slippery hide, rose again slightly, then brought head and knees tightly to his body. He sprang and landed on the balls of his feet. Momentum carried him a yard farther where he was checked by his team mate, Chronakis.

Yet the bull had measured another pattern. Instead of continuing its run as it had before, it halted and turned about. Shadows scattered. A white low form raised itself feebly. Horns were lowered to kill when all at once a weight came, not from the front, not in the form of a shadow. It was on the bull’s back. There was pressure about its throat as though ropes were being tightened.

Its eyes wrenched from the target and held square into the sunlight, the bull stumbled and tripped across the white shadow. ‘Quickly!’ yelled Piros. ‘Get him away.’

Theseus, the Athenian, enters the tale and adventures race through labyrinths of intrigue.


Capa challenged
So Robert Capa’s The Falling Soldier, the photograph that has come to encapsulate the poignancy and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), is once again being charged as a fake: evidence in a recent issue of the Independent (‘Shot down – Capa’s classic image of war’, Elizabeth Nash) suggests a set-up arranged far from the scene of any real battle, in the Espejo region. A second picture taken at the same time shows several militia men in a scattered line, firing against a landscape that certainly resembles that in The Falling Soldier.

Of course authenticity matters: the moment of death-by-bullet is real and symbolic; the simulated reality is symbolism of another sort. Capa’s picture portrays a bare hillside and a featureless sky; a republican soldier is hurled back by the force of the bullet that kills him.

His right arm is flung outwards, his rifle slipping from his grasp. Legs buckle, neck jerks partially sideways: for him, the last moment of life, but for the photographer, a supreme moment of truth.
The problem seems to arise from differences over location – Espejo or Cerro Muriano, though it has to be said that the landscape of both is not dissimilar. Could the painstaking research of amateur sleuth Mario Brotons (not mentioned in the Independent article) help resolve this decades-long controversy?

Painstaking research
At the age of 14, Mario Brotons had fought in the Civil War. He was present at the same time as Capa in the Cerro Muriano front near Cordoba in September 1936. Later in life, Brotons became haunted by Capa’s picture. He felt sure he recognised the picture’s terrain and the dress (not uniform) of the dying soldier – open-necked shirt and light-coloured trousers.

Brotons was convinced that this soldier was a miner from Linares in Andalucia, in particular one of the 300 militiamen of the Alcoy contingent, recognisable from the cartridge belts and harnesses they wore, hand-made by local leather craftsmen to the garrison commander’s special design.

Brotons actually went as far as identifying the soldier, naming him as Federico Borrell Garcia, a 24-year-old millworker from the town of Alcoy (Brotons’ home town), recorded dead on 5 September 1936. Though archives in Madrid and Salamanca state that many militiamen had been wounded on the Cerro Muriano front that day, each registered only one dead – that of Federico Borrell (maternal surname, Garcia).

‘I knew him well.’
Questioned about the soldier in Capa’s photograph, 78-year-old Maria, widow of Everisto, Federico’s younger brother, confirmed that the man in Capa’s picture was her dead brother-in-law: ‘I knew him well.’

Sadly, Mario Brotons died in 1996 before he could publicise his discovery or defend his conviction about the authenticity of the photograph. Nevertheless, he left behind copious documentation that was given headline treatment in the Observer and duly honoured in the Imperial War Museum’s Spanish Civil War exhibition, Dreams and Nightmares (2001-2).

Capa was killed in 1958 photographing the Vietnam War. I reckon I’ll opt for that cartridge belt and harness as likely authenticators until evidence stronger than a black-and white background shifts my faith in this amazing picture.


Poems of Place 4


When stone upon stone
This tower was built
By hands untutored
In the language of art;
On this eminence: the hill peak
With Lamberis lake beyond,
And further still the mountains,
The talk would never
In a thousand years
Have dwelt on myth or mystery,
The quaint or the magical; and yet
The Tower of Dolbadarn
Placed by rude hands in raw clime
Inspired constructions in oil-paint,
Fabrications in delicate washes
By masters such as Claude Lorrain
And in consequence the mighty Turner
As well as lesser daubers
In search of style.

Moses Griffiths painted here;
William Jennings and Henry Gastoneau.
Here sketched entranced Thomas Tutor,
William Buttle and John Josiah Dodd.
Here on damp grass under lowering skies
Georges Salter, Campion and Barrett
Defined the picturesque,
And after brief dreams made way
For Sandby, Paul and Thomas Smith Café.

On a special Sunday in Lent
The humble masons left their shivering tombs
For a private view –
Sponsored by the Arts Council of Wales –
Of tower and landscape framed,
Of mists enticed, sun-streams captured,
Of light romanced, of meaning
Delineated in golden
(But also learned) hues.

‘How’s it strike you, Dai?’
Enquiries the Curator with sherry poised,
Of the master mason, disengaging him
From his moss-covered huddle.
‘Such artefacts,’ Dai pronounces
(The room’s electric
For art and life are truly met),
‘Such artefacts show bravura,
Indubitably sweet sensitivity,
Unarguable skills, if not genius –
‘But’ – and here the room grows cold
As the myriad ghosts of artists past
Rise up with dank breath
And palettes colourless –
‘But I fear the secret message
Of Dolbadarn eludes one and all.’

Aghast, the master daubers shiver.
Their bones rattle like wild Welsh gales.
‘Pray how, Dai,’ ashen tinctured
Quakes the Curator, much deflated,
‘Do you deny the vision
Of sublimity, reject the judgment
Of scholarly voices
To arrive at such a conclusion?’

Dai’s words are winter leaves
Crackling through frosted churchyards:
‘The secret all probed for
Lies not in the tower but in the stone,
Not in the tree but the bark,
Not in the leaf but the vein,
Not in the lake, but the waterdrop
For my parched throat; not
In the sky but the air
I can no longer breath.’

Though fading fast, Dai mutters on,
Dolbadarn shimmering, Llanberis aglow
In his outstretched palms:
‘Put them together, good Sirs,
And what have you got?’

From their own cold beds
In windswept heather and thyme,
The geniuses of the sable
Cock fleshless ears and await
The master mason’s divination.

Alas dear readers, at this moment
Another master – the caretaker-in-chief –
Slams open the museum doors, and calls,
‘Everybody out, smelly corpses first!’
For none high or low dare say him Nay.

And that is the reason the Tower of Dolbadarn
Retains its secret to this very day.


Readers may recall correspondence the Blog has received from Ned Baslow of Derbyshire. In response to a NOTES IN PASSING feature on the ancient sites of Derbyshire, such as Arbor Low and The Bull Ring (Blog 15, 15 September 2010) Ned wrote to point out that he and his wife Betty did their courting on the hallowed site of the Bull Ring.

He later informed us of the super arts festival he was helping to arrange in his home village of Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven, though this has had to be postponed as a result of Councillor Stokoe, star of the musical dramatisation of The Adventures of Don Quixote, having suffered a fall resulting in the need for a hip operation.

Councillor Stokoe very kindly wrote to Editorial recommending Ned’s Letters to Celebrities and we have permission to reproduce the councillor’s comments here:

It gives me great pleasure to comment on what has become known as The Baslow Letters or Letters to Celebrities, written by my friend Mr. Ned Baslow whose entrepreneurial energy as honorary Press Officer of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Drama and Light Opera Society and the district’s Annual Summer Arts Festival has become a byword and an exemplar in the town and beyond.

What comes out of the letters is Mr. Baslow’s humanitarian concern, his willingness to speak his mind, his dedication to the arts and his occasional erudition which caused surprise in some quarters, until it was discovered that his good wife Betty is well in to her Open University degree.

Above all, the reader will be struck by Ned Baslow’s patriotic sentiments mixed with a healthy scepticism concerning the occasional pretentiousness to be found in the world of arts, and more generally in people who have experienced rather too much higher education.

Councillor Gilbert Stokoe MBE.

The editorial team were somewhat taken aback at Ned’s choice of correspondent, expecting missives addressed exclusively to those at least with a toehold in the land of the living. However, reading the first of Ned’s letters we acknowledge that, dutifully taken, the advice he gives could well have made a difference to a great deal that has happened in this country since, well, since 1066 and all that.

Dear King Harold (nèe Godwinson),

I am writing this in haste hoping to reach you (despite the recent bout of postal disputes brought on by new mechanisation) before you march south. But first I’d like to congratulate you on your fine victory at Stamford Bridge (the northerly outpost that is, not the home of Chelsea Football Club). It is truly amazing to learn of the speed at which your prodigious Housecarls marched to battle and, scarcely with half a day’s ration in their bellies, put the enemy to route.

However, my purpose in writing to you is to urge a degree of caution. Your decision to hasten south, at the double – that is, bearing in mind the fatigue of battle experienced by your stout-hearted Saxons, could be judged rash if not precipitous. Bravery is one thing, my lord, but recklessness might well get you and yours into hot water. True, William of Normandy is by all accounts encamped on English shores, exercising his men and his steeds at Pevensey and carousing in hostelries from Lewis to Bexhill.

True he has a certain legal justification for what I know all of Saxon England considers a gross trespass, but believe me, Sire, once the lawyers get their teeth into something, peace of mind flies right out of the window. The story going round is that you signed a document acknowledging Billy Norman as your sovereign overlord, though you may have a case for defaulting on that signature as you had put pen to paper under duress.

The nation appreciates that Billy, having you captive by the short and curlies following your rescue from the prospect of a watery death, was taking advantage of his hospitality; but to expect a kingdom as payment for bed and breakfast and possibly an evening meal with a free glass of wine – well, sucks to that!

Now these Normans are a mercenary bunch, a band of spoilers – I mean, look what they got up to in Sicily. There’s not a democrat among them. What they see, they take and what they can’t take they sell off on the black market.

In summary, my lord Harold, they are not to be underestimated or casually classified as snail-eating softies. Billy Norman means business, and make no mistake, he is a cunning varlet and has already made it clear on a number of occasions that he considers you a Thick Brit, stronger in the arm than in the head.

The future of our nation, Sire, depends on you and your counsellors, your housecarls, your archers and halberdiers (if you have any in your ranks) playing it cool, opting for the tactics of stealth as opposed to full-frontal attack.

It’s been mentioned that you are particularly anxious about your properties in Wessex and it is understandable that this bit of England scores slightly higher on your personal popularity meter than lesser places like Essex, Cornwall and all those parts to west and north covered in snow for half the year. My advice, in this matter, in fact my strong recommendation, is that you look to the bigger picture.

As for your immediate strategy, forgive me for urging you not to head hell for leather for Billy’s camp. Doing that would be like putting your entire savings on Shrewsbury Town beating Manchester United in the Cup Final. Your lads will arrive tired, hungry and bleary-eyed, with not a pint of ale or a roast boar in sight.

They’ll be needing a change of shirt and god knows how long it’ll have been since they had clean underwear. Boots? What boots after all that marching?

To be frank with you, I have had this premonition that you might let heroics rule over common sense. Clearly you will be impatient to deliver one in the eye to your enemy, but he is no slouch. Being a Norman (we call them Tories these days) he’s certain to resort to dastardly tricks, especially if he considers you might have the advantage, say, of the high ground.
Watch him! That is my counsel; and if he tries on one of those canny feigned retreats…well, of course, you know all about that sort of thing; but if you’re dog tired there’s always the danger of forgetting the ABCs of combat. And you can be sure that Billy will have treated himself and his cohorts to a decent night’s sleep and a fried breakfast.

Attack? – No. Your best advice is to play for time. Relax, the whole country’s behind you. Let old Billy fret. Let him worry about when his next meal is coming from; and as his line of advance begins to look like a line of retreat, when his cavalry’s eating grass and wondering where all the signposts to London have disappeared to, then you strike. This time it will be you who have him by the short and curlies.

I am of the opinion, Sire, that it would be stark, staring lunacy not to opt for defence by stealth on this occasion. Ignore the temptation to play two up front, leaving your centre backs open to counterattack. Those housecarls of yours are renowned for having more muscle than grey-matter, so keeping them on a tight leash should be a priority.

Despite the doubts that have driven me to pen this message, I feel confident that even if my letter does not reach you before your departure, its recommendations will already have been anticipated and heeded.

Sire, I can see 1066 being another triumphant year for Britons everywhere, and yet another affirmation of the English (I mean Saxon) way of life.

Yours confidentially,
Ned Baslow
‘Yer Tis’,
Old Roman Road

Editor's postscript:

Thanks, Ned. There’s nothing lost by trying, though we fear your advice might not reach Harold in time. Meanwhile, we are considering your next in the series as we're confident our readers will be as interested in hearing what Mr. Homer has to say for himself as you are.

Bleakland Scenarios
Notes on Nordic crime thrillers.

* Now available on Kindle:

Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa Women's soccer in Ukraine: read it

before it happens in 2012.

Talking in Whispers Chile, life under the Generals.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

October 2011

James Watson: A Writer’s Notebook


*Number 5 in a series on ENCOUNTERS
*Notes in Passing: Temenos on Teesside
Poems of Place…2 Windchimes on West Hill


Guernica, market day, 26 April 1937

The dramatic finale of The Freedom Tree, set during the Spanish Civil War, sees Will, a British Battalion volunteer and Molly, a nursing assistant, accompanied by their Spanish friend José, arrive at the Basque market town of Guernica. In Peg, a commandeered van, they have made a lucky escape into seemingly peaceful territory. General Franco’s fascist army is aided and abetted by German aircraft. Mola, commander of Franco’s northern battalions, has issued a proclamation demanding that ‘if submission is not immediate I will raze all Vizcaya to the ground, beginning with the industries of war’. The proclamation concluded: ‘I have the means…’

The tide of war seemed to be behind them. Ahead were signs of a people still at peace – farmcarts pulled by oxen and piled high with produce for market. The Basque peasants walked backwards in front of their oxen, gently urging them on with the occasional tap of a stick on the horns. They talked to the oxen and the oxen seemed to take in every word…

The Oak of Guernica seemed to beckon Will and Molly to its quiet solitude. It was, thought Will, like walking out of the bustle of his home town, Jarrow, to the holy silence of Bede’s Well; a similar pilgrimage. They stood before an oak tree like other oaks, not bigger, not grander; yet a special oak.

Beneath the spread of its branches there were wooden seats carved with the arms of Vizcaya – a tree and lurking wolves. ‘Smell the sea, Molly? It can’t be faraway.’

‘I’ll remember this for ever.’ The early evening sunlight tilted red through the dark branches as José described how, when the rights of Vizcaya were declared, trumpets were blown and bonfires lit on hilltops all over the province. The hum of the market did not drown the soft rustle of the leaves. A breeze carried rose petals along the ground.

Then from across the town came the sound of a church bell. It struck single chimes, and the look of contentment on José’s face vanished. ‘San Juan!’

‘What’s he saying, Molly?’ José was dragging them away. ‘What’s happening?’
‘Air raid!’
General Mola was keeping his word.
The three of them ran. And then they stopped running, for where was there to run? They stood still. They waited. The bell of San Juan struck again and again and again, stirring apprehension into fear…

Above the squall of voices close by, the shouts, the clatter of panicky feet, there came a faint drumming roar. Will and Molly knew that sound well enough. ‘It could be they’ll pass over – on their way to the factories in Bilbao.’ They took comfort from this possibility. After all, what strategic significance had this sleepy market town?

A single plane, blunt-nosed, with the outline of a killer whale, skimmed the town. ‘Heinkel!’ The bombs were clearly visible. They glided through the rays of evening sunlight. One…two…three…four, and the ground shook, the air flashed. A blistering wind swept the rose petals over the dusty earth.

Five…six, followed by the crack of grenades. Will gripped José’s arm. Were there any anti-aircraft guns in Guernica? The young Basque replied that there were no guns and no troops either; scarcely a rifle to aim at the sky. Having delivered its load, the German Heinkel 111 banked towards the west. José beat his fist against stone. He had heard the rumours, he said, of other bombings, at Durango, Elgueta, at Ochandiana and Elorrio.

Perhaps this was just a warning. Perhaps a single pilot had a few bombs to drop to fulfil his quota. Perhaps the Heinkel was the first and last…An aching pause. Optimism rising, then fading as a second Heinkel traced the path of the first, its target the town centre. It completed an unchallenged tour of destruction with a burst of machine-gun fire.

José advised that if a full air-raid came, they must look for the sign REFUGIO where they would find shelter behind sandbags. Thirteen minutes. Fourteen. On the fifteenth, silence died. The thunder of man rolled across the western horizon.

‘Tranvias! Tranvias!’ The call spread down the street. ‘Tranvias!’ José explains: ‘’Trams. That’s what the people call the Junkers…Junker fifty-twos.’ The temporary peace was shattered by the clanking roar of huge, ugly, clumsy monsters that hardly seemed able to hold their position in the air.

‘Too late for a refuge. Quick, against the wall!’ Will’s hand searched for Molly’s. They watched the bombs fall in a single, streaming cascade. They saw whole streets shudder with the impact of high explosive. Houses split in two, lifted from their foundations. Great walls keeled over into the streets. Solid brick and stone disintegrated. Plumes of black smoke shot upwards through the jagged ruins…

This was a new kind of war, no longer soldiers against soldiers, but the deliberate extermination of civilians. Will watched the bombs falling, tilting in line, sometimes spinning. He saw them plunge to the very heart of the houses. Roofs collapsed into upper storeys, upper storeys on to the floors below, ground floors into basements.

He was sick with fear. He could hardly breathe. He felt Molly trembling. Equally shaken, José prowled. He refused to stand with his back to the wall. He advanced into the road. He snarled abuse at the sky…The streets were deserted no longer. For the people, their refuges threatened to become stone coffins. They fled from battered and unmolested homes alike. They would take their chance in the open. The town was doomed. They must escape from it.

José had stepped in among the crowds. He tried to rally them, turn them back as though a barricade or ranks of determined people would frighten the German aircraft away. ‘Gara Euzhadi Eskatuta! Gara Euzhadi Eskatuta!’

‘What’s he shouting, Molly?’
‘It’s the Basque freedom cry…Long live free Euzhadi.’
The Heinkels, with their characteristic split wheels, were flying so low that Will could see the faces of the pilots. The aircraft swooped over the streets. José declined to take shelter in a doorway. He was in the middle of the road, screaming at the Heinkels. Their target was not wood and stone and glass, but running flesh. They dived. They machine-gunned.

‘José, come back!’
The young goatherd was advancing in the direction of a lone Heinkel coming in from the east, diving low, furrowing the stone ground with machine-gun fire. He was a sleepwalker. He had stepped out of his living skull. Rage was his only instinct. He paused. He looked over this shoulder at Molly and Will. He raised his fist in salute as if to say thanks, as if to say – goodbye.
He held his empty wine bottle as a club. He cursed the Fascists. He cursed Franco. He walked almost into the shadow of the Heinkel. ‘Gara Euzhadi Eskatuta!’ He cast his bottle, spinning, flashing, at the plane’s propeller…

Previous encounters:
Boy meets girl, from Besieged: The Coils of the Viper
(Blog 21, 17 March 2011).
Girl meets girl, from Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa (Blog 22, 14 April 2011).
Dissident girl meets dissident poet, from Ticket to Prague (Blog 23, 11 May, 2011).

Talking in Whispers the novel that followed The Freedom Tree is now available on Kindle, priced £2.34 (including VAT).

Temenos on Teesside
The Temenos site is pure surrealism. The word temenos means ‘land assigned to holy ground’, a sanctuary; and the massive sky-perched construction by Anish Kapoor bestrides the old Teesport and a desert of waste ground like an aircraft uncertain of a safe landing.
Years ago, this vast, flat area beside the Tees was a dense landscape of working class housing, pubs by the dozen and ripe (as the 1960s developers saw) for clearing. Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium came first, towering above a desolation of flattened streets, though the bulldozers stayed their tracks, for whatever reasons, at abandoned brickshells, scarcely-surviving factory sites and the Victorian clock tower which still stands in sad isolation between the Kapoor and the dazzlingly bad chunk of the Middlesbrough College.

Future forlorn
What struck this visitor (once an inhabitant of these parts) was the lack of people. The area remains a bombsite, forlorn, full of promises about the future posted on endless hoardings of a new Middlesbrough. Yet everything peeling, fading.
One approach road from the town’s railway station represents everything: the road has been paved in multi-colours, yet the buildings to the side are either abandoned or are simply boarded up, with the Lord Byron pub the neglected prologue to hoardings concealing acres of waste land. They’ve put up new lighting pylons which have either begun to tilt, out of depression and neglect or because the designers considered tilt a design accessory.

The flash of aluminium
For no obvious reason coloured boxes have been placed along the patterned road that leads to the rear of the college when you would expect it to be the other way round. At the front, it is all flashing aluminium dwarfing what few windows have been included. The façade opens on to more waste land before the visitor comes to the old dock; an acre of dark water with not a sign of any ‘use’; no boats here, no marina, no fishermen, just a dank stretch of lonely water. Above it, the Kapoor hovers magnificently, but in its own loneliness a sad spectacle.

One looks beyond the brick walls, the outline of abandoned buildings, the huge steel hoist, itself a kind of afterthought, probably too costly to dismantle, to the iconic Transporter Bridge brightly painted in blue. This superb emblem of a once-dominant steel town seems to stand as a timely caution to those setting out to match reality with aspiration. Time and progress caught up with the Transporter; time and circumstance seems already to have caught up with the Temenos site.

The most fascinating aspect of Temenos is not what the planners intended
but, with its variegated shapes and patterns, the juxtaposition of new an old. It is a landscape to excite artist and photographer. It teems with surreal compositions combined with an assortment of messages about past and present to delight sociologists and semiologists alike.

One day perhaps development will catch up with the Kapoor, do it proud rather than reduce it to a folly. In the meantime, photographers and artists are recommended to hasten to Temenos; and decide for themselves whether it suggests a metaphor for the Britain of then and now.

Poems of Place…2


A night wind and at the sound of the chime
The walls around me begin to melt.
The theme of sea and fish, of shells,
Of boats hauled up on white shore of bath
Shakes, shimmers as this high house
Responds to the Last Post: spectres rise –
Listen! For the wind is whispering sea shanties,
Highland laments and moody blues.

From behind the sea-curtain homesick pilgrims
Mingle voices with the soft moan of war wounded,
With the nervous hum of evacuees driven
By necessity towards unwanted shores.
From farther off the chimes evoke the clink of iron
As gates close on the pallid faces
Of those whose requiem will be the hiss of gas.

Yet here on West Hill, the chimes speak softly
To sleeping children, of nursery rhymes and Postman Pat,
Or white peacocks and a lonesome donkey,
Or scented gardens and a pirate ship of flowers.
Here the great water tower stands sentinel,
Proud in neglect; its Renaissance balcony
The high-sky choirstall of migrant doves.

Washed and shaved, the poet descends
From his water tower of dreams, declares:
‘Those chimes – what magic!’
‘No chimes!’ is the laughing reply,
‘It’s only the plumbing, wind in the bathroom pipes.
Did you recognise the Last Post?’

With delight undiminished
He offers up a prayer to old houses
Where ghosts take up happy residence,
Turning copper u-bends into cathedrals;
And for a breeze of a price
Add to the bonus of hot and cold running water
A reverie of chimes for those on West Hill
Who choose to linger over time’s ablutions.

An Autumn Haiku

Orange leaves seem to
Be the wrong colour to show
People in bright scarves.

Lee Bishop


Letter from America
From Ken Melling

For most of the spring and summer we get visits from black bears. They are searching for food and are attracted by bird feeders, compost piles, or anything else that appears to them to be a food source. Certainly for the last few months we have had a visit almost every day. We have three ‘visitors’, two bears are young, probably two years old. On their hind legs they are over six feet tall and weight around 250/300 lbs. Both are males. The third is also a male, but a fully grown adult weighing in at 350/400 lbs. and taller on his hind legs (over seven feet). We believe that the drought (causing a lack of food) is the reason for the regular visits. We are high up, very few houses and spaced out, in a forest landscape with steep slopes.

Only a mother black bear with young is likely to be aggressive toward humans. The three we have are not aggressive and do not make any attempt to attack us or our dogs. They just run off and try somewhere else. If shouting and banging is not enough (very often they just ignore you and go on eating bird seed) I use a "BB gun" (to you an airgun) on a low setting and shoot at the body. This does not penetrate the skin but rather stings a bit and after a couple of shots they run off. Of course one or other is back sometime during the next day, sometimes one after the other. And it's always the same three bears but not the Goldilocks type.

Best regards from wild America!

Ken does not write from a cabin in the Yukon but from North Carolina.

Dear Ned Baslow
This is just to apologise for not using your first Letter to a Celebrity which you kindly mailed to Watsonworks in good time for publication. Initially the editorial team were slightly taken aback by your choice of correspondent, though on mature consideration we thought – why not if the advice you offer is sound? The question is, will it be heeded in time? We’ll run your letter in Blog 26 and hope for the best.

Contributions to welcome!


Monday, 5 September 2011

Autumn reading at Watsonworks
Returning from a summer break, September 2011
Blog 24


*Number 4 in a series on
*Notes in Passing:
A Book from the Shadows
*Poems of Place…
1. Heptenstall for Sylvia Plath

Enemies Meet Face-to-Face
in the trenches of Catalonia

An edited extract from the Spanish Civil War novel
The Freedom Tree (Puffin, Collins etc.).

In the footsteps of his dead father, Will has joined British volunteers
to fight alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and
against the forces of General Franco. He finds himself, with his
companion Griff, in the bitterly cold trenches of Catalonia, northern
Spain. He has been sent out by the group leader, Candy Sam, to
gather brushwood. In the pitch darkness, Griff and Will lose their way.

In the dark, north, south, east and west wore the same featureless mask. The stars were over- clouded, and anyway neither Will nor Griff could read the stars. They left the limestone parapet of the home trench and dropped in to no-man’s land. ‘When you hear a shot,’ Candy Sam had instructed, ‘drop flat on your faces. It’s a thousand to one against being hit.’

Every footstep, for Will, was agony because he could hear his steel-shod boots designed to make the biggest possible noise over crackly limestone. And if he could hear them, so could the watchful enemy. He might as well have had bells tied to his feet.

Boulders were the chief hazard and Will duly tripped over one. He fell among firewood. ‘Roots!’
‘Drag them up, then.’
He was grateful to halt his progress towards the enemy lines. He hacked at the rough limb of stunted oak. ‘This’ll never burn in a month of Sundays.’ The tree took five minutes’ sawing. It quivered and fought for its survival until Will began to feel sorry for it. Yet he moved on, dragging his prickly victim with him.

The thought of crawling into a trench and finding not their comrades but a scowling enemy, made Will stop. ‘We need to take our bearings.’ Instinctively, they crouched down and at the very same moment the hill halfway up the sky burst into flames. An explosion raised the lid of darkness, and small explosions burst on the heels of the first.

There was one second of silence before the entire battlefront unleashed its armoury. Somehow the blackness made things worse. Distances closed in. Between a machine-gun barrel and the victim was sightlessness – no matter that in daylight you couldn’t see the bullets either.

Head down, smelling the bitter winter earth, hands clamped over ears. A bullet smashed stone close by. Another ricocheted off rocks to left or right. Will raised his eyes as the intensity of the gunfire – and got the very worst shock of his life. His gazes fell on another face.

The enemy soldier lay belly down, pointing in the direction of his own trenches as Will and Griff were pointing at theirs. He was as terrified as Will – and as young: wan faced, pop-eyed, immovable as though his limbs had been driven into the ground with wooden stakes.

If he was armed, there was no sign of it. At the sight of two of the enemy, he rolled sideways like a rabbit springing from the hand about to descend upon its neck. Will said, ‘Please!’ It was all he could think of: please – don’t do anything, don’t shoot, don’t run. But Griff cut words. This was the closest bang, the closest bullet and it drowned Will’s anguished ‘No, Griff!’

Too late. The bullet was straight. The enemy turned half in a circle. His hand was raised as if to some invisible support, some arm held out to him in the last flash of his living mind. His pop-eyed face fell before the rest of him.

‘There was no need!’
‘Him or us.’
‘He’d no gun.’
‘Beggar that!’
Will was across the body. ‘If he’s only wounded –’
‘Forget ‘im, he’s dead.’
The young Spaniard lay as only the dead lie. Yet Will would not let him go. Feebly, he bent over him, willing breath back into him. ‘Sorry. Sorry…’ He no longer heard the flying bullets. He did not care whether they struck him. The pop eyes were in his head. He could see nothing but them.

One life. Sixteen years of caring and loving and feeding, of laughing and crying and running and talking – turned, in a single moment to cold flesh. Will cocked his head. He lifted himself. Great waves of nausea drove upwards through him. He was sick in his throat, sick down his nostrils.

When the nausea departed it was replaced by anger and disgust. His mind had never prepared itself for this. It had imagined other, nobler pictures – all shattered. In these seconds, Will’s hatred was not for the Fascists but for Griff. The look in his companion’s eyes – which again and again reverted to the dead Spaniard – was of pride. He was glad of what he had done.

Will gathered up the firewood they had collected. He felt no fear, for he felt nothing. He was changed. Something – perhaps everything – of his past self lay with the young Spaniard. Back in the home trench with the others, he took out his pistol. He handed it to Candy Sam. ‘Give it somebody else, please. I want none of it.’

Will’s war moves to the Battle of Jarama, where he meets Molly, a medical orderly, and is then followed by a desperate journey north, to the Basque town of Guernica. Encounter 5 in Blog 25 will describe the blitzkrieg of the town on market day by German bombers.

Notes in Passing
A Book from the shadows: ordinary people in extraordinary times

To have lived through the 2nd World War and to have actually lived through the war years in Berlin, the epicentre of Nazi tyranny and eventual defeat, was a truly unchallengeable qualification for an author to pen an authentic fictional account of the ‘thousand year Reich’. Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin, first published in 1945 and now in a fresh English translation by Michael Hoffman, is a remarkable achievement, historical and literary.

Alone focuses on ordinary people living in day-to-day terror of the Gestapo and the SS; people who were never asked to approve of, or support, National Socialism, who had too much to contend with in their own lives to feel any degree of patriotism, who delivered up their sons to the war effort because they had no choice.

Berlin, for working-class people, was a tyranny of surveillance, ruled by fear – of crossing those in authority, of being reported by neighbours, friends or even family to a hierarchy of monsters in uniform, themselves in terror of those above them.

Otto Quangel and his wife Anna have lost their son in the war. Their bitter response to what they both see as a pointless and tragic conflict is to fight back. They do this by writing postcards condemning the Nazi regime and leaving these in public places; their hope that from acorns oaks of resistance might grow.

It is, from the start, a hopeless aspiration, yet it is one requiring a stubborn courage. In a free society such protestations would be seen as trivial, as amusingly absurd. In the totalitarian state of Hitler’s Germany, where nothing is disproportionate, such protests prompt a remorseless manhunt, equally absurd: there will be arrest, there will be interrogation and torture; and anyone with any connections with the ‘traitors’ will be caught in the trap.

Though the Quangels become an increasingly isolated, withdrawn couple the ripples of their activity sweep wide and darkly. Merely to have known or met them draws the innocent in to the abyss.

The novel teems with characters that could have been drawn from The Beggar’s Opera – petty thieves, bullies, drunks, rarely honourable never heroic; while those in authority, police, Gestapo, judges are straight out of George Grosz (see his ink and water colour on paper, Interrogation recently acquired by the London Jewish Museum of Art, supported by the Art Collection Fund).

Alone in Berlin is a brilliant and gripping narrative, terrifying in places but also verging on the comical as the villains of the piece live a ‘truth’ shot through with insanity and brutality, at once unbelievable and actual. A dull couple in any other circumstances, themselves to a degree unhinged by their hopeless campaign of protest, the Quangels find themselves capable of strategies of resistance far more successful than their postcards; or if not resistance, survival in face of the most horrific treatment.

The reader is offered a glimpse of hope at a personal level, but no assurance about the potential of people-power. Of the many postcards they leave in public places in the belief that they will be taken away, read, noted and perhaps acted upon, the majority are handed in to the authorities immediately on discovery.

Hans Fallada’s novel is loosely based on real characters who campaigned very much as the Quangels do in Alone in Berlin and whose fate paralleled that of Fallada’s characters. He took a mere 24 days to write 586 very readable pages; alas he did not live to see the publication of his book.

Geoff Wilkes in the Afterword to the novel writes that whereas Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) dissects and analyses ‘the banality of evil’, Fallada’s book ‘comprehends and honours the banality of good’.

A five-star read.


Poems of Place….1


They do not bury those
Dead by their own hand
Outside cemetery walls these days.
So I searched for you among those
Who bore their agonies
More stoically than the poet often does.

For what, I wondered, should I look –
What stone, what shape, what last words
Suitable for one whose brief lines
No overdose could kill?

Not, surely – Much Remembered.
Not – Dearly Beloved.
Not floral with white lilies
Or soothing angels
Eyes fixed on confident eternity.

I guess by now there will be a sign
Saying ‘Sylvia Plath lies this way’
(in Aldeburgh Ben and Pete and Imogen
All lie together in grey-marble convenience
Close enough to play nocturnes and trios
Under the baton of the sea wind).

I am glad I walked in vain
The parade of marble, glad I failed,
Despite a skylark’s company
And rooks reciting their own laments
In the deep thunder of the sycamore,
To find you written up
As ordinary mortals are.

For in truth my search
Was your epitaph
And a little of my own.



"I just finished reading your book Ticket to Prague for the third time, and I wanted to tell you how much I love it. You described Prague in such vivid language, I want to get my own ticket to Prague!! I won Ticket to Prague in a book quiz at my local library last year and like I mentioned before, have read it several times. I'm a young writer myself, and books like Ticket to Prague give me something to aspire to. I'm waiting for school to start again, so I can hunt down some of your books in my school library, and I can’t wait!! I suppose you might get this a lot but you are a brilliant writer Mr. Watson and I love your work. ST."

Thanks, ST. It’s always a relief for a writer to learn that somebody has dipped in to his or her work (and kept going to the end!). Blog 23 featured an extract from Ticket to Prague under the Encounters series – DISSIDENT GIRL MEETS DISSIDENT POET.

Dear Jim,
It’s me, Ned Baslow again, just to thank you for agreeing to find space for one (or more) of my Letters to Celebrities. As I’ve explained, I think important people could often do with some feet-on-the ground guidance from the likes of us ordinary folk. It’s been my recent experience that a word of advice from the rank-and-phial is often appreciated by those dazzled by their own greatness or with their heads in the cloud as a result of hangers-on flattering them to the nines.

Anyway, you’ll get my first missile, sorry, missive, in good time for your next Blog (which my Betty says is improving). However, neither of us can make head nor tale of Miro who you seem to admire. For us, a good plain landscape with a cottage, some Derbyshire sheep among the Derbyshire Peaks is more to our liking, though if it’s squiggles you want Benjie, our nine year old, could knock out those till the cows come home. Takes all sorts!

I look forward to your contribution, Ned. As for Miro, I read in a magazine lately that Miro actually visited Belper on the A6 with the intention of drawing the East Mill that overlooks the Derwent, but gave up on account of the rain and, as he termed it, ‘problems with perspective’.

How sad that letter writing has been on the decline:
why not join Ned in a campaign to cultivate the fast-disappearing art of correspondence?
PS: You don’t have to be from Derbyshire.



Wednesday, 11 May 2011

FICTIONAL ENCOUNTERS: Dissident Girl meets Dissident Poet
Blog 23

· Dissident Girl Meets Dissident Poet
· Notes in Passing: Miro, another perspective
· Five Haikus for Istanbul
· Correspondence: a regretful cancellation



The Power of a Good Book
Number 3 in a series on ENCOUNTERS

An edited selection from
(Gollancz, Penguin, Collins)

Since her parents were killed in a motorway car crash Amy Douglas has been at war with the world. She has been expelled from school, she has been involved in a violent streetfight which has led to her boyfriend being put behind bars while she has been issued with a controlling order. She has ended up as a part-time carer in a home for men who have either rejected society or been rejected by it.

Josef is a Czech poet. Almost a generation ago he had been permitted to join a group of poets and other writers on a cultural visit to Britain. He absconded, but the decision was so traumatic that the poet, along with all the evidence of who Josef actually was, vanished into silence. All he does, from week to week, month to month, year to year, is stare at an empty television screen.

Neither Amy nor Josef realise on their first meeting that their period of isolation, their seemingly pointless and directionless lives, are about to change. The key that unlocks the door to silence is a shared love – of literature, the enriching power of reading.

From a distance, High Lawns does a passable imitation of a stately home. It stands on a pleasant incline among acres of meadow and woodland, all encompassed by high stone walls. Ancient beech trees escort the main drive which stretches through rough pasture to a sunken wall.

Beyond this are lovingly tended gardens, smooth-cropped lawns, a tennis court and an open-air pool…

'Whatever you do,' senior nurse Sylvia Benson, had advised Amy, 'never call the place a loony bin. Never use such words as "lunatic", "mad", "round the bend" or "round the twist". These unfortunates are our family. Now they're your family.'

'And this gentleman, said Mrs. Benson on Amy’s first morning on duty, ‘is Josef, spelt with an "f", one of our longest-serving customers.'
'Oh yes, that is what we have to call them these days. It sounds more business-like. Josef is foreign. He smokes too much and hates taking exercise. A lazy old scruff, really – aren't you, Josef?’
Still in pyjamas and slippers though it is past eleven, Josef makes no response to Mrs. Benson. He is around sixty, Amy guesses. He is short, scrawny but still with a generous head of grey hair.
He spares one glance at the tall, handsome girl with blonde hair. There is the dart of a smile from watchful green eyes that seem to say, 'I know secrets but I'm not telling'.
'Josef won't give you any bother, Amy. There is little point, by the way, in trying to engage him in conversation. He's foreign and doesn't seem to have bothered to learn our language beyond "I want", "No" and "Football!" He is what Dr. Parrish calls homo mollusca, someone trapped for ever in a shell of almost absolute silence.'
Amy is wondering, should Mrs. Benson be saying all this in front of Josef?
'Don't worry, he never listens to what anybody says. We call him Sir Stubborn.'
Amy takes to Josef instantly: Sir Stubborn, meet Lady Stubborn.
'Shall I turn the telly on for him?'
'No, he prefers it off.'
'He looks as though he is watching it.'
'Oh yes. If he's watching it, or looks as though he's watching it, and it's off, don't wheel it away or he'll become quite agitated.'
'And if I turn the telly on?'
'He'll walk away.'
Amy grins. 'That means he's got good taste. I'm not struck on telly myself.'
Mrs. Benson isn't used to considering the opinions of young people sent up on Community Service or from the Youth Training, but Amy seems different; brighter, more full of herself. 'You've got a point. All that violence and suffering before your very eyes, well it's enough to make you feel suicidal...'
'Like you want asylum?'
'Yes, I guess that's what we are at High Lawns, a refuge from all the horror and carnage.' Ms. Benson explains that Josef, as a special privilege, is allowed to stay up to watch the late-night football. 'Otherwise he retreats into his shell completely.'
Amy contemplates Josef. 'He looks so intelligent.'
Mrs. Benson drops her voice. 'There's absolutely nothing wrong with Sir Stubborn that a good kick up the backside wouldn't cure. Private opinion, mind.'

After settling a nocturnal fracas between two ‘customers’, Josef and a Mr. Dodds over a packet of fags, Amy is curious to draw Josef out of his shell.

There is this terrible silence. Amy recognises it because somewhere in the building, far off, somebody is crying – a child, a grown-up, it is difficult to say. And the crying goes on and on and it makes the silence in this room and the silence outside so clear; like a frost…
…'You've got a real reputation, Josef. Your friend Mr. Dodds says you killed your kids. I don't believe that... though you were pretty violent just now. He says that's why you never tell anybody about yourself. Because of your guilt.
'I don't believe that either...Do you know what I think? You're afraid. If you just stick with Please and Thank You, nobody will report you: am I right?'
Why did I say that? Guesswork. But it's pressed something in his head. Josef's gaze for a second shifts from the empty TV screen. 'Still, don't think you're the only one. Everybody's afraid – I mean everybody who's ever lost anyone. Or lost themselves, you know what I mean?'
Another flicker of the eye; a recognition. 'Yes, I think you do. I hope you don't mind me talking to you like this. I lost my parents, you know. They were passengers in this car going along the M25. Heard of that? It's the most dangerous stretch of road since the First World War. Then I went to live with my Auntie, who's not actually my real auntie at all. She was kind – so long as I didn't bring home any “darkies”.'
The mournful weeping from a distant ward has continued, and until it slips into silence, Amy keeps on talking.... 'I quite like it here, actually. It's a sanctuary. I think you like it too, Josef. It's a horrible world out there, do you agree?
'I get my meals, same as you. And Mrs. Benson thinks they might take me on, as a temp. Pay me, even...Mind you, I've only got GCSEs. Though I can swim. I used to race. And when I did, when I competed and left others ten metres behind, I was somebody. When I didn't, I was nobody.
'You're very trim, Josef. I bet you did sport when you were a boy. Football? They're very keen on it in Czechoslovakia, am I right? Course, personally I'm more into books these days.’
She dangles a juicy literary worm. 'Now Czechoslovakia – that's where Franz Kafka lived.' A pause; a flicker of recognition, no, more than that. 'A bit morbid, though – that story about a man turning into a beetle. Poor Gregor Samsa!'
Something is happening. Josef's face seems suddenly to melt in the glare from the strip light above; melt, go out of shape, and then re-form, almost into a new face.
'One of your favourites, is he, Josef – Franz Kafka? We could sort of read him together. The Castle, what about that? No? Okay, The Trial then. My English teacher Mrs. Ambler was very keen on him.'
Josef suddenly emits one word. Amy does not recognise it, fears it might be a curse. 'What was that, Josef?'
'Sveyk? Right.' A long pause. Baffled. Sveyk – doesn't sound like a swearword. Josef is reaching out his hand.
'Come. Please!'
Three words! This must have exhausted Josef's usual tally for the year.
Upstairs, to his room, head nodding now, vigorously. Josef switches on the light, goes to a set of drawers, opens the top one.
Amy waits by the door. 'Sveyk.' She practices it aloud. Does it mean 'bedroom' or 'drawer' or perhaps even a 'secret case' that Mr. Dodds accused him of hiding away?
Josef produces a fat paperback with a flash of yellow on the cover. He holds it up. 'Sveyk.'
At last.
'He's the author?' She receives the book. She reads out the title. 'The Good Soldier Sveyk by Jaroslav Hasek.'
'Hashek!' replies Josef, correcting Amy's pronunciation.
Eyes meeting, eyes aglow now.
On the cover, an officer in a blue uniform is sitting down and smoking a fag. Coming through the door, saluting, is a plump soldier with a stubble beard and a big grin.
Amy points, Josef nods. She turns to the back cover and reads: The Good Soldier Sveyk and His Fortunes in the World says here that it's the "classic novel of the 'little man' fighting officialdom and bureaucracy with the only weapons available to him – passive resistance, subterfuge, native wit and dumb insolence".'
Dumb insolence, eh? Amy gazes across at her new friend. All she says is, 'Sveyk!'
Josef nods again, and now he smiles. 'Sveyk!'
'And you want me to read this to you?' She examines the volume which has suddenly brought her close to this old man full of dumb insolence. '752 pages, Josef, that'll take us a lifetime!'
Another nod. No sweat. She flicks through the pages, pauses at Chapter 4: Sveyk Thrown out of the Lunatic Asylum. She looks up but does not speak, then turns to the opening page.
She reads out the first few lines:

'And so they've killed Grand Duke Ferdinand,' said
the charwoman to Mr. Sveyk, who had left military
service years before, after being finally certified
by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now
lived by selling dogs – ugly, mongrel monstrosities,
whose pedegrees he forged. Apart from this occupation he
suffered from rheumatism and was at this very moment

rubbing his knees with Elliman's embrocation...

Amy's turn to nod. 'It looks as though it might give us a laugh or two.'
Josef is beaming. All at once Amy begins to feel good. She closes the book.
'Sveyk!' says the old man.
'Sveyk!' repeats Amy Douglas, little realising how this one word will change her life.

Amy and Josef become friends and she discovers that far from being the murdererof his kids, Josef is a poet of distinction, almost but not quite forgotten in his own country. Her aim becomes to reconnect him with his past and bring him fully and creatively into the present. In doing so, she comes to terms with her own past and present.


Notes in passing…

Unless you’re an expert it’s so easy to get art wrong, specifically to have an idea about an artist which prevails in the absence of certain significant information. When this becomes known a sort of revelation takes place. You look at the same painting but with new eyes.
This happened to me at Tate Modern’s current Miro exhibition, Joan Miro: The Ladder of Escape. My previous experience of the artist’s work was always when it was hung alongside the paintings of others, and my impression was of verbal wit, fun in a world of surrealist elements; a sort of play theory on canvas.

Pain in Spain
Reading of Miro’s Spanish upbringing and background, of the historical contexts in which his art was created forced an engagement, a link between painting and history which drew me away from former impressions. This history included Miguel Primo Rivera’s military coup in 1923, the suppression of the Catalan language and customs, not long to be followed by Franco’s overthrow of the short-lived republic.

Such events impacted powerfully on Miro, eventually driving him and his family out of his homeland, to settle in Paris where he was soon to witness the Nazi occupation of France. The paintings as seen, not in the memory but on the walls of Tate Modern, studied in the light of history, demand a re-view and reconsideration.

Encoding the serious
Miro does not translate his reaction to repression by becoming a realist, rather he turns reality into a powerful iconography in which the abstract or semi-abstract images are dramatically encoded. What I’d previous read as visual jesting now revealed themselves as charged with a deep seriousness. The passion lies, as it were, beneath the paint’s surface, controlled by Miro’s fidelity to the act of painting itself. Yet even here there is a paradox: what we see on the canvas is exact and painstaking. Its strives after, and achieves, considerable aesthetic satisfaction; but one gets the impression that it was in the act of painting that Miro’s passionate response to events going on around him, is to be found.

Deceived by titles
Perhaps in the first place my take on Miro was over-influenced by his idiosyncratic titling – Dog Barking at the Moon (1926) or Woman With Blonde Armpits Combing Her Hair By the Light of the Stars (1940). Such titles actually belie the paintings’ content and the act of creation, as does the sheer mastery of colour and design. Inside these formalities is an astonishing degree of savagery.

In referring to one of Miro’s series, the Tate Modern guide, written by Marko David and Matthew Gale, refers to ‘heavy encrustation of paint often laden with sand, accompanied by hacking, stretching and nailing – urgent, frustrated action’. No joker here!

Influenced by the American Abstract Expressionists, Miro stepped out of his precise iconography to produce large canvases some of which he set alight, leaving the viewer to scan both burnt painting and exposed canvas, communicating anger, even outrage, perhaps prompted by events beyond the act of painting or just as likely recording the inevitable pain and frustration when vision rides ahead of application. Burning canvases but still exhibiting them is an apt comment on the creative process.

Miro’s better known (less inflammatory) works may serve as symbolic concealments of his reaction to the world, but they are never wholly hidden. At the same time, as we enjoy Miro as painter, we acknowledge his own pleasure in the creative process; something that took him away from the horror of contemporary events. The title of the exhibition and of a 1940 painting, The Escape Ladder seems to speak for Miro’s art generally.

American dreamer?
Art is escape, the making of marks, the application of colour, but it is the process, not the subject-matter which constitutes the escape. Yet the one does not necessarily work without the other. In paintings done towards the end of his life, content seems to have taken something of a back-seat, somehow losing substance (in the triptychs The Hope of a Condemned Man and the paint-splattered Fireworks) simultaneously with the loss of the iconography that had stood the artist in good stead from his student days.

They are brave canvases, but seem to indicate that Miro, in those final days of success, riches and celebrity, might have been looking over the wrong shoulder. It’s a moot point whether the American art that so impressed him hasn’t something to answer for.


February 2011, when it never stopped raining


Fingers frozen, brolly soaked
Finding it hard
To warm to Istanbul.


Muezzin for breakfast
Muezzin for lunch; grant us
A peal of bells for tea.


No sink plugs our guide
Points out is down to the Turks’
Fear of still water.


No sun in Istanbul
Nor promise of it
In Constantinople.


Sinan: four hundred and more
Buildings later; what was
His name again?

An urgent notification from Ned Baslow, secretary of the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Grand Summer Festival Committee.

Dear Jim
I’m desperate to get this letter to you prior to the publication of your Blog No.23 on account of the fact that we have had to postpone our summer festival till the autumn or beyond. Following my letter to you last month, introducing such items as the Tableau of Womanly Beauty and the Battle of the Titans, I’ve received several inquiries for tickets from your readers.

Very regrettably Gilbert Stokoe (‘Lord Gilbert’) is booked for a hip operation and a carthage operation during what were to be rehearsals for his starring role as Don Quixote in The Spectacles of the Man from La Salamanca. Bearing in mind that he was also lead singer in our Tribute to Wolfy (vocals from the light operas of Mozart) we have decided to cancel rather than let the festivities go off at half-cock.

This has been a disappointment for the scores of actors and musicians who have been rehearsing round the clock for a range of festival events, but also for the local athletic and body-builders clubs. They volunteered their services as Ancient Greeks and Robin Hood’s Merry Men only for us to cancel the Battle of the Titans as a result of the local recreation ground being bought up by a national supermarket (whose name I can’t mention at the moment pending a legal enquiry).

As my wife Betty said – she is studying hard for an Open University degree –
finding time to catch up her on studies is poor compensation for losing out on her chance to play opposite Don Quixote as the Fair Dulcy-Naya, a part she has really got her teeth in to.

We are not disheartened. I know the whole district of Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven is resolute in its determination to put our show back on the road once Lord Gilbert can turn his limp in to a leap following surgery (this of course being dependent on whether recent government cuts won’t extend his waiting time till the next millennium!).

Please reassure any of your readers who feel let down as a result of our festival postponement: their application for tickets will be kept on record; indeed for those who contacted me so promptly, via your good offices, there will be a number of complimentary tickets available for performances by the Under-Sevens Choir and the Garland of Poetry Evening performed by members of the Fernhaven Women’s Insitute, always memorable occasions.

Councillor Stokoe asked me to mention that while for the moment his mobility is restricted, he remains in excellent voice, promising a special solo-event singing a medley of areas from The Magic Flute and Cosy Fran Tootie. He will be accompanied on the piano by his good wife Beryl, though her own health has not been of the best lately.
Kindest regards,


A real pity, Ned, but knowing the people of Derbyshire we at
Watsonworks feel confident that the festival will be back on course soon.
We had applied for tickets for the ELVIS RESURRECTED gig
under canvas and were on the waiting list. Keep in touch.


PREVIOUS Blog topics:

Politics and Fiction (Blog 17)
Fiction and History (Blog 16)
Aspects of Storytelling
Triggers (7)
Props propel (8)
Frames, Codes & Character (9)
Fiction & News (10)
Tale Power (11)

Thanks for reading Blog 23. Watsonworksblog
will be taking a summer break. Back in the Autumn
with more in the ENCOUNTERS series.