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The colours of England (in the shadow of Robert Frost)

Evening sky - Farnham

Evening sky – golden light, Farnham

A small lilac-coloured notice tells us that a lecture on the poet Robert Frost will be given at the Hop Blossom pub. There will be readings from his poems and then a discussion. The poetry will start at 6.30p.m. and the evening will conclude with a supper at 8.30p.m.

The Hop Blosson is a lovely pub in the centre of town. It’s just down the road from where I live. I reckon that Robert Frost and the pub will go well together.

I first heard of Robert Frost when, years ago, I was listening to a song by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The song is called ‘The dangling conversation’ and it’s on their ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ album. It was (and is) a beautiful song. One of the lines goes: ‘And you read your Emily Dickenson and I my Robert Frost.’ I can imagine two people, each with a volume of poetry in their hands, sitting in the twilight, together – yet a thousand worlds apart. Later I was told that Robert Frost had begun a lovely poem with the line: ‘Nature’s first green is gold.’ That line makes me think of nature’s colours in England. What are they?

They begin ice-blue and cool grey. Then: white, yellow – and purple too; Next, deep green and a dazzling white; and last: amber, auburn and topaz – dying in golden light.

Conversing with my father

Landscape: south Farnham

Landscape: South of Farnham

The storm had passed. I was walking in the open landscapes to the south of Farnham. I was alone. A warming sun had released the first scent of the pines. I could see the first bright yellow flowers on the black-green gorse; the heather, too, was in flower.

After a while I began to hear my father speaking to me.

As we looked across the open land he said:

‘Look! Stand, like that lone tree on the ravaged heath. Don’t bend, Don’t yield.
Stand – even as the gold of evening falls –
And then, in the chill of the white-pink dawn, prepare to stand again.’

Footnote: My father died several years ago. But I often find myself listening to him or conversing with him even though he is no longer alive.

‘I need your dreams’ – The dream-catcher

'I need your dreams' - the dreamcatcher  (UCA Farnham 2014)

‘I need your dreams’ – the dreamcatcher (UCA Farnham 2014)

There’s an art college right next door to where I live – and it sometimes provides me with shelter from the wind and rain: instead of having to walk along the pavements back from the centre of Farnham I can turn into the foyer of the college* and enter a strange and image-laden world. I can cross the quadrangle with its sets of purple or yellow chairs, edge past the Students Union and then take the long straight corridor that, at its end, opens a few metres away from my front door.

The art college isn’t at all like art colleges used to be: it’s neat, tidy and rather corporate. But it still has the power to lift the veil of ordinary perception: it still has the power to surprise, to unsettle and to disturb.

At the beginning of February whilst I was on my way home I decided to avoid the relentless rain and take a detour though the college.

I’m glad that I did because I fell under the spell of the dream-catcher.

This is how: Right at the beginning of that long straight corridor there’s a place to sit and think. But sometimes the students use the space to alert people to an art work that they are making. And as I passed that space I saw a notice neatly pinned to the wall: it said: ‘I need your dreams.’ Immediately below the notice was a pencil and a tiny pad of paper. And, adjacent to the pencil and paper was a cardboard box – a box in which to catch the dreams. There was something perfect about the request, the pencil, the paper and the cardboard box. There was something strangely seductive too.**

I sat down next to the ensemble and began to recall the details of a dream that I had had the night before. I picked up the pencil and note pad and upon it I wrote a short outline of my dream: This is what I wrote:

‘It was late afternoon. I was in a city. Maybe it was Havana. Or perhaps it was a Spanish or Italian city. The sky was still bright and the weather was hot and dry. Where was I? I was in one of those parts of a city that was on the edge – a place where people hustled and knew how to keep going. I was with my wife and she had seen the entrance to a dance club. She wanted to go in – and we did. It was a club where people danced Latin dances – sexy sultry dances. There weren’t many people inside the club. Amongst them were some habitués – the kind of men who knew how to dance and how to be coolly erotic. The music began and I felt really apprehensive. My wife got up to dance and I could see the men anticipating their next move. They watched her and began to close in. I felt something close to terror. Would they and their dancing take her away from me? And then I woke up.’

I posted the outline of my dream into the opening that had been cut into the cardboard box. As I posted it I could see that a number of other dreams – dreams that I would love to have read – had already been caught by the dream-catcher.

I was so glad that all those dreams could now live on and become part of someone or something else.

Then I got up and set off for home.

* The art college is now officially known as the Farnham Campus of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA)

** The artist (Harry) who wanted our dreams had embarked on an esoteric project that melded the dreams with poetry.

English Humour (Number 2)

I don't know: Farnham 2014

‘I don’t know’: Farnham, Surrey, 2014

The first crocuses are in bloom! There’s a tiny cluster of amethyst flowers – bright and hopeful – amongst the long-ago fallen autumn leaves. The crocuses are tucked away on the lower slopes of the park. High above them I can see the walls of the castle. The castle sits atop one of the finest streets in the south of the country: that street is ‘Castle street’: it’s wide and beautiful – and it makes you want to hang on to the good things of England.

Across the street there’s an alley – a tiny alley – cut like a size 8 dress into the solid facades of the elegant houses. The alley does not seem to have a name.

I leave the pavements of Castle street and walk though the nameless alley. To my left is a tall and ageing brick wall. It’s so old that a host of tiny ferns grows upon its surfaces. The brick wall runs the whole length of the alley. To my right the passageway opens onto the minute front gardens of a row of terraced cottages. The cottages are as small as you can make a cottage. Once upon a time they must have housed the servants who worked in the great houses of the town.

Each of the cottages has a lovely charm. The front doors are painted in beautiful colours. Some of the owners have given names to their cottages. The names are etched or carved onto plaques that hang near to the front doors. One of them shows the craft of the potter: it is simple in design – yet strangely graceful. I can just make out the letters. I have to concentrate on making them intelligible. What do they say? What is the name of this particular cottage? Oh, I see! It says:

‘Brick wall view’.

I smile.

That must be the best name for a home in the whole of Farnham.

What have they done to the rain?

After the rain: Farnham park

After the rain: Farnham park

It’s late afternoon. It’s the end of January. The rain is streaming down. It’s been the wettest January since … well, since time began. I’m driving from Guildford to Farnham. Far to the west I can see that the charcoal-black clouds are clearing. There’s a blood-red glow on the horizon. It’s firework-red. It’s strontium red.

I’m listening to a famous song on the car stereo player. It’s a song that was first played on the radio in 1962. Then it was called the ‘Rain song’; I heard it again in 1964 but it had a different title: It’s by Malvina Reynolds and the song is: ‘What have they done to the rain?’ It’s a beautiful song – and begins with the words:

Just a little rain falling all around,
The grass lifts its head to the heavenly sound …

I love those lines: I think of the light summer rain that cools the land. I think of grass bathed in the morning dew. I think of the freshet stirred – and the brook – and the river. I think of kingfishers and herons …

The song continues:

Just a little rain, just a little rain,
What have they done to the rain?

So, I remember the idea of the protest song: In the early 60s there were lots of such song: back then Malvina Reynolds was singing about the atmosphere – the air that we breathe – and how it was being poisoned by nuclear fall-out – the radioactive fall-out from testing nuclear bombs. She wanted us to know about the nuclear rain.

The words of the song continue:

Just a little boy standing in the rain,
The gentle rain that falls for years.
And the grass is gone,
The boy disappears,
And rain keeps falling like helpless tears,
And what have they done to the rain?

Her voice is haunting, simple and pure; then she sings the next verse:

Just a little breeze out of the sky,
The leaves pat their hands as the breeze blows by,
Just a little breeze with some smoke in its eye,
What have they done to the rain?

The grass disappears because it is being killed. The boy, too, disappears. He’s died a nuclear death; And, the gentle breeze with some smoke in its eye? The smoke is the deadly strontium-90.

As the song ends the rain about me is still lashing down.

And I’m driving through the rain towards a blood-red strontium sky.


1. Two strontium compounds, strontium carbonate and strontium nitrate burn with a bright, red flame and are used in both fireworks and signal flares.

2. Strontium-90 (90Sr) is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission. It has a half-life of 28.8 years. Strontium-90 is a ‘radioactivity hazard’.