The manor farm: a walk poem
‘The spirit of the place, all this council of time and Nature and men, encircles the air with a bloom deeper than summer’s blue of distance; it drowses while it delights the responding mind with a magic such as once upon a time men thought to express by gods of the hearth, by Faunus and the flying nymphs, by fairies, angels, saints, a magic which none of these things is too strange and supernatural to represent. For after the longest inventory of what is here visible and open to analysis, much remains over, imponderable but mighty. Often when the lark is high he seems to be singing in some keyless chamber of the brain; so here the house is built in shadowy replica. If only we could make a graven image of this spirit instead of a muddy untruthful reflection of words!’
(The South Country, Edward Thomas)
I don’t know whether to tell you this. It isn’t really a story worth telling. It is not interesting in any way, but it happened. The reason for including it is that I am trying not to omit anything. Inevitably though some memories will get written and some will not. It is the way memory work, prose-poetry, life-writing, literary hitchhiking, and storytelling happens. Here goes then. A week after meeting Colin and Larry, I had another go at a loop around Steep. I was supposed to be meeting four or five members of the Fellowship. Colin said they were writers who took a particular interest in Edward. They were to tell me of the link between Edward and the peripatetic writers who influenced him. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Thoreau, Hazlitt, De Quincey, Emerson, Jefferies et al. Whose footprints can be seen scattered about his writing. The walk was to take place early in the morning and I was to meet them at the same place I met Colin and Larry. The railway station. Getting there was hard work, I seem to remember. I had to wrench myself from the peaceful surroundings of the New Forest and drive to Southampton initially, before getting on the m3. The morning sun was already streaming through the tent and I could hear footsteps and voices in the vicinity. No doubt descending on the shower block to beat the morning rush before I had chance. Bacon being cooked on a camp stove wafted over my way as I unzipped the flap of door. Rubbing my eyes I recall slowly piecing things together. I had slept in my clothes. They were now grimy. And I had drank a lot judging by the lack of saliva. Passed out, no doubt. C lay next to me inside a sleeping bag, looking beautiful in no makeup. Serene in the bright light now dropping through the opening. A fresh faced English rose. The way I will always remember her. She had not been stirred from her sleep, so I left her to her dreams and exited quietly. Trawling back through these halcyon care free days for this is thoroughly depressing. The image of her lying there contently perforates incessantly; a thousand daggers entering my eyes. My life seems to be stuck in an endless hangover where her sweet laughter squeezes the temples. Maybe I should try to forget her and auld lang syne. I stumbled into a sort of porch area of an orange and green house tent, and saw the extent of the debauchery. I remember it seemed as if a few days had elapsed between going to sleep and waking up. In reality it can’t have been more than a few hours. Beyond the large windows of the Georgian inspired facade were scorch marks, empties, fag ends, playing cards strewn, and deck chairs in a huddle; fencing off the mess. All the remnants of my life at this moment, in a single scene. Increment by increment. Carnage followed by decay. The modern-day drug-fueled binge in a tea cup. A cup of rancid ash in the end. Me down, further and further, deeper and deeper, to a T. Rather than facing the hell of screaming kids and pushy parents I opted for the hose ten feet away. This did at least remove the sheen of gear from my eyes enabling me to drive. I made it to the car without incident and started the engine, spoiling the naturalness of the morning chorus. To make amends the tyres made a wonderful crackling sound on the gravel as I slowly weaved around the shockingly bright tents. Up ahead a few stumpy horses were blocking the exit but parted gracefully as the car got nearer. At the end of the lane was the busy road, which carves through Ashurst. I followed this until reaching a roundabout. Beyond the roundabout memory recedes with road to nothingness. I got lost somewhere around Southampton docks. Big ships, tall things, heavy industry, water, told me it was a dock. Getting lost is at least a memory of the journey. I couldn’t say how I became not lost, or how I found my way on to the correct road even. I remember knowing I was now late and becoming flustered and then being on the a-road to Petersfield. The scar of pointless m3 must have plucked me from Southampton and plonked me there. Anonymously diverting me through important historical land. I saw something on the a272 that I had not seen the time before. It had not been there the previous week. Well the arm-chair cut into the landscape had been. A quarry of some description now given back to nature, or a very interesting geomorphological event involving ice. Just not the hundreds of people now packed into it. There was a large black stage at the base of the steep curve, facing the crowd. I had a good view from up on the road. Driving slowly due to the bottleneck and looking down to my left. I could hear some muffled noise. But most of the sound was kept in. It seemed like decent enough music to me. Kind of folky, or minimal house. A broad range there I realise. It could have been anything really, I could only hear the bass. It didn’t last for long. Around the next corner the repetitive beat had gone. I was over and behind one of the arms. Probably why the organisers chose the site. Along with the fact it was stunningly impressive, in the way that the cliff shoots up and arches around the stage. As the road straightened I passed camper van after camper van, either parked or driving in the opposite direction. I was envious of them. A loop around Steep with a bunch of writers was certainly more strenuous than sitting in the sun watching a band. Still it had to be done, if I was going to pad out the idea of Literary Hitchhiking. I had to tramp the foot beaten paths and talk of the connection between walking and writing, poetry and paths. And track the self across this landscape. Even if I did feel like death. The poetic fault or lay lines of the semi-mythical South-Country would have to wait for another day. Do a bit of writing at each poetic site, noticing my journeying self as Edward did, and it will be a job well done. Writing the waiting and the inevitable walking soon thereafter. And hopefully I would be back in the New Forest in time for chippy tea. Gone again. And I’d turned into a giant chip driving in a basket of bubbling hot fat.
I was late to arrive at the station. I drove to the end of the long thin car park and back again. Rays of sunshine were visible against the pale aged tarmac. Along with dust and heat waves. This did not help when trying to locate my hitch. I repeated the same loop of the car park. No one was here, just empty cars. At least I thought they were empty. There could have been someone in them. White light shining off windscreen after windscreen pierced through to my retina and back, leaving a white spot in the top left of my vision that I struggled to shake off. It was a good point at which to stop and park. Removing my legs from the car proved difficult. Swinging one round and out was easy. The left leg was not budging. I had to rest for a few moments and look for the elusive writers whilst still lent against my hot car. They were nowhere to be seen. An invisible writer is not a common sight. Visible is what every writer seems to want to be. But not a soul was about. No one stirred on the silent platforms. No one left and no one came. No train, seen or heard. Just cast iron railings running as far as my whited vision could see. Inside the little old station there was at least some sign of life, a couple. The ticket machine, same as always, was giving them trouble. Nobody was there to help, either them, or me. And no sticks, boots, flat caps, maps in sight. I waited in the small room for a while. Dazed by the bright plastics sitting what seemed in perfect contradistinction to the grey facade. Leaflets advertised walks in the Downs. None mentioned Edward. Or any form of literary walking. Hardly surprising really, the visual landscape for the tourist speaks for itself. Picturesque notions of distancing abound. The viewer, gazing out across the vista eventually to the horizon and the limit of sight. Take a photo and move on. Between shots, exercise. A therapeutic wandering had between points on a map. Walking mediated. Technology, body, and landscape incessantly interacting. I struggled through the excessive print for a while longer. Still no poetry. Not a line of the stuff. It seems as if poetry gets in the way for the rambler. Messes things up, rather than adding to it. I was happy with this. Leave the ramblers to bump in to the poetry. And drown at birth the lines of tourists waiting to walk an Edward Thomas trail. Before bombing a constructed fictional bounded realm of Edward. Insert Thomas Country below the Petersfield sign, and the overbearing lens through which to see the South Downs encases you indefinitely. I am encased. There is no known cure. Lodged in some dark corner of my brain are the words of Edward. They wriggle forward and dance before me when they feel like doing so. More so when I am in the Downs. I cannot control it. These representations are now firmly fixed in my vision of the place I was about to loop. Thanks Colin and Larry. Needed, one lobotomy detaching the representational from the real.
The last thing I needed was to talk about Edward for a day. Maybe they had not come because they knew how ill I was feeling. I had waited for half an hour now. Milling about by the entrance. They must have left thinking I had decided not to bother. I was only 15 minutes late though. I remember thinking that it was all my fault. I should have got their phone numbers. Or at least asked for their names. Panicking I paced up and down the car park. Still no one was around. Nobody would leave after a quarter of an hour of waiting surely. They knew I had a long journey. I decided to walk a bit further. I went towards the town centre. Now there were people. A steep length of pavementless road extending as far as the high street. There was no point in walking to the end of it. I imagined that it gave on to a quaint row of shops, all regimented in grey stone. A pretty old market town. I returned to the station entrance, for what reason I do not know. They were not going to be there, I knew that. It was out of desperation more than anything. Like scrabbling around in the bottom of a rucksack you know is empty. I gave up and walked off back to the car. I was not too bothered; it meant I would definitely be back in the New Forest on time. The clock in the car said 11:15. The writers were supposed to be at the station by 10:00.
Did they not want to meet me? I am not the bearer of bad news. A young upstart telling them that I just don’t get this sort of middle ground poetry, sat in the cold comfort of the Georgian in between. I hoped they did not worry that anyway. I was not about to tell them that Edward had had his day and we needed to move on to imagism or modernism, or something else. Or, what can a poet say about our rubbish modern life, obsessed with targets, incentives, outcomes. With no room for flowery language. Only team building exercises. And pointless, thankless, tasks. The station suddenly felt very grim. A place for the undead. Removed of all the ghosts, which I needed to walk. Removed of the person who was born to be a ghost, Edward. To get out of here as quickly as possible was the only option. Not before I had rang Colin though. He would put my mind at rest. Reinsert those comforting ghostly figures, Edward and the other Dymock poets, into my psyche. They had wriggled away completely, it seemed. I hated waiting. Waiting was the anti-everything to this project. Floundering in a sea of real people. That were not even at the station as they had said. Bloody biographers. The documentarians of life, not the livers of it. Cataloguing sense without feeling it. A life in words shorn of sensation. As if to compound the slippage of history from my thoughts, I reached an answer phone. This is the… End this now. Colin, there is nobody here. I have waited and waited. It may be all my fault but I am not sure. Ring me back on… I turned the engine on and drove away from the increasingly doomed theory of the poetics of space. Poetry is almost dead. The death knell tolled here back in the 60s. By the 80s the reaper came and swung a massive mobile phone at heads. Whatever I did beyond this moment could not resuscitate completely. People just don’t have time. Apparently. Information. Directly. Please. Thanks. Close window. Log off. Sleep.
On the off chance they may be in Steep, I drove there. At least seeing the name Edward Thomas on a hard rock would affirm in my mind that he existed. Tentatively walk into the church. Pop my head around the large wooden door. Massive cast iron hinges creaked. Relief when the church was empty. Except for the dead. I read a few of the tomb-stones. The families laid next to each other were the most intriguing. No Thomases here. Welsh name. Inhospitable place for a person with an accent. In fact, no one who had died with Edward was buried here. They had not come home. Edward had not become a part of the English soil he crumbled between his fingers. His grave is near Arras, near the battlefield, near Wilfrid Owen. At Agny military cemetery, row c, grave 43. It hovers on the very edge of living memory now. The Great War. On the precipice. What did you do in the war Mr? Got a medal in the Somme. Shrapnel. I never ever asked this question. A lost generation. The ones that lost their lives, the injured, all. The dead, the maimed, the displaced, the grieving. Theirs not to ask but to do. Theirs but to do and die. For King and Country. Hatred for the bloody mess of war. Not for the enemy. They probably felt the same. Buy a flag. And fight. For victory come what May. Quite suddenly it was over. An enemy now visible, made up of men too, who had also simply wanted to go home. Cancel history, forget hatred. A silence occurred. A silence the like of which the world had not seen since the early ages. As Edward knew would happen, the birds began to sing a moment later. Breaking the silence. Nobody wins in war. Mankind faced its greatest crisis and came out of it still capable of smiling. They had come through with flying colours. Destruction on an unparalleled scale. A never before seen loss. Future generations still haunted by it. The war to end all wars. We will remember them. Never again could it happen… The dead and the survivors, on both sides from 1914-1918, were lumped together. Reluctant warriors. Individuality forgotten. Just a hero. A hero with simply a rank. Second Lieutenant. Names on a wall. A village monument. Their lives reduced to their tragic deaths. The way we have always memorialised war since… One thing poetry of the period does is to bring us back fleetingly, the horrors of war. It serves as a reminder. As starkly as mass graves. There are no mass graves in England. It is therefore left to poetry to remind. To rob war of its last shred of glory. A wreath of poppies sitting sadly at the base of a memorial on a bland street dismisses history. Allows it to be walked past without a second glance or thought. In the graveyard of Steep Church, with a lack of bodies I, for the first time, saw poetry for what it can be. Epic.
Jolted out of my malaise. Wandering beyond the church gates. I remember sitting in my car and wondering what to do next. After an epiphany in a church. There were now less thoughts of driving away immediately. Poetry, memory, and haunting did need to be explored further. And there was a mingling of the three in that grave yard. But my options were limited with no hitch to hike with. No guide-poet. And no tow bar through the trees to grab hold of either. I had no way to connect. It was though a place of most hospitable hills. Lovely, lovely rolling hills. Without the immense scale of other regions. Without the wilderness, essentially – horrible word. Getting irrecoverably lost was not a worry. And not getting lost at all was a worry. Wandering alone had to be done. Losing myself – or at least feeling alone – had to be done. Only then would I feel any connection with this place. Any connection with Georgian poetry. Not ready in any way. Ill informed to boot. My first attempt at being a novice poet was about to take place. If the requirement of one to become a poet is merely a walk in the countryside without others. The soothing tones of Manchester blurted out of my car as I turned the key. Faux soprano Morrissey pleading me not to plagiarise Keats and Yeats. This was not a problem, as at that point I could not recall a line from either. There was only one book of poetry at hand. A green book of collected poems, which sat on the seat beside me. One poem burned through the pages to the cover and beyond. The Manor Farm. The first poem I fell in love with. This is where I would venture. Into the past. Along the same route Edward took. To that old farm house, and church, and yew. Unchanged for ages since.
I did not know how to get there and had no map. There was a video camera in my bag though to document the walk, if I had the luck to get lost. I wanted to start from the memorial stone and reach the farm along the maze of ancient sunken lanes. All of which looked the same in this flattened landscape. It is a walk Edward would have done regularly. And today links two important sites of pilgrimage for the Fellowship. Now and then Morrissey stole in to my thoughts. Concentrating so hard on a plan of action meant my ears had neglected to transfer sounds to my brain. Winding through the coombe at pace snapped me back in to the present. This charming man, in Little Switzerland. I was used to hearing the song in a grimy, sticky, dark hole, that smelt simply of red bull and sweat since the smoking ban. A place and smell nobody with a racking head ache and bouts of nausea should be reminded of. Never drink cheap red wine. But I haven’t got a stitch to wear… Progressing through the turns and up the hill was despite this, a relatively nice experience. I could see the deep coombe from another angle. And therefore look across to the other side, through the trees, to the secret path, suspended up high. It was not visible though. Maybe it just did not exist, ever. Only in the imagination perhaps. Gruesome that someone so handsome should care… Twisting the knob to quieten the raucous Rusholme ruffians was important, I remember, as I turned right. This was not the sort of street, lane, in which a racket could be made. Affluent second home country. A cottage in the Quantocks felt like a compromise in comparison. Territory the likes of which people venture into for a day or two here and there. There is a furniture makers on the right preceding the houses, which begin to grow in scale the further you travel. They sit on the edge of a steep scarp. A Hanger. Stoner Hill and subsequently the Shoulder of Mutton. It is the first ridge you reach from the coast. Running parallel to the channel, east-west. Allowing you to gaze almost as far as the sea. I drove slowly to the end, until the tarmac gave way.
I parked. Booted. Bagged. Walked south. Towards the edge. With video camera in hand. Pressed record. Held it at roughly eye level. And randomly began talking like David Attenborough. Documenting the experience of my first solo expedition. Note this did not help my attempt to become a poet in the slightest, as it excessively mediated any connection to be had (any ‘poetry’ orated was either bad, weird for the sake of being weird, or postmodern groundbreaking genre-defying genius: PLEASE DELETE AS APPROPRIATE). The land-writing, site-writing, or perhaps more aptly for literary hitchhiking, cite-writing, had been left, partly down to the hangover, until I returned home. And unlike my first walk I had less to go on. There was no transcript from which to begin without a hitch. Therefore, I decided that walking without technology, was a step too far. The camera was my comfort blanket. Since cast off in favour of leaving everything to memory. I knew this would more than likely, once written up, result in me vowing never to go back. And would act as a deterrent for others.
I feel awful… The ground is hard… This is my first experience of walking in these hills on my own. I am going to walk to the memorial stone first, which is through these trees. I can see it about 30 metres ahead. It is very steep. Difficult to get to. The roots from trees are sticking through the soil. Have to be careful not to trip up. Look at that view. 60 miles of downs. There is the a3 running across the hills. I feel silly talking because there are some people sat on the bench. It is not as misty today. Some of the leaves have dropped to the ground. Lovely colours. Old oak tree there. Very English. Amongst lots of fir trees. This is the memorial stone. It looks so set here in this landscape. Like it was dropped from space. It is a nice inscription. Someone has left some flowers. I wonder what they are for. Birthday or death. I like this place. It feels like Edward is here. Etcetera, etcetera… My stupid voice soon grates. I carried on talking, walking, and filming in this manner for a little while longer. Though by the time I was in the lanes, I talked less. If I did talk from then on it was to say that I could hear something strange, or that this lane felt a bit eerie. Watching the first section of film back, I noticed that the long periods of my heavy breathing, plodding feet, moving shadow, and waggling camera work were the most interesting. Rather than the forced documentation of a particular point in space, where I added touchy-feely emotion here and there. I touched the memorial stone, and smelt the flowers left. Before turning around to look out over the downs. This was sufficient poetry, my words then and now are unnecessary. A stripped to the bone, silent film, in memory of Edward is far more poignant.
Sadly though, I am currently sat in my front room hoping none of my house mates come home unexpectedly. The recording of the second section of the walk, which culminates in reaching the farm, is ready to play in the xbox. And I have no idea what I will write subsequently. It will be a description of what I see. And, a description of the walk itself that I have been reminded of. Separating the two out is impossible. The real and the representational simply don’t work like that. They are one and the same. This is the fabric of life. The meaning or unmeaning. Sense or nonsense. Play. The xbox is whirring into action. I can’t help but feel that what I am about to do is sacrilege, as the day was an important milestone along the way. Memories of seeing the yew tree and church, and farm house are flooding back. Along with the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by their beauty. It was a magical mystical moment. I felt like I was in the poem. Alone with the words. And the dead. Being transported back to that day two years ago watching the film is nice. But I will no doubt sort of, unwittingly, just end up describing a filmic representation of the pilgrimage to the farm though. A disembodied account. This is in a sense the problem with representation itself. Lenses, gazes, imaginaries etc. Watching the opening scene is a self-imposed distancing. Forcing myself to forget events, skewed over recent months, in favour of what I am about to see. Diluting the stream of memory, which has flowed forth so far. Poisoning and polluting my minds eye forever. The lanes appear and the camera begins to shake and I move forward. I remember now that for the majority of the walk, I forgot the camera was attached to me. I knew how to use it automatically. Maybe I did see the relevant symbol initially. But it was, ready-to-hand, as Heidegger would say. Recording away. This is visible from the footage. It was a simple appendage for a few hours, an assemblage of body and thing. I was not a subject and it an object. The pre-individual, pre-cognitive, joy of using a tool occurred. Flows of movement happened, non-culturally specific, un-thought out in advance. It was a friend. As such it did not feel like an object which would eventually ruin my memory of the day. The best thing to do would be to leave it unwatched. But where is the fun, or indeed danger, in that. And subjectivity arises. In the watching. The hand strap is now dangling on screen before me. Present-to-hand, as I swat it to one side again and again.
I am at the entrance to the green lane. The book of poems is open on the correct poem. I wait for a while before walking down the lane, to finish reading the poem. I read. Some day, I think, there will be people enough In Froxfield to pick all the blackberries Out of the hedges of Green Lane, the straight Broad lane where now September hides herself In bracken and blackberry, harebell and dwarf gorse. Today, where yesterday a hundred sheep Were nibbling, halcyon bells shake to the sway Of waters that no vessel ever sailed… It is a kind of spring: the chaffinch tries His song. For heat it is like summer too. This might be winter’s quiet. While the glint Of hollies dark in the swollen hedges lasts – One mile – and those bells ring, little I know Or heed if time be still the same, until The lane ends and once more all is the same. My finger follows these words to the end. I close the book and look up from the poem and down the lane. I move forward, shaking the camera as little as possible. I notice bluebells or foxgloves on my left and walk over to them. A splash of colour in the otherwise green sea. Dirty brown water has gathered in two channels running as far as I can see. Separated by a grass verge. Tractor tracks enter the water and disappear. Nettles as tall as people emerge from the green as I become enveloped. Now all I can see other than green foliage are telegraph wires soaring overhead, cutting across me now and then. The water channels end, and there is once more a small splash of blue. Large leaves overhang the lane, narrowing it. A dead end up ahead. Nature has closed the lane. I look through the dense winding trees, and see a gap and a patch of sunlight. I spin round to relieve my tunnel vision, a scene of rolling hills and hedgerows can be seen momentarily. Before the lens is blinded by the intense light and all I see is white. I look back down to the poem. A ladybird has landed on the page. It is noticeably red. Beyond the book, left of screen, signs of leisure pursuits, visible on the ground. Horse shit and their shoe prints, followed by the marks of a bicycle in the cloggy clay. Dismount here for the deep water I can now see reflecting away. Crossing it is hard work. It looks impassable. I follow the footprints left by others and back into the wall of lush bush. The camera faces down into the water, which reflects my staggered gait stepping over and under prickly holly. Only there beside the water. For the pleasure of my discomfort. Stabbing at my hands as I try to hold it at bay. A white butterfly. Lands on a small island of earth. I stop there. I rest for a moment and look back the way I came. A tunnel of pixelated green. Nothing else. I struggle to pick out a single species from the spotty mess. Realising that, a quick turn back, blurs all to be seen. Merging all the bushes and trees, into a simple splat of green, subsequently dragged across a screen. Before I stop the swirl and settle upon a horse and its rider coming closer and closer. Clipping and clopping, and swishing its tail back and forth. I do not move. Another horse and rider follows yards behind doing the same, clipping and clopping, and swishing its tail back and forth. Both splash through the water and around me on my island without a second glance. Although, I am wished good luck by the riders, as they bob by. Pitifully viewing me from up high. The horses huff as they leave, of course, down the lane. My breathing is less audible now. I must be fully rested. I carry on. Only the sound of my feet splashing stains the silence that has occurred once more. Everything is back to normal visually. Green, green, green. Circles of water extend from my shoe as I tap away at the surface. And the telegraph wires soar over head, through the clear blue sky. I trudge farther and farther down the lane. All I see is the same, until I reach a small clearing. Here the mud and clay melts, in a molten white light, seeping towards the lens and back in slithery streams. This is dammed when a tall tree is reached. Darkness descends, and a rabbit hops beyond a barbed wire fence. Ivy and Holly tangle themselves around the usual green. Strangling spindly trees, like posts perfectly spaced. A large solitary white flower sits in sadness amongst the naked branches. A climbing rose, I think, with thorns of its own. It appears as if the seasons were working their way down the lane, as I walk out of it through the grave of summer. The season I entered the lane in the height of. I walk on and pursue winter further. Before I stop and reflect on the tarmac of a more typical road. After a few moments the camera is switched off.
The next scene begins with me traveling quickly towards a crossroads. Storm clouds are gathering and a blackbird arcs right over me, landing nearby. Once at the junction I walk directly across the middle of it. There is nothing in any direction. It appears as if I am in the middle of nowhere. So I continue to walk quickly. The camera pointing dead ahead, always. Until I recognise something and divert my gaze to the right. An empty square of black cast iron on the top of a white post. It is the pub with no name, up in the wind. I now slow my gait. And walk over to the new or freshly sanded five bar wooden gate, demarcating drive and road, clientele and peasant. The pub car park is full and voices can be heard. I do not stay long, no doubt wary of filming a human. I’m left detached from others by my appendage. Back on the road again descending little by little, I film my shadow for a while. Studying it almost. I straighten myself and begin to march. I do not know why. Though it certainly adds to the film as a spectacle after a continued stretch of tarmac. An enchanting spectre in an unpopulated landscape. When the camera is pointed ahead once again, I seem to have reached the lowest point of a sunken lane. It is dark with the odd beam of sunlight shedding between leaves on to a glittering damp ground. Here the lane splits in two. The confluence of a dry river bed, banks taller than myself, channeling a small amount of water still. I take the identical tributary, to the right, past a triangle of earth, unsunken unlike the rest. Blue in the distance. Something to aim for. All very uninteresting and banal. But at least I had sort of surrendered myself to being lost, to mystery and oddity. And attempted in a sense to be fully present in a landscape I had previously floated over, been guided through, on a whistle stop tour of poetic sites. A more sustained attempt at getting lost needed to occur though. With no references relied on from past hitchhikes. After taking the slight right the image of the screen remained unchanged. I did not know when the Manor Farm would appear, or if it would. I do now. I am waiting expectantly for it to appear on the screen. Instead the lane sunk into the landscape bends randomly to the right. And the tree canopy is removed. I do not remember the house that the camera reveals. I see a little picket fence first. Followed by a crisp Georgian facade. A real version of the tent I had stumbled out of a few hours earlier. The lawn is well maintained. Perfect lines where it has been mowed. Surrounded by neat borders. No scorch marks or empties here. But a brown wheelie bin does spoil the otherwise sublime. The canopy returns beyond the bin and spots of light begin to affect the lens. The lane is too dark or too light for it. Movement causes strobing to occur. And it becomes unwatchable. I have to turn away from the telly. I am trying to remember roughly how long I walked this lane for. Not long as it turns out. The screen is awash with warming sunlight soon after. I catch it out of the corner of my eye and begin watching myself again. I know now I am now not far from the farm. There are a number of greenhouses on my left and the picture is now bathed in the glow of rolling hills and clear skies. In the background something red stands out against the usual green. It reveals itself as a phone box. The sort of which I only ever now see in London. Opening the door and picking up the receiver had to be done. I remember the door being heavy. It opens slowly on the film and slams shut behind me. Looking out through the thin plate glass is an interesting shot. The scene now framed twice in this glass box trellised in cast red metal latticework. An old white sign is directly outside, blurred, making the places hard to make out. Beyond the point with what I think says Petersfield 5 miles, scribed in black, is the church dwarfed by that great yew. A huge dark silhouette against a pale blue sky. I open the heavy door slowly and leave the hot box and immediately turn to my left to look up at the manor farm. I back up to fit the whole of the house in shot. Revealing window after window in the process and two tall brick chimney stacks. Reminiscent of more industrial buildings. There is nothing overtly ostentatious about the architecture. It is a genuine racketty packetty, unrendered, imposing brick structure. Authentically English, like the phone-box. Left visibly ragged at the edges. Tiles missing full of moss, gaps in a muddled brick work, odd windows of different shapes and sizes. The white Georgian facade glossing over all those perfect imperfections is thankfully missing. It does not appear to be a working farm anymore though. Just a large empty detached family home. There is no cattle grid here or any arable crop nearby. Its power derives from an image of past endeavor still evident. Traced in the little things. The nooks and crannies. The sense of the soil, the labour. Something is going to happen but I don’t know what it will be. The mangled plough dug into the ground, unused for ages, or the ancient five-bar gate falling off the hinges, without need now to keep in a cow, could creak into action at any moment. I look down at the book of poems and read. The rock-like mud unfroze a little and rills Ran and sparkled down each side of the road Under the catkins wagging in the hedge. But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun; Nor did I value that thin gilding beam More than a pretty February thing Till I came down to the Manor Farm, And church and yew-tree opposite, in age Its equals and in size. Small church, great yew, And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness. My finger stops at this point and I close the book. I wander slowly over to the church and yew tree. The original pagan meeting point of the yew inundates the newer Christian one and indeed the whole shot. Nothing did happen. Nothing will happen. Nothing happens as I read the sign for the church. I already know it is a church. Inevitably the sign is not of any great interest. Written in gold on a blue background are the words, Priors Dean Church. The rest is unreadable. It is in bad condition. A symbol of a dwindling congregation. Paint chipping away from the ply. Overgrown by sticky weed and nettles. The towering yew, forcing it to lean forward, as it swells still, after half a millennia. Beside the sign, still beneath the great ancient yew, is a rotting gate. It is open. A path leads from the small gate and winds round the gnarly great yew to the door of the church. I walk it. Even on screen it appears an enchanting few steps. Like a fairy tale of some description. The entrance into another time not so long ago. The time of Edward. I end where I began this pilgrimage. On hallowed ground. In a graveyard. With the spectre of Edward hanging in the air. His words, a thick fog, hanging heavy on this site. Yet otherwise alone in this landscape, as I had wished. These ancient graves, pitted and cracked, are unvisited. Uncared for anymore by the living. All given over to moss and lichen. Weathered and worn to leave these sorrowful blank graves. Nondescript lumps of grey stone, washed clean only by the wind and rain. A stone the shape of a cross stands out. There are no flowers. No individuals. Just the dead. Lumped together in a yard. Round the back of the church on its own, the tomb of the unknown soldier too, laid to rest beneath the immortal yew. I read the last lines of the poem. The Winter’s cheek flushed as if he had drained Spring, Summer, and Autumn at a draught And smiled quietly. But ‘twas not Winter – Rather a season of bliss unchangeable Awakened from farm and church where it had lain Safe under tile and thatch for ages since This England, Old already, was called Merry. I close the book. I close the gate. Silence and darkness.
It was not long before I snapped out of my poetic state. I was too swivetty and occupied to take anything else in. The New Forest and a snifter before bed was back in my head. The site of church yew and farm had taken its toll. Along with the long walk and the abstraction from the previous loop completed days prior with Colin and Larry. I yearned for my car and a different form of motion. Or a view of the organic shapes of clouds rolling across the vast concrete cooling towers at Didcot Power Station. It meant I walked the most direct route back. Passing less celebrated farms with a minimum of fuss. Corrugated iron, breeze blocks, barbed wire, cattle. Proper working farms. Along wide flat metalled roads. Out of the maze of sunken lanes, inscribed into the landscape over centuries. Leaving me on the surface. Scratching away at very little. Not lost in the slightest. Able to see for miles in all directions. And place myself within the landscape. Flat fields, hedgerows, the odd cluster of houses. Before the end and the ridge of mutton. A view of the South Downs was rarely improved by any car. It was at that moment. As it represented my route back to normality. Only once inside the car could I begin to think through the day. The car cajoled drifting off, back to the sunken lanes. Sunken lanes which had been hospitable. More so than during the loop with Larry and Colin. Perhaps the poetry had got in the way too much last time. Affecting the connection with this landscape. Also, was that the best way to experience the poetry itself. Too connective between site and writing, too selective as to what is to be viewed, too restrictive in terms of what can be thought. I drove on. Piecing together where I went wrong this morning. It was something to do with the m27. Not the Dumbbell Nebula in the constellation Vulpecula. At a distance of 1360 light years. Rather the still unfinished motorway near Southampton. 25 miles in length. Again it confused. Less so this time. To not end up in the city centre seemed impossible. The m271 came to the rescue. Swooping me away from the sea at the last moment and away to the forest. The newest national park. Ashurst now appeared on signs. Mini horses scrabbled away from the mini. And the tents appeared on the horizon. Less garish than before in the low evening sun. They were fun. Like brightly painted beach huts. None of the mess was present. Empties, scorch marks, and fag ends. Cleaned away. Remnants of my life earlier in the day. After the redemptive walk no more were they. I parked by the tent. Nobody was around bar a prophetic gathering of deck chairs. I seemed destined to be alone. I checked my phone. Colin had rang. I returned the call. He was very apologetic and angry at the absence of the rude writers. I said it didn’t matter. And it didn’t. There was a shitty warm carling laid on its side in the porch. I sipped it, fortifying my tissue once more. Sat in a deck chair and reflected on my first real experience of poetry; a re-walking of the route of a walk-poem, using it as a precursor. Creating a new version out of our contemporary landscape was now a possibility, having tracked the self through it with a video-camera. There was a definite chance, thanks to the absence of the writers, of writing a long poem, incorporating historical, literary, pop-cultural, and autobiographic dimensions. An impending poethood beckoned. Once the dust had settled from beneath my aching feet, mind. Happy with my days work, I lent back against the flimsy material. Conscious of a robustness now returned to my cheeks. Sipped, waited for C, and imagined Edward, half Welsh, half English, belonging nowhere, mildly schizophrenic, sat opposite cross legged, relaxing with a pipe. The original literary pilgrim. Still relevant.
Exeter, April 2010