Friday, October 27, 2006

I Fought The Law and I Won / Bizarre Journey Home

I Fought The Law and I Won

police car Lewes Garret. Victory at last! After a four-month battle and countless words deployed as ammunition against them, Warwickshire Police have finally conceded defeat in the dispute over my ex-car, The Last Word in Luxury.

The Last Word (pictured below) was smashed, snatched and crushed in June this year in a series of events that do no credit to the reputation of the Warwickshire constabulary - see Nightmare. 
But now all is forgiven.

The Last Word in Luxury I have received a full apology from Warwickshire Police and my costs have been reimbursed.

My historic victory has been greeted with joy by my expert witnesses and legal team (all mates).

Even The Clash have sent a congratulatory telegram!

I am still on my bike. It will be a little time before I can purchase another car. This moral victory, however, means a lot to me.

Warwickshire Police made a mistake but a triumvirate of good officers, Sgt. Adrian Davis, Chief Superintendent Richard Sear and Chief Constable John Burbeck have put it right.

These Batmanesque characters are sweeping crime off the streets of Leamers City.

They are a credit to their force and the good people of Warwickshire.

What’s more, I got two poems out of this whole saga, The Last Word in Luxury and this week’s new poem from me I Fought The Law and I Won.

Bizarre Journey Home (Flashback to Thursday, 27 April 2006).

Lewes – London Victoria train. 7am. Plumpton. The race course looks overgrown today. Maybe that is how they like it.

When I awoke at six, I literally could not move. My arm had fallen asleep and was as heavy as an iron bar; my back was frozen.

My mobile phone alarm rang and rang, to my wife’s displeasure. I eventually managed to get up, bathe and prepare for the day ahead.

It is the first time I have worn cufflinks and my good silk tie since my failed luncheon with the The Duke and his Lordship - an upsetting non-event.

Three Bridges. Back pain is really kicking in. I need to take my painkillers but have drunk all of my tea with which to swallow them. Alas, no sign of the buffet trolley.

I am reading a book called English Song which I found at Lewes Station last week. Some good, old poems in it which I might use for a Guest Poem secton of Oliver's Poetry.

I have a busy day ahead of me and a night on the tiles as well.

12.50am the following day. A bizarre journey home. I got on the train and flopped down to find myself quickly joined by a youth who had removed all his clothing from the waist upward.

The guard instantly came back round and said it was essential I relocate to the next carriage in order to arrive at my desired destination of Lewes (inebriation makes me formal and rather pompous in my reportage).

In my second position on this train, I was seated next to a group of gay men returning to Brighton. They were very friendly and I enjoyed their company and humour.

The guard came round again and said I still was not in the right carriage for Lewes. He said I needed to move a total of two carriages’ down the train, not one as I had been previously informed.

I picked up my bag again and bade my companions farewell. The gay men pretended to be horribly upset at my leaving.

The most vociferious quipped: ‘We’re all straight, didn’t you realise?’ The others fell about laughing.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Sam Towers 1918-2006

Sam Towers 1918-2006

Cotesbach Garret. Sam Towers was laid to rest today in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Cotesbach.

The funeral was a wonderful celebration of his life. The clergyman spoke of Sam having been ‘blessed with a sense of well being’ and ‘imparting it to everyone who had contact with him’.

St. Mary’s, Cotesbach was packed. People had come from far and wide to pay their last respects to Sam.

When I was living here in the garret of Cotesbach Hall where I am again as I write this, I would see Sam Towers almost every day. He would walk across the yard carrying his leather bucket on his way to tend to his hens in the old schoolhouse behind the battered door (pictured) and to dig his vegetable garden.

Sam was almost immaculate in his smart brown coat, tweed jacket, shirt, tie and cloth cap.

He would stop for a chat, tell an old yarn, talk about his garden or spread a little country wisdom, so very often ending with one of his favourite phrases: ‘Do a little, leave a lot’.

Sam Towers was wonderful with children. He always found time for people, young, old and in between. He was not a traveller. As the priest said ‘he liked to be where he belonged’ among his family.

He loved animals, except foxes. I remember being with Sam in 'the covers’ (the woods) when he produced his ‘barking iron’ (gun) and shot a fox – to prevent it from killing his beloved hens.

The funeral service was fascinating. I had forgotten that Sam was one of 10 children and also about his time with the South Atherstone Hunt and as a gamekeeper. I did recall Sam had been a jockey half a century ago; his love for horses was certainly great.

Sam came to Cotesbach when he married in 1948 and kept a garden outside his cottage and a vegetable plot in the grounds of Cotesbach Hall for around half a century.

He was often around when we lived there and was always willing to lend a hand. If there was a rope to be pulled or a ladder to be held, Sam Towers would be on the end of it. More often we would bump into each other beside the village pond (pictured) and have a chinwag about life.

After the gentlemen of Wilf Smith & Son Funeral Directors had carried Sam’s coffin out into the churchyard where he is now buried, the mourners shuffled around chatting outside the church door.

Family members followed traditional by casting clumps of earth into the open grave. It struck me that although Sam Towers had physically been a small man, his presence had been great.

I visited Sam late last year at his cottage. Illness had dimmed his eyes a tad but his friendliness and hospitality were undiminished.

His widow Dorothy – or Doll, as the vicar called her – and the family invited everybody to Cotesbach Village Hall for the wake.

I thought of how Sam was born in 1918 at the end of the Great War and served in the Second World War. He told me ‘bad water’ had done for him and he could not sup alcohol.

Over the years I have attended many events at the Village Hall but none has been as full of joy as this one. Sam’s spirit seemed among us.

Back at base, my friend Phil and I retired to the Sickle & Stick to continue the wake. Gradually the room filled up and by the end of the evening it was busy.

I wrote about Sam Tower's life and send-off in the Sickle & Stick Book. And then something extraordinary happened. A Polish girl wandered in. This was amazing because the Sickle & Stick is the equivalent of a shed in a field in an obscure nook in the back of beyond. It does not get uninvited visitors.

The girl, in her early twenties, said her car had broken down on a distant road and she had wandered across the fields and stumbled on this dwelling. She seemed greatly down in the dumps.

We sorted her out with a drink and she explained that she had that day failed to land a menial job and had been dumped by her boyfriend.

She brightened up a little warming her feet beside he roaring fire we had built, and told us she had trained a journalist in Poland.

With a twinkle in my eye I told her of my time as the Editor of the Cotesbach Bell (ignoring my real journalistic pedigree), a newsheet dedicated to life in Cotesbach, a hamlet with a population of around 150.

I mentioned the newspaper's finest moment – recruitment the then 82-year-old Sam Towers as its star columnist. This occurred after I approached him beside the henhouse with a tape recorder and said: ‘Hi Sam, I’d like you join the Bell as columnist please. Tell me about your garden!’

Without so much as a moment of hesitation, Sam fluently expressed his views on his garden and the weather and life. Five minutes later I turned off the tape and thanked him.

All I had to do was transcribe his words to have the column verbatim!

When the Polish girl left, she asked if she could write something in the Sickle & Stick Book. After her taxi had spirited her away, we read out her entry. She said her visit had turned despair into joy. She had found her purpose. Now she knew what she wanted to with her life.

To be frank I was unsure what she meant. Phil said he knew: hearing about how a hamlet the size of Cotesbach could have a newspaper (even for a short time) had inspired her. Reading Sam's column had rekindled her love of journalism

I wondered if she had not just been taken by the pure country life; the simple values epitomised by Sam that we had told her about.

Whatever the case, she had experienced an epiphany in the Sickle & Stick.

Somehow the torch of Sam Towers had been mystically passed on to a new generation.

Here's Sam's column:

Sam says…

Gardening by Sam Towers

I’ve been gardening in Cotesbach for 50 years and try to do some every day. I always say, ‘Do a little. Leave a lot’, though at this time of year it’s best to get it done. Plant as soon as you can now!

Peas, beans, onions can all go in. I put the onions in no more than three-quarters of an inch deep. Don’t forget to hoe the weeds off and pull the soil away as they get a bit bigger.

Kidney beans don’t want to go in for another couple of weeks. I always put them in on the fifteenth of May. Just plant them in a row.

With the peas, make a trench an inch-and-a-half to two inches deep and plant them three in a row, spaced two inches apart.

Yesterday I put in parsnips and carrots. I always put in carrots a bit on the thick side.

There’s still a bit of frost about but it won’t hurt, so long as your seeds are covered up in soil.

It’ll soon be time for cabbage plants - any day now. But it’s been a bad old time for digging, what with the wet.

You should be in the garden every day. There’s always a job to do. But as I say: ‘Do a little. Leave a lot!’

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Warwick Poetry Pub Crawl / Love On The Northern Line

Warwick Poetry Pub Crawl

Leamington Garret. The week kicked off with a marvellous poetry pub crawl of Warwick pubs – and then very quickly became hellish!

I travelled up from the Lewes Garret after Sunday lunch, arriving at around teatime at the Leamington Garret to find it deserted and in darkness with the fire alarm ringing.

This started days of domestic purgatory, living by candlelight in severe cold with no heating, lighting or cooking facilities at the top of a four-storey building.

I was pissed off, shaving with cold water by the light of a solo candle and taking icy cold showers – something I have not done since 2003 when I spent a week staying at the Beda College in Rome (part of The Vatican) when their heating was broken!

The Warwick Poetry Pub Crawl, part of the inspired Warwick Words weekend, was absolutely terrific.

Seven poets we were and started at the Warwick Arms Hotel, a refurbished and quiet venue. The audience comprised one woman, the organiser Sean Kelly's girlfriend!

The intimacy of this set-up gave me the chance to read some poems I had not intended to perform. I did Fourteen Tenants, Egg, and Warwick Wobble, none of which I have even dared to publish on Oliver's Poetry.

I also read the very short Loving You which made the poets laugh. A particularly enjoyable section came when one of the gang read Wendy Cope's Bloody Men and then I recited my response to her poem, Women, which they all clearly enjoyed.

Everyone read or recited. Sheila Cooper and Stephen were particularly memorable.

Warmed up, we went on to the next pub The Zetland Arms. I had lived for five months in Warwick, on St Nicholas Church Street, and my flatmate and I went to Zetland Arms, one of my favourite Warwick pubs. It was by far the best venue on this pub crawl.

Sean Kelly was on good form, especially performing his Minute Poem which he brought in at precisely 60 seconds.

What was lovely about the Zetland Arms was that the locals entered into the spirit of the Warwick Poetry Pub Crawl. A man at the bar instantly knocked up a quick poem about Warwick and read with great gusto.

The drinks were flowing freely; it was turning into a really watery evening. We half-staggered down to the final pub, the Roebuck Arms. I have to say that when I lived in Warwick, I considered the Roebuck the most unattractive of public houses. Even I, with my dipso tendencies, had never supped more than half an ale in it.

So, I was not surprised when the barman seemed bemused that we were to perform poetry in his establishment. Predictably the locals simply ignored us. This was probably just as well as my efforts were going distinctly pear shaped. Sean Kelly had asked for spontaneous rhyming couplets about the pubs on the Poetry Pub Crawl and my contributions were embarrassingly poor in quality.

What was exciting was that Becky (pictured top) read more and more of her poems and a Flippy T-shirt-wearing chap called Dr Mark McLellan read out of poetry volume published by a recently deceased friend. Very moving.

Rather than be tempted by a return to the Zetland Arms for more drinks, I bit the bullet and was transported by the kindness of a sports car driver back to the Leamington Garret. Inside it was grim with a capital G! Bitterly cold, totally dark and terrifying!

Climbing nine flights of stairs in absolute black out is no laughing matter. I bolted the door and got straight into bed, leaving the curtains open in the hope that the daybreak would wake me. As it turned out I would hardly sleep at all for the next two days.

It was Tuesday before the electricity came on again. I found I had melted a toothbrush while shaving by candle light, Various other things had been broken while we stumbled around like blind men in the darkness.

When the lights come back on after two coal-cellar black nights, you appreciated the greatness of Faraday.

Or any day!

Love On The Northern Line (Flashback to May Day, 1 May 2006)

I have been working on a poem called I Fell In Love On The Northern Line which I started after a very brief conversation with a London Underground worker last Thursday morning. It is funny and strange how a little incident can inspire you. Without these moments I could not write poetry.

The weather now is glorious, sunny and warm on the face. I shall do a little more work on my poem and transcribe a Catallus poem or two. I recall sitting next to the Archbishop of Southwark Kevin MacDonald on a flight back from Rome. When he caught me reading some filthy Catullus poems (in English of course), he grinned and said, 'They're so much better in Latin, Ollie!'

I have a confession to make: I have been reading the Sunday Express. According to its magazine, the Poetry Society's membership has increased by 40 percent in the last decade.

So, maybe I am not barking up the wrong tree and Oliver's Poetry will be a big success.

Mind you, the article in the Sunday Express was illustrated by a photograph of a bosomy blonde lying suggestively in the long grass and had the headline 'Bard Company'.

Good old Sexpress!

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