Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mr Patch

My primary school reports
I've often been asked about why I write but never about the origins of the impulse, about what made me a writer from a very early age. The most obvious influence was my father, a teacher of English and Latin with an equal interest in history, a phenomenal reader and throughout his adult life a maker of notes and diaries. After retirement he devoted a lot of time to writing, including an account of his experiences during WWII which he called with habitual irony 'A good war'. I read very widely from his suggestions from the age of 4, having an excellent library of books to draw on.

The first book I wrote was at the age of 8/9. It was about, of all things, the Greek islands. I still have it. Of course I'd never been there or anywhere outside of Gloucestershire and Wales. The Homeric tales and Greek mythology had generated the interest, and islands were an excitingly stimulating whilst unknown phenomenon. My method was organised and surprisingly good: books collected from home and the local library, extensive notes made, a process of selection and then a text in my own words. Not that far from what I do now, except today I have the luxury of airing original thought as well as words. But I did pretty well then without the element of personal experience or widely acquired knowledge.

But here I want to honour someone who had an enormous influence on my writing career. When I was 10 years old, he arrived as a student teacher at the primary school I attended in Stonehouse. His name was Mr Patch. Not only did he teach my class daily English lessons, but we also had extra individual lessons together as my mother had quarreled violently (her speciality) with the RE teacher and withdrawn me from all religious teaching. As I had consistently avowed my desire to be a writer, it was deemed fitting that I concentrated on this in these spare lessons. What lovely and sensible people there were in that school!

Mr Patch set me a series of imaginative and demanding exercises, to write in different styles, to develop character studies, to describe places, to produce dialogue and most of all to stimulate my already maturing imagination. I remember now a newspaper article about an imaginary accident and the physical description of a Red Indian chief and desert setting. I realise now that he must have been an avid writer himself. He praised, corrected, encouraged and challenged me throughout. He gave me scope with discipline. He made me feel like a writer, with a serious purpose and a process of development to follow. He wanted me to be my best self in a context that has mattered to me more than other as my life has progressed.

What gifts for a solitary, serious, hyper-sensitive and hyper-imaginative 10 year old child! Recently finding my primary school reports stimulated this memory of a man who had an enormous influence on my writing, although I have never forgotten him. I'd thank Mr Patch from the bottom of my heart, if he wouldn't gently respond with a word or two about cliché.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

St Efflam

He's a strange one, this Irish saint of royal blood, who ran away on his wedding night to avoid intimacy with his new wife Enora and pursue his devotion to God across the sea. He landed at Lieu de Grève in the bay of Plestin-les-Grèves where his chapel and sacred spring stand near to the shore. Stories later associated with him illustrate the exceptional powers and single-minded courage that form almost a badge of office for many Breton saints.
The substantial fontaine, dating from the late 16th century, is a prophetic one. The rituals vary but pieces of bread are of the essence, If you have been robbed and have your suspicions about the culprit, take three pieces of bread, name each one and throw them into the water. The one that sinks will be the guilty person. This tradition has muddled itself with another concerning engaged couples, who are also to throw in three pieces of bread. If two come together without the 'saint' (or third bit) intervening, they will be happy. Obvious you might think, but rumour has it that the bread used should be stolen... In fact, the same ritual with the magic number three is used to answer any question there - will I marry, will my husband survive a sea voyage, will my child live - but in this case the answer is yes if two of the pieces float towards the third saintly morsel. Ah, the finesse of ritual.
St Efflam has another curious legend to his name. He came across King Arthur engaged in combat with a dragon on the towering rocky pinnacle of Grand Rocher overlooking the bay. When the hero failed to make headway and both combatants retired for a half-time break, St Efflam stepped in and called the beast out of his lair. The sight of the raised cross was enough to daze the poor dragon, who meekly submitted to a command to throw himself off the precipice. The moral is clear: faith is stronger than brawn (and dragons should always look away quickly when faced by saints).
Enora, the deserted wife, showed admirable spirit in following the virginal Efflam and landed a little way off near Le Yaudet where she was picked up in a fisherman's net. She was soon running from the local tyrant, who chased her lustfully back towards Efflam's haunt of Lieu de Grève. There a miraculous paralysis overcame the pursuer: he swiftly repented and was released from his plight by Efflam himelf. Enora established her own oratory near that of her husband and remained close but chastely separated from him until her death.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hello 2019

Temple complex Fanum Martis
Good start to the New Year, with lots of calm weather for tentative walking and lots of new writing getting itself down on the page. I've been working on the Roman chapter of Wayfaring in Little Britain with a trip to Corseul this week, considering the notion of procession in the short journey from the town to the hill-top site of the Temple of Mars. I'm also thinking of reviving my idea for a short Walking Meditation book if I can find the right artist for a collaboration.
Some solid work on the parish close exhibition has been achieved in the first days of January and I can now see the whole thing 'in the round' and connnections between the different pieces are clearer. There have also been new poems, so something in my head is still working - an encouraging and surprising discovery.
Temple remains