Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In Surrey - In Pursuit of Spring

Spring 2013  when I took these pictures was late and cold.

I heard a cuckoo today. What a different spring this year than 2013. I remember the day I took these Surrey photos - it was freezing!

By one of those strange coincidences I had to visit on Wednesday the area of Thomas's first, London to Guildford, stretch - somewhere I've never been before.

We didn't have much time, but were able to visit first SHALFORD
The Common

'Crossing the little railway from the mills, I came
in sight of the Hog's Back, by which I must go
to Farnham. That even, straight ridge pointing
westward, and commanding the country far away
on either side, must have had a road along it since
man went upright, and must continue to have one
so long as it is a pleasure to move and to use the
eyes together. It is a road fit for the herald Mer-
cury and the other gods, because it is as much in
heaven as on earth. The road I was on, creeping
humbly and crookedly to avoid both the steepness
of the hills and the wetness of the valley, was by
comparison a mole run. Between me and the
Hog's Back flowed the Wey, and as the Tilling-
bourne approached it the valley spread out and
flattened into Shalford's long, wet common. My
road crossed the common, a rest for gypsies and
their ponies. Shalford village also is on the flat,
chiefly on the right hand side of the road, nearer
the hill, and away from the river, so that its out-
look over the levels gives it a resemblance to a
seaside village. Instead of the sea it had formerly
a fair ground of a hundred and forty acres. Its inn
is the " Queen Victoria " charmless name. ' IPS. (Still there)

Cold grey day in Shalford.

The North Downs

The North Downs , or the Surrey Hills, are more wooded and attractive than I would have imagined. Proportional to its size, Surrey is the most wooded county in England.
'The Downs were beginning to
give me some shelter, and I went on under them,
glad of the easier riding. The Tillingbourne here
was running closer under the Downs, and the river
level met the hillside more sharply than before.
The road bent above the meadows and showed them
flat to the very foot of a steep, brown slope covered
with beeches. The sky lightened lightened too
much : St. Martha's tower, almost reaching up into
the hurrying white rack, was dark on its dark hill.
So I came to Albury, which has the streamlet be-
tween it and the Downs, unlike Abinger Hammer,
Gomshall, and Shere. The ground, used for vege-
tables and plum trees, fell steeply down to the
water, beyond which it rose again as steeply in a
narrow field bounded horizontally by a yet steeper
strip of hazel coppice ; beyond this again the rise
was continued in a broader field extending to the
edge of the main hillside beech wood. Albury is
one of those villages possessing a neglected old
church and a brand-new one. In this case the
new is a decent enough one of alternating flint
and stone, built among trees on a gradual rise.
But the old one is too much like a shameless un-
buried corpse.

Twice I crossed the Tillingbourne, and came to
where it broadened into a pond. This water on
either side of the road was bordered by plumed
sedges and clubbed bulrushes. At the far side,
under the wooded Downside crowned by St. Martha's,
was a pale, shelterless mill of a ghostly bareness.
The aspens were breaking into yellow-green leaves
round about, especially one prone aspen on the left
where a drain was belching furious, tawny water into
the stream, and shaking the spears of the bulrushes.

As I went on towards Chilworth, gorse was blos-
soming on the banks of the road. Behind the
blossom rose up the masses of hillside wood, now
scarcely interrupted save by a few interspaces of
lawn-like grass.' IPS.   St Martha's Church, Albury.
Albury sits in the south side at the foot  of the Downs. I liked this farm and the fisheries on the Albury Estate.:

But it was so bitterly cold that it was a pleasure to drive up the Downs to Newlands Corner and its Visitors' Centre.
And to take some more chilly-looking pictures:
'At first, [the Downs}
  were thoroughly tamed,
their smoothness made park-like, their trees mostly
fir. Beyond, their sides, of an almost uniform
gentle steepness, but advancing and receding,
hollowed and cleft, were adorned by unceasingly
various combinations of beech wood, of scattered
yew and thorn, of bare ploughland or young corn,
and of naked chalk.' IPS.
The warden told us that the weather was having a deleterious effect on the wildlife - migrating birds not arriving, 'not knowing where they are.'  We are complaining about the weather - inconvenient for us - but serious for the mammals and birds. An article in the Observer comments:
"Britain's continued freezing weather is threatening ever greater numbers of wild animals, birds and insects across the country, experts have warned. The current cold spell – one of the longest on record – is particularly affecting creatures that are already struggling to survive the loss of their habitats and changes in climate.
Examples include the hedgehog, which has already suffered a devastating loss of numbers over the past three decades and is now badly affected by the cold weather. In addition, threatened reptiles such as the grass snake and slowworm require sunny, warm conditions when they emerge from hibernation. Such a prospect is still remote, say meteorologists.
For hedgehogs, the prolonged cold weather has had a particularly severe impact. "Many animals that went into hibernation in November or December last year are still sleeping," said Fay Vass, chief executive of the Hedgehog Preservation Society. "The weather is not yet warm enough to wake them. Usually they would be up and about by now."
The problem was that the longer a hedgehog remained asleep, the weaker it got and the less energy an animal had to restore itself to wakefulness, added Vass. "It depends just how healthy and well-fed an animal was when it went into hibernation. But in general, the longer the cold weather lasts, the greater the number of animals that will not wake up at all."
Experts stress that the public can help. The RSPB has urged householders to keep bird feeders regularly topped up with high-energy, high-fat food and to keep water dishes filled. Similarly, the Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends leaving plentiful water supplies and also food, either meaty cat or dog meals or specialist hedgehog food."

Another article specifically mentions the chiff-chaff's lateness this year.

The drive from here into London, our destination, probably traced some of Thomas's route - near Epsom, and in through Wandsworth, but apart from the ever-flowering gorse, not really recognisable.

Poems:  Shelley: Winter

It was a winter such as when birds die
In the deep forests; and the fishes lie
Stiffened in the translucent ice, which makes
Even the mud and slime of the warm lakes
A wrinkled clod as hard as brick; and when,
Among their children, comfortable men
Gather about great fires, and yet feel cold:
Alas, then, for the homeless beggar old!      

Another bird poem, in which Edward Thomas positively relishes winter.

Bird's Nests

The summer nests uncovered by autumn wind,
Some torn, others dislodged, all dark,
Everyone sees them: low or high in tree,
Or hedge, or single bush, they hang like a mark.

Since there's no need of eyes to see them with
I cannot help a little shame
That I missed most, even at eye's level, till
The leaves blew off and made the seeing no game.

'Tis a light pang. I like to see the nests
Still in their places, now first known,
At home and by far roads. Boys knew them not,
Whatever jays and squirrels may have done.

And most I like the winter nests deep-hid
That leaves and berries fell into:
Once a dormouse dined there on hazel-nuts,
And grass and goose-grass seeds found soil and grew.
                                                                 * * *

 REVIEWS of A Conscious Englishman.

'Guardian Books, 5th April 2013:Reader reviews roundup

A biographical novel about the poet Edward Thomas 
Edward Thomas
Bardly behaved? … Edward Thomas. Photograph: EO Hoppe/Corbis
Hello and welcome back to our reader reviews roundup, which returns after a two-week easter break. Though the books desk might have been slacking, our reader reviewers have not.

One of the liveliest conversations has been inspired by a novel about the poet Edward Thomas. It was published in February by the Oxfordshire-based "micro-publisher" Streetbooks, whose founder Frank Egerton says: "My interest is in artisan publishing: which involves high quality, regional fiction, marketed locally in person and globally via the Internet. An analogy I like is that of the micro-brewery: a combination of tradition, passion and the opportunities offered by new technology."
A Conscious Englishman is by former teacher and probation officer Margaret Keeping, and either she has some very conscientious literary friends or her publisher's micro-brewery policy is producing some pretty heady results in the Edward Thomas fan club.
First to review it was ISWilton, who wrote:
What I love most about this book is the voice of his wife Helen. Much of the book is told from her viewpoint and we understand the pain of being married to a struggling, and sometimes, difficult artist.
Next came Georgeed, who felt Keeping conveyed Thomas's love of the English countryside particularly well.
evmason wrote the clincher over Easter weekend:
Her gift is to create in prose the landscapes and moods which Thomas captured in his poems. In showing us the genesis of 'The Manor Farm', 'Old Man', 'In Memoriam (Easter 1915)', she sends us straight back to the poetry, and for a writer who loves Thomas's work, what finer service could she render?
Definitely worth checking out then.' 

 I'm glad to say that people I do know personally have all, without exception, also said how much they enjoyed it. Some knew a great deal about Edward Thomas, others very little.

This is the full evmason review:
Timely, Shapely.
2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the First World War; attention will be paid to the writers who remind us. Already the London stage has hosted a play about Edward Thomas, and this Easter the BBC begins readings from his book 'The Pursuit of Spring'. Margaret Keeping's 'A Conscious Englishman' is timely.
Her research is impeccable and she is scrupulous in indicating when she is quoting directly from letters, diaries, poems; where she must imagine, she convinces. Biography can be shapeless, but here the problem is solved by structuring the book around Thomas's search for an answer to the tormenting question - how should he respond to war? This sharp focus excises undigested lumps of research, much to this reader's pleasure. (It could be argued that the relationship with Edna Clarke-Hall is a diversion, but you have only to track her photograph on the internet to understand her allure.)
Helen Thomas has written devotedly of her marriage, and although to a later generation it may lack attraction, Margaret Keeping is wise and generous enough to understand that where both parties have needs which are being met, third-party censoriousness is inappropriate. Her Helen is allowed to speak, and her voice is an engaging one.
Above all, Thomas is a poet of those spots of time - in Margaret Keeping's words, those "moment[s] out of time that could contain something everlasting, a rapturous moment, always remembered." Her gift is to create in prose the landscapes and moods which Thomas captured in his poems. In showing us the genesis of 'The Manor Farm', 'Old Man', 'In Memoriam (Easter 1915)', she sends us straight back to the poetry, and for a writer who loves Thomas's work, what finer service could she render?

Another surprise review on Amazon - I hadn't been checking:

A good read, 24 Mar 2013

This review is from: A Conscious Englishman (Paperback)
'This excellent book about the important but often overlooked Anglo-Welsh poet Edward Thomas, can be delightful. We experience the blossom of spring, the smell of apples and perry pears, him pushing his children on the swing in the orchard above the wide Gloucestershire fields. And there are some touching, not to mention passionate, moments with his wife Helen.
Margaret Keeping writes very skilfully, achieving some most economical character studies - 'Edward complained I treated everyone as if they were my children and they did not like that. It was nonsense, I was interested in people and hoped they would like me.' One can just see this bustling, fussing albeit well-meaning person driving everyone mad. But one can also see what an anchor she was to Thomas.
The book is an account of their relationship and the relationship with other literary greats of the day, particularly Robert Frost. It is also, of course, the story of Thomas's heart searching and indecision as he clambered to brief fame as a poet, and as such it deftly portrays selfishness, depression and anger.
Most of the narrative is in the third person, but some sections are given to Helen, which is effective in contrasting the down to earth practical point of view of a mother with that of an artist prepared to give up so much for his art. It points up both aspects and increases the feeling of reality in the story.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in poetry, particularly turn of the century poets, English/Welsh rural life, or just a good read. '


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