BBC short story cuts


I’ll admit to an ambition shall I? I’d really like one of my short stories read on BBC Radio 4.
What’s more I’d like it read by Emma Thompson.

How likely is that?

Not very, perhaps, but the chances are decreasing since the Beeb decided to cut its output of readings.

Of course they do say that if you write down your intentions, and get really precise, they are more likely to happen, and that if you tell someone else, it improves your chances even more.

Ok!  So, ignoring completely the fact that the reading slots are usually 15 minutes long which means only something of around 2500 words is going to get a look in:

I would like

  • Emma Thompson to read my story Flight, (far too long, far too long!)
  • on a Sunday afternoon when people are actually listening
  • on radio 4
  • within the next 12 months.

Is that detailed enough?


In that case:

  • I want her to read it passionately and with conviction,
  • I want it to be chosen for Pick of the Week.
  • I want people to sit in their cars outside their homes unable to drag themselves away, even though they’ve been there 5 minutes already, because we haven’t finished yet.  (As A & I did when Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture was read on the radio)
  • I want an all time record for the number of listen again connections on-line
  • I want it to be showcased in the Radio Times
  • I want to be paid double the standard fee because the Beeb are so impressed

I want…

I want you to sign the PETITION!!! ….please!  Help a girl to dream…
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Clytha Castle

clytha castle copyright cherry potts 2011

Clytha Castle has been on my list of places to stay for a long time – a folly in the best sense; it is a pinkish rendered, Gothick, castellated and turreted confection on a small hill in Monmouthshire – with panoramic views of Skirrid Fawr and Sugarloaf. It is gloriously daft – every opportunity for a Gothic arch or alcove has been enthusiastically taken up, and one tower is ‘ruined’ and probably was built that way.
We haven’t been before because it sleeps six and we need the perfect group of friends. And so we collect the perfect group (Jn & S and Jm & T & Daisy the dog – I’m not a dog person, but I am a Daisy person. She has an endearing habit of sitting by you and resting her head against your back or knee, and she is always willing to have her stomach tickled. She is a very responsible animal, and a pleasure to walk with.)
Clytha castle is surprisingly big. The impression the building gives is of pink sweeping curves everywhere, intersecting the green curves of lawn and hill, and the grey curve of the ha-ha that stops the cows clambering into the garden. I had imagined, like so many follies, that it would be mostly trompe l’oeil, but aside from its ruined tower and absurdist curtain wall, it is a fully functioning building: mainly a solid square tower, but attached to the tower is a circular stair turret and embracing that, a curved passage that connects one half of the tower to another where a ground floor bathroom and bedroom are tucked away.

fireplace copyright cherry potts 2011

Up the stairs this layout is replicated, (although the bathroom is less successful, extraordinary 1980’s tiles and a bath too narrow to get both shoulders into!) then a further short flight takes you to the best bedroom at the top of the square tower, which A and I get, much to my delight. This is painted a not entirely successful shade of apricot which could do with being a bit yellower, but has 3 sets of Gothick arched windows on two sides, and a beautiful marble fireplace, on which delicate oak leaf carvings overflow the recessed arches in the spandrels.
Up a further flight of stairs is a half-height door which takes you onto the roof. The battlements are too tall to see over, but the Landmark Trust, every thoughtful and trusting that their guests can look after themselves, provide a sturdy bench just high enough to give a view.
Back down stairs, a long narrow stone paved passage takes you to the kitchen in the round tower. Landmark specialise in round (and occasionally octagonal) kitchens, although this is larger than most, with a vast scrubbed table to eat at. Once again, Gothick arched windows and alcoves abound. Satisfyingly, the stair turret and the round rooms have doors that curve to fit. The living room (more Gothick Arches) has a massive door which opens onto the spectacular view, and we spend a fair bit of time sitting with this door open looking at the view. This is what I call gracious living… There is something about the house that reminds me of Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s classic, The Little White Horse (without any justification that I can think of, since the house in the book is far older).
There are owls in the woods, and they start calling early.

After dinner we go out to look at the stars and play with T’s astronomy app which, once fed the co-ordinates of where we are, will, if pointed at a constellation or individual star, tell us its name. It even knows about some of the satellites. This is great fun but you get a terrible crick in your neck. It’s a bit weird that, when resting my neck I lowered the iPad and it happily informed me of the stars beneath my feet. If there is another clear night (sadly in doubt) we will take the deck chairs out. When we go to bed I take the walking map with me.
Saturday morning we are all up ridiculously early, and are out of the house well before nine. The weather is cloudy verging on hazy sunshine and the mountains have reappeared from their early morning cloud cover. Walking across the parkland, we come across some soft brown calves and their parents. They are very sweet and have dramatically deep voices. We are distracted by them and head the wrong way as we reach the road, which means we get to see the gateway of Clytha House which is rather fragile looking but once again Gothicked to death.

daisy copyright cherry potts 2011

We retrace our steps and find the riverside walk along the Usk, which changes its character very quickly; one minute shallow and rapid over rocks, the next as still as a mirror. Daisy is desperate for a swim, but the sides are steep, so she is told no. Then we come to a stream and Daisy, ignoring all demands to the contrary, heads into it and from there into the river. Fortunately there is some reasonable access so she is given sticks to retrieve and comes back wet and happy. Buzzard wheel overhead, rooks, crows and a raven put in the occasional appearance.
Our combined map reading is not very efficient; partly because Jn, Jm and T stride ahead so much we often overshoot a turning, partly because I’m just out of practice, partly because the stiles are overgrown and uninviting. One alleged bridleway is so overgrown there is no way it could be ridden along, you would be decapitated by over-hanging branches. The hedgerow here has been recently planted, about four feet away from where it has at some stage been grubbed up, leaving only the occasional hawthorn. There is another large group of cows and calves, this time in the same field as us, so Daisy is put on her lead and we creep past sheltering behind the meagre cover of the hawthorns.

cows copyright cherry potts 2011

I get stung all up my arm trying to get over one particularly untended stile, however once over it we are in a field that seems to have had some kind of failed mustard crop that is roughly equally grass and little pale yellow flowers, with a healthy smattering of chamomile and speedwell along the edges. We miss the next junction as well, do a bit of judicious trespassing and find the path again, via a wheat field edged with wild Lupins which have gone to seed. Daisy puts up a pheasant, much to her delight. As we approach the castle, sun gilds a corn field below the Sugarloaf. Despite it being only 11:30, we have lunch!
Before we came away I was frantically trying to finish some work, and swearing at the bank for their useless internet service, and was somewhat distracted, so I left behind half the ingredients that I had carefully purchased for my share of the cooking. So A & I went into Abergavenny for shopping. It isn’t a particularly interesting town, but it has a deli, a good second-hand bookshop (very high quality stock, but a bit overpriced) and a priory church and tithe barn, at which (the church) a wedding is going on – all the men are wearing plain black kilts, with silver daggers instead of those giant safety pins. When we get back everyone but S (who is cooking) has collapsed into bed. We follow suit for a short while and then we reconvene in the eggshell blue living room, J embroidering like a 19th century lady, T reading his kindle, J and A reading newspapers, S reading her book, and there we sit until Daisy demands another walk. Sitting in the kitchen over supper, I glance up, and there are a dozen or more bats flitting about the turret.

Sunday morning and four of us (and Daisy) set off for another local walk, much briefer as we have guests for lunch. We head in the opposite direction and take a loop round the back of the local pub through a few fields of horses and sheep, much to Daisy’s disgust, as she has to be back on the lead. She isn’t a bit interested in chasing the wildlife, but after yesterday’s pheasant best to be safe. We are heading confidently for a stile, when we find that the woodland beyond is so completely impenetrable that there is no point even trying to climb it. Fortunately the house nearby has a drive that takes us to the lane, and as it is undoubtedly their wood that has been so neglected, we feel no hesitation at all in once more trespassing. We climb steeply up hill, take a sharp right and find ourselves back in yesterday’s Lupin and wheat field. We arrive back in good time to make preparations for lunch and then sit down to wait, and wait and … Our guests are nearly an hour late. Fortunately all the food is cold, and the sun is out, so sitting in the courtyard waiting for them is no hardship. With the addition of our guests we have reconvened the group that met at the Old Place of Monreith seven years ago (aside from the child who wasn’t even a glint in anyone’s eye at that point).

working off the cake copyright cherry potts 2011

We drink and nibble and then eat, and then take our guests on a tour of the establishment. They are suitably impressed. We set out deckchairs and sit in the sun admiring the view while the child and the dog race about getting properly acquainted. Cake is eaten and regretted.
A strange car appears, and S goes off to deal with them, which is just as well as she is a lot more polite than I would have been. They claim they ‘saw’ that there was a castle and thought they’d like a look round. They have come up a difficult to find, unmarked drive, through a closed gate and past a private sign; to a castle that is not visible from the road.
So we can’t look round then?
They go reluctantly, stopping to gawp on their way. We are furious. I long for a shot gun. I am very proprietorial about ‘our’ castle. Daisy barks thoughtfully as they disappear, having not stirred from her patch of sun the entire time they were there. We agree that none of us would have the gall to drive up to private premises and demand to be shown round. Our friends head home as it clouds up and we all collapse onto sofas with our books until it is time to set out for a meal (that we don’t really want anymore!) at The Bell in Skenfrith, about 30 minutes away. It is raining a bit, but we take a walk round the castle beforehand, and go and speak politely about the weather to the River Monnow.
The Bell does lots of local and organic, and ought to have been good, but like many well thought of eateries, the starters are good and the mains aren’t. I come off least well with a very bland pea panna cotta, not one of the constituent parts tastes of anything much; and Jn’s Brill is lukewarm. I wouldn’t have chosen this dish, but it was the only vegetarian option. The boys both go for a starter as main and do considerably better than the rest of us. I could have done this too, I suppose, but there are only 2 veggie starters, and I don’t much like beetroot. The heritage tomato starter is excellent however, the bread rolls straight from the oven are not bad and S’s Rock Bass is apparently good. With aperitifs and one bottle of wine, it comes in at nearly £30 a head for two courses, which I don’t think is justified. The consultation with the river seems to have done the trick, it has been raining heavily while we were eating, but stops before we leave.

On the drive back a furry something disappearing into a hedge is claimed variously as a stoat or weasel, personally I think it was a cat!

view from whitecastle copyright cherry potts 2011

Monday and despite T’s insistence of an 80% chance of rain it is a beautiful sunny, chilly morning. But we are slow to get going or make a decision as to where to go. Eventually we agree on White Castle and a circular walk utilising part of Offa’s Dyke and the Three Castles walk. The weather is perfect, bright, blowy and brisk. The castle (which A & I visited when on holiday with friends at Longtown about fifteen years ago) is just as good as I remember – enough standing to be able to get to the top of one of the towers, plenty of steps to go up and down, and sufficiently ruined to give a magnificent echo. Views all round spectacular. The walk also has just the right amount of views, hills, rivers and bridges; and the rain, which we can see settling in on Crug Hywel, doesn’t reach us until we are back at the car. We drive back to our genteel pink castle and eat leftover curry for lunch and then distribute ourselves around the living room in varying states of sleepiness, until it’s time for Daisy’s afternoon walk. A, Jn and I take her through the wooded pit (a small quarry once?) beside the drive, and out onto the hill for yet more views and once more the rain holds off until we arrive back. I settle down with a book from the shelf, The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail, by Byron Rogers, a very entertaining and sometimes moving collection of essays about Welsh characters and eccentrics. T & Jm provide an excellent dinner. No one stays up long.

big pit copyright cherry potts 2011

Tuesday and the weather is undeniably Welsh. It’s blowing a gale and raining, although the forecast is that it will clear by noon.
We decide this is the day for the Big Pit at Blaenavon, but all set off separately as the site is large and we don’t know that we all want to do the same things at the same time. Impressively everything on the site apart from parking is free.  A & I start with the ironworks, which have been there a Very Long Time (1790ish). They are exquisite in the way that only industrial architecture can be – towering brick chimneys, perfectly balanced arches, furnaces like miniature ziggurats, and within reason you can wander wherever you want, peer into anything you want, touch anything you want – including in the range of workers cottages. In the damp aftermath of rain it is very atmospheric indeed.

blaenavon iron works copyright cherry potts 2011

Jn & S have opted to go to Abergavenny market and nearly run us over as they drive past as we are crossing back to the car park. We coincide again at the Big Pit entrance, and then don’t see them again. We don’t spot Jm & T at all. After carefully inspecting the video and notices about the underground tour we decide it isn’t for us, 50 minutes crowded together in confined spaces – not my sort of fun. However we take a look at the exhibitions and wander around the winding gear house and various workshops. The pithead baths are spectacular, and the exhibitions well done. We trundle into town for something to eat, as the miner’s canteen doesn’t have anything on offer that appeals to me, though A would have been very happy with the cawl. Beans on toast and tea later, we head back to Clytha.

Wednesday, and we decide to walk a stretch of the Brecon and Monmouth canal from Abergavenny and come back along the disused mine railway. The walk takes us from Abergavenny castle down to the Usk, through a field of cows, along the river to the Llanfoist Bridge, across and past the cemetery, and under the head of the valleys road. Then (counter intuitively) up a very steep incline, to the canal, embedded in the side of the Blorenge mountain. (Can’t help thinking Blorenge sounds like an unhealthy fizzy drink, or possibly something a bit like porridge.)

We have the canal almost to ourselves and it is, despite the roar of the h.o.t.v. road, remarkably peaceful. There is a sheer drop to one side, masked by copious tree growth that doesn’t look all that stable – you wouldn’t want to lean your full weight on any of those trees. The incline on the other side of the canal is equally steep, and once again the trees are hanging on for dear life. Three bridges along, we climb up and onto the track of the disused railway which is probably the one that originates at the Big Pit of yesterday’s visit. This gently drifts back down to where we originally started climbing. Five and a half miles, which felt like only three.

tintern copyright cherry potts 2011

Thursday, and we wake to drizzle, which dampens our spirits a bit, but we set off for Tintern Abbey by the route the sat nav insists on despite the fact we want to go via Monmouth and the river route. It is actually very pretty, just not what we intended. It has more or less stopped raining by the time we get there, but despite this it is still grey and overcast, which actually suits the abbey well. It being many years since A & I were there we are happy to look it over again. Jn & S were there a lot more recently but manage to enjoy it again and take great amusement from suggesting the monastic lifestyle to T, who is never far from a smart phone and a bag of chocolate biscuits. We drive back the way we meant to go, but it isn’t as dramatic as we remember – the trees along the road have grown considerably and the view of the river is only glimpsed occasionally.
Back at our castle I go back to bed, having been awake since five and up from not long after, and then mid-afternoon, Jn A and I take Daisy for a walk round the Clytha estate. By now the sun is out and the light that intense gold of the end of summer, and it is hot. Daisy finds a way into the river again, points out the stiles we have missed, and has a thoroughly good time until we are on the home run, where we hit two tall stiles in succession with no alternative route for dogs, or at any rate adult Labradors. We manage to woman handle her over the first, but the second is set into an uphill slope and we cannot manage to lift her high enough. She is patient but won’t help, and there is nothing to be done, but phone T and get him to come and rescue his dog. Daisy rides home in the car and we finish our walk, which takes only another 15 minutes.

T has promised us a supernova with dinner, but it clouds back up, and there are no stars to be seen, exploding or otherwise.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Tower, Train and Tree

Monday Bit late posting this been too busy to upload the photos!
Having finished the opera, had the birthday party and packed totally inefficiently, we are off on holiday to the tiny village of Upper Arley, and our home for the week,

Arley tower copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Arley Tower, a sandstone castellated cube overlooking the river Severn and the Severn Valley Steam Railway.

Despite many trips to Shropshire and Herefordshire we have never been near the Severn Valley Railway, and A is very excited that the station is just over the pedestrian suspension bridge.

We arrive two hours early owing to the school holidays having started, and paying attention to the sat nav; the most relaxed drive to the Midlands I have ever experienced. We case the joint, eat ice-cream at the local post office, talk to the local cat and wander past the not very exciting pub to the station and along the river bank (in beautiful meadows full of butterflies) to check it all out. As the time nears 4pm we trundle round to pick up the keys and at last have possession of our little castlette.

Apparently built out of spite to spoil the view (which it does- pretty it isn’t, it reminds me of Pippin Fort) it none the less has views of the river from the roof, where there is a table and couple of chairs. We at once throw open windows and doors and take a cup of tea on to the roof. The roofscape of the next few houses is enchanting, with multiple ages of chimneys and tiling. Our tower has rather an odd modern extension with felt roof and wood clad walls, however this houses a very good kitchen with all mod cons, and an equally substantial bathroom, so not complaining.

This low down, even on the roof there is no phone signal, so we walk up to the top of the hill, and sit in the churchyard with exquisite views and manage one bar, to send texts to various people who need to know we have arrived, or are away.
We usually holiday in Landmark Trust properties, but this is our first stay with the Vivat Trust, which is a similar but much smaller outfit.  Comments in the visitors book suggest that their other properties are grander and more comfortable.  I could be tempted!
There is a tonne of tourist leaflets in the cupboard and I do my ritual go-through, looking for things we might do, although our main plan is to walk and /or get on the train most days.


severn valley steam copyright cherry potts 2011

We are meeting our friend L in Bridgnorth. Because the earliest train isn’t very, we decide to walk to Highley, the next station up the line, along the Severn Way. The weather is lovely, the river is deep and fast, the flowers are in bloom, the anglers are obese and sweaty. We watch the first train go through as we walk, and wave vigorously, and then trundle on to Highley. Of course there is quite a bit of waiting around, but the station is attractively got up and we don’t mind a bit sitting on the platform and reading all the enamel signs.
The train eventually arrives and we get a compartment to ourselves, replete with sprung horsehair, upholstered in uncut moquette in a rhubarb colour with abstract cream pattern. There is nothing more nostalgic than the noise of a steam train pulling out of a station. A, of course, given her extreme age (!) grew up with steam; I can just about remember the occasional steam train coming through our station when I was very young, but it was remarkable, and only happened if the diesel engines were all playing up. It doesn’t matter, though: a real train is a steam train.

cliff railway copyright Cherry Potts

We arrive in Bridgnorth and decide to complete our antiquated journey by walking down to the bottom of the cliff and getting the cliff railway (a sort of truncated 50’s bus on a winch) to the top. We then seek out lunch, trying a number of places that were too hot, too busy or too carnivorous before settling on Cinnamon on the Cartway, which produced adequate if not very inspiring lunch. From there we went for a meander about the town, meeting the charming cats who act as vergers at St Leonard’s Church, keeping company with anyone with a sandwich.

Cats of Bridgnorth copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The surroundings of the church are very pleasing, an old grammar school, alms houses, and several ancient buildings of less municipal antecedents, and a great view. We then walked to the church the other end of town, St Mary Magdalene, which was designed by Thomas Telford, and is classical with pleasing pillars along the front, but not very exciting inside. Immediately next to the church are the remains of the castle: one corner of the keep leaning and a very worrying angle. Apparently after the civil war it was blown up to prevent it being used again, but they didn’t make a very good job of it. The castle is in a park, which also holds a bandstand and war memorial and more begonias than seem healthy. Virulent red rivers of the things hang from baskets on every available surface, they froth from every bowl and bed; and we have just missed the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The whirling teacups are being winched into position for the journey to the next fête, the puppet theatre is still playing a wheezy tune, but the curtains are drawn. A solitary bear, dressed as a nurse, sits on a blanket on a small patch of lawn not infested with begonias, with a first aid kit beside her.

We walk back to the station to meet L, and find her looking relaxed and cheerful having got back only three weeks ago from several months up a mountain in Spain getting ordained as a Buddhist. This does not stint her enthusiasm for gossip or tea, and we end up back at Cinnamon for cake, and their excellent view, until they are mopping the floor around us. We leave before they ask us to, and wander back to the park for more chat. A man is practicing his juggling moves, and a woman sits at the next bench with a large black washing up bowl beside her. There was an explanation, but I won’t blunt the image with it.

Station Master, SVR copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We saunter back to the station in time for the last train back to Arley, and have to remember to get into the front of the train, as the platforms of most of stations are too short for the length of the train. We eat dinner and fall asleep on the sofa, and go to bed at nine.


It has been in my mind that as we are so close to Kidderminster we might go and investigate A’s Kiddey ancestors. There are several leaflets from the Kidderminster historical society in the cupboard that suggest it might have something to recommend it, but my instinct tells me Kidderminster is an unattractive hole. It does however sport the nearest shops of any size and we need bread and salad, so we drive in to investigate. And lo, Kidderminster is indeed a dive. Roland Hill the originator of the penny post was born here, and apart from being a centre for carpet manufacture (what A’s ancestors did) that’s its only claim to fame. It is pound-shop land, but at least they have a reasonable fruit and veg shop and we find a traditional sweet shop so I can indulge my aniseed addiction.

Echinacea, Arley Arboretum copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We decide we will not explore further, and head back to Arley, where we walk up the hill to the Arboretum.

Big old tree

Big old Tree in Arley Arboretum copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a lovely spot. I don’t know much about trees, but they are big and imposing, and we have an enjoyable chat with one of the gardeners.

A peaceful place, and well supplied with places to sit and admire the view. A small selection of poultry including very free range guinea fowl given to hysteria, complete the staff. We wander back to eat lunch on the roof, and then set off for L’s recommended garden, Morville Dower House Garden.

Cloister and Maze, Morville Dower House Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

What a fabulous garden! It unfolds from one historic recreation to another, Elizabethan knot gardens, Plat gardens, Cloisters made from yew; nutteries, orchard and wild garden; ancient roses, poppies and allium; vegetables canals and wooden posts. The house itself is severe and friendly at the same time. I found myself wistful, what wouldn’t I give to live somewhere like this? the hall is stuffed with books- my kind of house.

Three jam tea, Morville Dower House Garden copyright Cherry Potts 2011

There is a large grey cat on the raised back doorstep, Bill, who is 22 and deaf and spends most of his time asleep. Katherine Swift who created the garden is dishing up teas with jam made from fruit from the garden. We try damson, greengage and blackcurrant; they are all wonderful but the greengage is the best.

Katherine gives us details of where we can buy seed for the beautiful deep purple sweet peas in the garden, and we buy her book.

Evangelist, St Gregory, Morville copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We amble back to the car via the church, St Gregory’s. This pleasing Norman church boasts some unusual wooden carvings of the evangelists. I’ve had fun with my new camera today, (thank you A) macro photos of flowers and bees, pushing up the ISO for interiors of the church, generally playing with the settings.

Allium, bee and hover-fly, Morville Dower House Garden. copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Back to the tower and cracking open the fizz on the roof, we watch a nuthatch shimmying down the Scots Pine that overhangs the roof terrace. A great end to a satisfying day.

We take our morning cup of tea up on to the roof.  It is already warm, and perfect weather for a walk; a Little Egret flies up the river.
We set off before nine towards Bewdley from Arley, along the banks of the Severn. It gradually gets hotter and we get sweatier. We both get bitten by insects, A swells up immediately, I, unusually, do not.
We pass the reservoir where crows sit on park benches, and the beautiful Victoria Bridge, a superb example of iron work from Coalbrookdale. We fail to find Northwood halt, where we had thought we might get the train, but don’t mind: we are enjoying the steady purl of deep water moving quickly, and there are enough trees to provide shade at intervals. I spot a kingfisher whisking upstream low over the water.

riverside houses

Bewdley copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We arrive at Bewdley before the first train would have got us here, and very glamorous it looks, stretched out along and rising up from the river in Georgian splendour; it reminds me of the set of wooden houses I had as a child. It is hard to imagine that those buildings along the riverfront endure floods up to their windowsills.
We stop for a reviving ice-cream at Gallery Ten, and investigate suitable lunch venues, and options for dinner in Friday… this involves a complete circuit of the town which has some lovely architecture and some unimaginative lunch menus. For some reason we can’t find my preferred option, the Colliers Arms (it turns out its not IN Bewdley, but in Clows Top, just outside, something we only discover when we get back to Arley and dig out the leaflet. )  I am intrigued by a sign pointing up an alley that says ‘old pals’ shelter’. It sounds like something to do with a Pal’s regiment, but why would they need a shelter? I imagine a retreat for ancient dogs whose old men have passed on, and have a picture of elderly lurchers and border terriers, sitting about the fireplace, with pipes in their mouths, reminiscing. Very Louis Wain. We turn into Lax street, which disappointingly is nothing to do with loose morals, but a corruption of the Danish for Salmon. I’d always wondered about gravlax, so now I know.

All along the quay there are names (of boats?) set in brass letters and little plaques saying what commodities were landed there: Salt and Sugar, Raisins, Sherry, Madeira, Port and Brandy… it sounds like a recipe for Christmas pudding.
We end up having lunch in the excellent museum, which is free, and under interpreted in a satisfying make-of-it-what-you-please way. The building is an old shambles, and rich in brick arches and places to sit and consider. We each have a well-filled sandwich then check out the books in the next-door charity shop, with some success.

station cat kidderminster copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We walk back across the bridge and round to Bewdley station, where we get the steam train to Kidderminster, have a glass of beer in the station pub, talk to the station cat, and come back again; this time all the way to Arley, where A gathers up the only Guardian in the post office, and we retire to a shower each and ginger-beer shandies on our roof terrace. While searching the map for Clows Top, my eye falls on the outskirts of Kidderminster- and The Heath. This is where A’s Newcomb ancestors lived, on what turns out to be the Habbersley Road, not Haggerley as I had it written down. I wonder if Cambridge House still exists? We will go and investigate!

We wake to rain, which dies out quite fast, but we decide to check out the Heath on the way to Clows Top to investigate the Colliers Arms as a potential dinner venue. There is nothing on the Heath that looks like it’s old enough to be the Newcomb house. There are two large modern estates so probably it is under one of them. We find the Colliers’ Arms which is no longer a pub, and as a café serves food only til 5. However it seems to still be run by the same outfit, and there is a small farm shop selling local produce including eggs from the hens out back. We buy eggs tomatoes and fresh bread. It looks promising for food, but not suitable for us today.

We drive back through Kiddey and out to Kinver Edge. A sandy heath, replete with adders (though we don’t see any), rising to a ridge with splendid views and an iron age fort; and buried somewhere beneath us, rock houses built into caves in the sandstone, but can we find them? The National Trust obviously don’t expect people to approach from above and haven’t bothered signing the route. We eventually make it, having made several false starts down steep slopes which we then have to reclimb. The stone houses are enjoyable, but not worth the hassle of finding them. We walk along the ridge and back to the car. We are starving for lunch and try out the café just by the car park, a cavernous hangar, completely deserted. I start in on the bread bought at the Colliers, and we drive round to Bodenham Arboretum in the hope that they have a café and are still serving lunch. They do and they are. They also have a charming black and white cat hovering at the entrance who greets us as long lost friends. We have an excellent lunch, marred only by the chairs by the lake being rather wet.

Victoria bridge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We come back to our tower and collapse, then go out to walk the far side of the river down to Victoria bridge so we can film a steam train going over. I know, anoraks; but they make such a lovely noise! There are amazing wild flowers all along the river bank: rest harrow, comfrey, hemp agrimony, hop trefoil, hairy vetch, cranesbill, soapwort, chamomile.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Misty moisty morning

At risk of sounding like a weekending townie, I love the Limpley Stoke Valley. I even love the name.  My best girl, A, was born in Trowbridge and brought up in Bath and the surrounding area. Consequently I have native-by-proxy rights. Whenever A gets what she calls ‘roots problems’ we hie off to Bath or Avoncliff to stay with friends fortunate enough to live there.
There is something very close to perfection about walking before breakfast in receding mist on a frosty morning. The mud has the smallest suggestion of a frost crust, so that there is a faint crunch and rustle as we walk through the well trampled kissing gates alongside the river, and there is a rime like salt on the broad roots of the trees.

You can taste the air, and feel exactly how your lungs work with each breath.

riverside with willows

the rich yellow of new branches on the willows... copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Add in woodland with a haze of new growth all ready to burst into leaf, but waiting still, the first catkins, and the rich yellow of new branches on the willows, by a river which has only reduced marginally from full spate; add in bird song, and the shanty town of all-year-round narrow boats on the sedate curve of the canal aqueduct, high above the river like a nineteenth century version of a flyover; add in almond croissant still warm from the oven in the community shop in Freshford… all right, I do sound like a weekending townie.

Almost spring, almost breakfast; perfect morning.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London Particular

Holborn Viaduct Griffon copyright Cherry Potts

Sometimes I hate living in London, and sometimes I love it.

In January rain it can feel as though it has turned its back and doesn’t want to know you, but it doesn’t take much to find a way through the cracks and into its secrets.

We walked, A & I and three friends from Charing Cross to Cannon Street, a station-to-station walk; not what we intended and more circuitous than the map might suggest.  the original plan had been to walk round Bloomsbury, but the rain (torrential) meant that we skipped from cover to cover.  Starting off in Embankment gardens with cups of coffee to give the rain a chance to clear (ha ha ha ha ha…) we stopped to chat with tree surgeon cutting into slabs that were still too big really, the remains of an enormous London Plane, which had been threatening the glazed roof of the tube station.  Plane trees are a wonderful light coral colour inside, which blazed in comparison to the dark sky.  Rain was dripping off my nose at this point, and I was regretting the new raincoat I sent back to Cotton Traders because it wasn’t big enough.  Casting astonished glances at the memorial to Arthur Sullivan which has a… Nymph?… splayed across it naked from the hips up as though she’s drugged up on something quite intoxicating (not his music, I would think!) Then up the terrace on the river side of Somerset house where they were setting up a dome thing which it turns out is housing an ice concert where all the instruments are carved out of ice. Through Somerset House and to the courtyard where kids were skating aided by penguin things, then onto the strand.

Still looking for cover we stopped to glance at the museum in the back of Twinings Tea shop, which was a delight for anyone interested in the history of advertising and packaging ( that would be me).

We then dived into Lloyds Bank law courts branch to admire the Edwardian tiled vestibule (rather like Leighton house, heavily influenced by Moroccan architecture, but with a heavy overlay of the steam age somehow). The main banking area has tiled panels of what seem to be characters from Shakespeare and carved wooden owls.  Lengthy discussion of the planning permission required to convert the heavy wooden doors (almost certainly listed) to open automatically.  Very clever.  Back onto the Strand and right into the Temple and to Temple church, which was almost completely destroyed in the Blitz, but carefully restored.  I came here first when I was ten and spent a happy summer with my Gran visiting every church in London, (for the architecture and history, rather than any spiritual motives). I remembered the roundness and the knightly effigies, and nothing else, and to be honest roundness and effigies is still what it has to offer.  The knights writhe as though trying to get up, but held back by the weight of their armour.

Helpful lady in the church suggested our next haven from the rain should be Prince Henry’s room, over the gate onto Fleet Street.  Unfortunately it has been closed to the public for three years, said the man in Wildey’s Legal bookshop next door where they had what he described as a ‘flock’ of knitted stuffed owls in the guise of lawyers and judges perched on the stairs.  This is something I have noticed about bookshops- the more serious and specialised the more given to flights of fancy.

Up Chancery Lane and detouring through Lincoln’s Inn and Staple Inn away from the traffic and back to Chancery Lane and onto Holborn where I remembered being in a building for a meeting which had another steam-tiled vestibule. A quick glance round and I identified the old Prudential Building at Holborn bars, now a De Vere Conference centre.  We sauntered in to admire the completely tiled stairway and pillars. Kind lady on reception who is obviously used to blow-ins gawping at her tiling provided us with a sheaf of paper that explained the history of the building and escorted us downstairs to admire the safe which is like something out of Metropolis, a stunning bit of engineering and polished to within an inch of its life.

Holborn Viaduct Lion copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Still raining.  Back out onto Holborn and across the Viaduct, which has more statuary that is strictly necessary for such a small stretch of road (but I love the serious lions) and round the corner into Ely Place and St Ethelreda’s church.  This is another place I visited with my Gran, and I think we can have only been in the crypt for some reason, because  right up until we went in today, I remembered it as being essentially underground. This feeling of being underground.  It was this church, and of course St Ethelburga’s among others that led me to write All Hallows, that and feeling that T.S. Eliot had got it wrong about London’s ghosts being on the move in The Wasteland.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Finally, a cup of hot soup and the train home.

Doing this walk made me think a lot about my Gran, and reminded me of that long summer of hot pavements and cool dark interiors, reading monuments to women dead in childbirth, and learning the history of London from its buildings.

the taste of greengages straight from the bag

still reminds me of Fleet Street in the rain

Grandmother’s Footsteps copyright Cherry Potts

Sometimes, I really hate living in London, and sometimes I really love it.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Haunted by Fairy Tales

So I’m on a business trip in Germany, slightly reluctantly (too close to Christmas, weather turning bad) and I discover that Kassel, where I am at a meeting of a European Project is the home town of the Brothers Grimm.  Drawing a veil over the journey which was definitely in the Epic rather than F-T mode, there are F-T references everywhere.  The Brothers huddle together in statue form in a slightly scruffy patch of grass, an open book clutched between them.

Kassel carousel

carousel decorated with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The Christmas Market sports a kind of windmill driven pagoda with life-size figures from Snow White in perpetual motion, and the carousel is painted with scenes from Little Red Riding Hood…

The wine at dinner one night is called ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ too – the venue for this meal is the tower of a ruined church (Cafe Luther), which would fill in for Rapunzel’s tower quite well (the giant metal doors of the tower room were stunning).  Even the entrepreneurs we are here to meet bring us fairy-tale themed food.  Bettina Trautwein, owner of a cafe and catering company serves up ‘fairy tale soup’ which turns out to be beetroot with sour cream and pumpkin oil – reflecting the red white and black theme at the start of Snow White, when her Mother’s blood falls in the snow… This is followed by a salad (I was hoping for Rapunzel here, as it was stolen Ransoms got her parents in trouble in the first place, but no) a salad which represented the rose forest around the goats cheese castle of Sleeping Beauty with a pastry kiss on top, and almonds scattered in the leaves.  And the almonds? we ask… oh those are all the dead princes, Bettina says beaming.  Slightly disconcerted, I eat my almonds.  The food is excellent, and gets me thinking about how food features in fairy tales:  gingerbread cottages and breadcrumbs in Hanzel and Gretel (and the potential for baked boy, too), poisoned apples in Snow White, that stolen garlic in Rapunzel.

Frozen Waterfall

Frozen Waterfall copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The following day, business concluded, we are taken on a guided walk around the Bergpark Wilhelmehohe a fantasy landscape of folly castles, ‘ancient’ temples, and frozen waterfalls.  We are told a ghost story… and leaving out the ghost, its a very good story indeed, which really captured my imagination.

soon it will be processed into something else entirely.

copyright Cherry Potts 2010

The Memling Triptych, Sint Jans Hospitaal, Brugge.

I wrote this in 2007 as part of an essay on silence for my coaching course. I am now completely hooked on Memling and have written a story based on his pictures; Portrait of The Artist’s Model as a Young Woman.


Central Panel Memling Triptych

Central Panel Memling Triptych

We’ve been walking around the museum for over 2 hours and now, this is the masterpiece: this is IT.

The virgin sits with the child on her knee, and St. Catherine, with her sword and wheel tucked part beneath her skirt, kneels beside her.  The child places a ring on Catherine’s finger, not yet past the second knuckle, and there is a look passing between them.  The child, serious, loving, concerned, thoughtful; Catherine, wondering what does this mean? And holding her breath with foreknowledge that it is not going to end well.

The same woman has been the model for virgin and Catherine, and St Barbara (who has her head resolutely in her book, like me waiting for a plane- if I do not think about this, it will not happen) and Salome, flinching away from the gift of the Baptist’s head.

Salome flinching from the gift...

But it is the look on Catherine’s face that keeps me gazing, walking backwards to the clear plastic chair because I can’t stand longer, and gaze some more.

So if it is possible to listen to a picture, that is what I am doing, and it is as though I can hear the thoughts of Herr Memling, thinking about the spaces and colours and the directness of one gaze and the furtiveness of another, there is so much going on:

on one side the four horseman of the apocalypse prancing about in a puddly landscape of drying sea that reflects the rainbow of heaven; on the other, the sassy bum of the executioner, who fancies his chances with Salome, who has shown herself to be less than chaste with that dance.

execution of John the Baptist

The sassy bum of the executioner...

In the centre Catherine, her heart in disarray, one cuff down and one up, wilting slightly at the enormity of it all, the pulse in her throat almost visible.

Glorious… The museum is closing.…

Next day we come back as soon as the museum opens, and sit and gaze some more.  The museum guard keeps a watchful eye on us, wondering if we are planning a heist. We sit for two hours almost speechless, pointing out details to each other with upraised hand and incoherent sub-vocal murmur, feeling as the medieval viewer of this picture must have felt, awed and silenced.

This is the silence of wonder, mine at Memling’s art, his at his creator, Catherine’s at fate.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2007-10