July 3, 2016

Clouds of Witnesses

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(This is 9th in a series that begin with A Night in Steerage.)

After my experience in Wells, I wasn’t eager to try new bus adventures.  I wanted to go to Nether Stowey to see the Coleridge Cottage.  Sue looked into it for me and said that the bus would only get me to within 20 miles of the cottage and the rest of the journey would involve a taxi and some very careful planning if I was going to make that all important last bus of the day. The internet makes it sound like a bus drops you off at the front door of the Coleridge Cottage twice an hour.

Instead I stayed in town and went to Holy Communion at St Andrews.  I don’t know why I like doing this.  To me it’s not a religious experience so much as I feel like I’m in  Masterpiece Theater.  The service was from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which both attracted and repelled me with its cannibalistic imagery and masochistic sentiments.

What I found moving was the parade of old age pensioners who limped, wheeled and stumped with canes and sticks to the altar.  Bent with scoliosis, osteoporosis and arthritis, they come every Thursday morning for this.  The elements were taken down to an old nun who sat silent and sour in a pew.  A man in the back was trying to hack up such a plug that I hoped he didn’t get in line ahead of me. There’s something wonderful about a ritual that brings people into meaningful connection with each other regardless of whether I or anyone else happens to believe the liturgy.

The smell of coffee wafted through the hall.  I took mine to the sour old nun who brightened into a beautiful smile. I said hello.

“Who am I speaking to?” she asked.  “I’m blind, you see.”

“Are you completely blind?” I asked. “Or can you see shapes?”

“No, completely blind, only impressions of light and shade.”

We talked for quite a while.  Her name was Sister Ruth and her order was in Portsmouth but she lived in Burnham in a home for the blind.  Calm contentment emanated from her. I was glad I had come if for no other reason than to sit for a few minutes and have coffee with her. When I left I put my arm around her and she leaned into me with a force more powerful than a bear hug.

It had been trying to rain all day but the when the sun finally won out, I elected to go for a walk on Burnham’s fine beach. I took off my shoes and walked barefoot for miles out past the lighthouse, repeating the poem that had been in my head during the communion service.  It has become a prayer and a mantra to me when I travel alone.  It’s part of a canto from Louis MacNeice’s “Autumn Sequel:”


A cloud of witnesses. To who? To what?
To the small fire that never leaves the sky.
To the great fire that boils the daily pot.

To all the things we are not remembered by,
Which we remember and bless.
To all the things that will not notice when we die,
Yet lend the passing moment words and wings.


DSCN0183On the steps below the esplanade I cleaned my feet and encouraged the seagulls with the end of a loaf of bread. They are so used to being fed, they come very close.  I got them hovering, flapping and fighting and took photo after photo, hoping to get some good action shots.

DSCN0234 I came back through the shops on the High Street and bought a Guardian at the Post Office Shop.  I’ve been buying a different paper every day: The London Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian.  Back home I curled up on the couch, tried to understand Brexit and fell asleep.

A cat came to visit: a sleek Siamese. He appeared and was watching me when I spotted his face.  He didn’t respond when I schmoozed and after a while went on with his ablutions.  “To all the things that will not notice when we die, yet lend the passing moment words and wings.”

According to The Guardian, after holding a taste test, the best tea is

1) Marks and Spencer Luxury Gold
2) Clippers organic
3)Morrison’s English Breakfast
4)Co-op Loved By Us 99 blend.

Good to know.  And if you are in the market for an electric teakettle, get a Russell Hobbs.  It’s so efficient, all you do is look at it in the morning, say “Tea” and it fills itself up and boils in 30 seconds.

On June 17, it took me a while to remember it was my 62nd birthday.  I was up at 5:30, looking out over Mervyn’s dear old garden, now overgrown and unkempt, but still beautiful to me.  I’d been watching all week for foxes because I’d been told they have a den somewhere at the bottom of the garden. So far only the Siamese cat had shown up.  And birds: chickadees, sparrows, the great whacking pigeons, magpies, gulls, crows and an assortment of other black colored birds: blackbirds, I guess.  I liked the way the crows held their own with the seagulls.

I did laundry and tried to clear up and put the house back the way I had found it.  I had taken it over: I dressed in one room, slept in another.  I bathed in the big tub in the downstairs bathroom and made all my other ablutions in the upstairs one. I wrote in the breakfast nook and read and ate in the conservatory because it opened into the garden where the birds, squirrels one cat, and no foxes come.

Janet took me for shepherd’s pie and lemon posset at Saunders Garden Center.  Back at her house, I fed Penny the last of the dog biscuits and happened to notice that Janet had some of my china pattern that I inherited from my Aunt Ann.  Mason’s Regency. Impossible to get any longer, Janet gave me a small dish that would pack easily, a birthday surprise.

Wendy fetched me when her school day ended.  On the way back to Butleigh, we stopped in Glastonbury to see Pam.  I told Wendy that talking to Pam was like standing in front of a locked door with hundreds of keys, trying out one after another to see which would unlock it.

It was nice to be back in Butleigh.  Sue and Wendy had asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I said that principally I wanted to be with them.  And I wanted cake.  That was enough. There were two kinds of cake: the gluten free coffee walnut one I had requested and a lemon cake because neither of them fancied coffee walnut.  I had a slice of both.

David and Marian (neighbors) had put together a birthday package of Things British, including a candle for the Queen’s 90th. Sue and Wendy gave me a gift certificate, light and easy to pack.  Eight hours later came the Facebook blizzard of greetings, making me feeling like I had had two birthdays but only got one year older.  Sue and I stayed up talking books and literature. It was one of the happiest birthdays I’ve ever had.

Birthday Happy, England 2016

Happy English Birthday (photo by Sue Cooke)












Coffee Walnut

Coffee Walnut (photo by Sue Cooke)



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