Monday, 30 June 2014


Reprinted from the Transactions 1978 of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

Llewelyn Wyn Griffith was the author of Up to Mametz

Thursday, 26 June 2014


This is a film about friendship, which also happens to be, in passing, a love song to England. Filmed in the fashionable 'mockumentary' style, there is nothing otherwise remotely fashionable about it.  Four friends, each with a problem which is never solved, walk from coast to coast, as they had done thirty years before.  The absence of solution is partly the point: do you give up or do you keep buggering on, as Churchill put it.  The moral of the tale is that you need friends to help you do that.  This is a simple story of ordinary stoicism.  It is very funny and equally moving; both acting and script are true to the ideas it expresses. The result is one of those triumphs that will lodge, fondly and permanently, in the memory of all those who are touched by it, which really ought to be everyone who sees it.


To St Mark's Church, grand Victorian ecclesiastical wallop in grand Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood, for a concert of lollipops, given by the Berkeley Ensemble in aid of the Jane Packer Foundation for research into brain tumours. More or less knew every piece.  Unusual were an arrangement of a Goldberg Variation for violin, viola and cello, and the original version of Barber's Adagio, which is the second movement of a String Quartet.  One day I'll listen to the whole thing.  Paul Cott, introducing it, said that the Adagio was for the Americans what Nimrod is for us.  Yes, makes sense.  That was possibly my favourite performance of the evening, though the most beautiful piece of music was undoubtedly the Larghetto from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, which must be one of the most astonishing things man has ever made.

To this admittedly fairly unscrupulous ear, the playing was exquisite, and, as importantly, obviously as much a pleasure to the players as to their listeners.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Joseph Brodsky on Evil

"...nothing can be turned and worn inside out with greater ease than one's notion of social justice, civic conscience, a better future, etc.  One of the surest signs of danger here is the number of those who share your views, not so much because unanimity has the knack of degenerating into uniformity as because of the probability - implicit in great numbers - that noble sentiment is being faked...
      ...the surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even - if you will - eccentricity."

from 'A Commencement Address', 
Less Than One: Selected Essays 
by Joseph Brodsky (Viking, 1986)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


How blue the pool was,
and the sea.  How blue the sky,
and the waves white-tipped
crashing, still, against the dark rocks.

How dark the wine was,
and the sun low. The dark
bottles of wine, and the table
flecked with plates of food.

How young the children were
climbing, laughing, from the pool,
then tumbling into sprays of water.

How young we were too, smiling
towards this future, this dusty
spread of forgotten pictures,
discarded like playing cards,
from some long-forgotten game.

John McCormack

(reproduced here with the kind permission of John's widow, Mary McCormack)

Monday, 23 June 2014


We were supposed to meet at a pub in Luxborough, but the Royal Something-or-other obviously regards itself as too grand to open on a Friday lunch-time, so we instead gathered at the White Horse in Stogumber, opposite the Church in which Sir Francis Drake's father-in-law is buried.  It had been planned that his daughter Elizabeth would marry someone else in the same church, but a meteorite crashed through the roof on the morning of the wedding, and it was decided that this was not a good omen.  Anyway, there was not a meteorite in sight on this rather lovely day, that promised to be hotter than forecast. We had a couple of pints and a plate of ham and eggs before driving to Luxborough to begin our mighty trial.

From there we went by profoundly curlicued and not unhappy paths to Dunster by way of such places as here:

and here:

and here:

The map, despite being described as an OS Explorer map of Exmoor, was nothing of the sort, and was in fact an old 18th century hand-drafted sketchmap of Iceland.

We ate well at The Stag, with France disagreeably winning a match 5-2 in the background.  The lamb stew was excellent. Damned if I can remember much else about the evening, except that I was once again granted a single occupancy room at the Dunster Castle due to my ability to snore very close to the MH decibel level.  He and I usually have to share a bed when we're both present. The plasterwork suffers. My SO room was delicious, with a through draft and, oh, such lovely sheets (top right in pic). R had to put a female manager straight about promised free pints of stout in the morning.  Great are the burdens of Leadership

Morning brought the welcome pitiful unhappy sight of the All Blacks running England ragged.  Later on I was to suffer in the company of a drunk Welshman as the Springboks went ahead for the first time in their match against Wales in the 78th minute, courtesy of a (second) penalty try.

Dunster, as any fule kno, is the home of archery in the south west - well, it looked that way to us as we made our way cautiously behind rows and rows of targets, relievedly aware of the dead thumping sound of arrow hitting its mark.  R. seemed particularly concerned about the Health & Safety aspect of the whole business. But these guys were good.  They shot from a hundred yards at least.  Whistles blew and judges and Robin Hoods began to cross the green sward to mark their sport. From a distance, they looked not unlike a ramshackle Medieval army.

The map still providing only routes to Keflavik and surrounding areas, we split into two parties in an attempt to reach the sea from Dunster.  The main body walked down a very straight flood overflow shoot. The more intrepid flanking sortie made for the railway line, tempting death at every footfall.

Make the sea we did:

But this was no time for shilly-shallying on the seashore.  No, there was Llantwit Major to look at across the water, and ice-cream and tea to be consumed at Blue Anchor Bay.

We struck inland, heading for another White Horse, at Washford, by way of Cleeve Abbey  - well, I stood for a few seconds in the cool damp shade of the gatehouse under a latin inscription:
Porta pateni esto / Nulli claudaris honesto. 
Gate, be thou ever open / Closed to no honest man.
It isn't that we thought £4.50 too steep, it's just that the pub was less than half a mile away and we were on a road without shade, and access to the babbling Roadwater brook would have required wire cutters, and we were damnably hot and thirsty.

Many good things might be said of our stop at the White Horse. The cider - Rich's - was among the best we have ever had - my sandwich was good ham and mustard.  And M bathed in said babbling brook.  I regret to say that it was not a skinny dip.  Age seems to have bred a new modesty in him.

And so onwards to Roadwater, by way, foolishly, of the Cider Farm, where a cider tasting was arranged.  Four ciders.  Not one among them drinkable.  Extraordinary.  Locals had warned us: "It's good as paint stripper".  Still I got a fine picture of a large owl standing next to a chap in yellow shorts holding a map of Iceland.

Note the cloudless sky.  There was supposed to be breeze, but in the lanes we tramped up and down, with their high hedgerows, we didn't get much.  A midge or two, though.  Or as John Clare put it:
Insects as small as dust are never done  
Wi' glittering dance and reeling in the sun
We did, eventually, fall into a demi-Eden, and to celebrate the fact, we stuck our legs in the air.

This was Wood Advent Farm. Tuscany look to your laurels. We drank ale on the terrace, played very bad croquet (I count myself the most hopeless) and quaffed chilled Valpolicella with our super-succulent pork.  The meringue for afters almost floated away on the balmy evening air.  

Post-prandial entertainment was The Name in the Hat Game.  I found myself having to act not only Ya Ya Toure but also Zsa Zsa Gabor. Amazed that Boutros Boutros Ghalli didn't turn up. There were two Bob Dylans, two Lulus, no Jonny Wilkinson and one Roy the Racing Car, whomsoever he may be.

We retired.  The morning broke more beautiful still.  I swam at 7.00 am and was not cold. A mighty breakfast followed.  The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph were consumed as heartily, the really tasty stuff being in the sports pages.

And then it was time to go home.  The May walk in June was marked not by length or indeed by anything spectacular of a natural sort (M's bathing always excepted).  England is beautiful. The dappling shadows were dark but blurry-edged.  We suffered a little in the heat and on one or two gradients, but this was a softish excursion, and the joy lay, as always firstly in the company, and secondly in the wonderful hospitality and environs of Wood Advent Farm.

Thanks are due to GO and SAF for driving the Londoners down and up, to TC for his usual contribution, to MF for wearing his boxers, to SP for his indomitable map reading and whip-handling, to AK for his wit and generosity, and above all, as ever, to RR for arranging the whole damn shooting match.  I just enjoyed myself.

UP TO MAMETZ by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith

Mametz Wood Memorial
My father, who landed in a glider in Normandy on D-Day repeated to me this oft-expressed truth of war, that it is 99% boredom and 1% mortal terror.  For many in the First World War, it was 99% mud. Huge amounts of energy and time was spent trying to fill sandbags to shore up trenches, often with liquid mud. This little book, written with clarity and insight, humanity and intelligence, is the record of one junior officer, a sane man in an insane situation.  It begins in the unbloodied mud of the South Downs and ends in the hideous mud of the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood, where 4,000 Welshmen died, most killed by machine gun fire.  Not unlike Journey's End, with which it shares not only tone but also instance, it emphasises the odd claustrophobia that I imagine attaches to most first hand experiences of war.  As Alexander Dumas pointed out to a veteran of the battle who was critical of his account of Waterloo: "How can you tell what happened?  You were there".  The immediate was all that mattered.
"We did not ask whether the reward were equal to the sacrifice; it may be that there is no equality in such matters, that war is the very negation of all value... There was no discussion about the relative merits of rival methods of attack or f alternative fronts.  Although our lives were the letters that went to its spelling, the word Strategy was never of our lips."

I believe my grandfather was present at Mametz as Captain in the 14th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, part of the 38th (Welsh) Division, and is likely to have known the author of this book.  The copy I have just read belonged to him. Others present were David Jones (who describes the battle in In Parenthesis), Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Hedd Wyn.

by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith
Faber & Faber, 1931

Owen Sheers' poem 'Mametz Wood' is here:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


    That winter,
Following the pipelines, we flew south
From Nineveh. Oilwells, domes,
    Flashes of silver
Betokening wealth, prayer, were all
That gave clues to the usurped
Nature of the desert, a handful
    Of oases, ringworms
Of green. At intervals camels
Plodded below us, footprints
Like sponges.  Then, twin rivers,
    Tigris, Euphrates,
The colour of thermometers.  Flying over it
The Gulf had a kind of innocence,
Its marshes euphoric with birds.


Not often con brio, but andante, andante,
    horseless, though jockey-like and jaunty,
Straddling the touchline, live margin
    not out of the game, nor quite in,
Made by him green and magnetic, stroller
Indifferent as a cat dissembling, rolling
A little as on deck, till the mouse, the ball,
    slides palely to him,
And shyly, almost with deprecatory cough, he is off.

Head of a Perugino, with faint flare
Of the nostrils, as though Lipizzaner-like,
    he sniffed at the air,
Finding it good beneath him, he draws
Defenders towards him, the ball a bait
They refuse like a poisoned chocolate,
    retreating, till he slows his gait
To a walk, inviting the tackle, inciting it.

Till, unrefusable, dangling the ball at the instep
He is charged – and stiffening so slowly
It is rarely perceptible, he executes with a squirm
Of the hips, a twist more suggestive than apparent,
    that lazily disdainful move toreros term
        a Veronica – it’s enough.
Only emptiness following him, pursuing some scent
Of his own, he weaves in towards,
    not away from, fresh tacklers,
Who, turning about to gain time, are by him
    harried, pursued not pursuers.

Now gathers speed, nursing the ball as he cruises,
Eyes judging distance, noting the gaps, the spaces
Vital for colleagues to move to, slowing a trace,
As from Vivaldi to Dibdin, pausing,
    and leisurely, leisurely, swings
To the left upright his centre, on hips
His hands, observing the goalkeeper’s spring,
    heads rising vainly to the ball’s curve
Just as it’s plucked from them; and dispassionately
Back to his mark he trots, whistling through closed lips.

Trim as a yacht, with similar lightness
    - of keel, of reaction to surface – with salt air
Tanned, this incomparable player, in decline fair
    to look at, nor in decline either,
Improving like wine with age, has come far –
    born to one, a barber, who boxed
Not with such filial magnificence, but well.
‘The greatest of all time,’ meraviglioso, Matthews –
    Stoke City, Blackpool and England.
Expressionless enchanter, weaving as on strings
Conceptual patterns to a private music, heard
Only by him, to whose slowly emerging theme
He rehearses steps, soloist in the compulsions of a dream.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Poetry's Tale

"The poets have taught us that to mortals endowed with their own delicacy of emotional structure, parting can become an agony of a death, but war, with its rude barbarian violence, had made even of us ordinary creatures, a regiment of sufferers.  Common clay as we were, and far enough removed as we thought ourselves from the spun glass of the poet's imagining, we found ourselves betrayed into the very emotions they had sung.  That the prose of war should prove the truth of poetry's tale of man's feeling - that it should now be easy to believe that some of those magic lines were indeed a reflection of the real thoughts of real men and women - that was an astonishing discovery.  I had read a quantity of poetry, and had even tried to write it, but all with a sense of projecting my personality into an adjacent field of life.  Here and now I was treading, at some remove, the very paths the poets had walked before me."

Llewelyn Wyn Griffith
Up to Mametz (1931)

Saturday, 14 June 2014


The Bookworm by Karl Spitzweg
My son rather cleverly was reminded of this picture when he came upon me sorting books (see last post).  Not sure quite how to take it.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


I'm shuffling off shelves of books.  So many unread books, kept because I assumed that life was really very much longer than it is turning out to be... books on Stalin, books by Churchill, books of Parlour Games, book club editions of novels by Mary McCarthy, books on Dunkirk and Scapa Flow and Bonnie Prince Charlie and Lawrence of Arabia and Neville Chamberlain, Pears Cyclopedia 1974, books on football, cricket, chess, (read) paperback novels by - well all sorts...  Does it feel good?  It ought to, this sloughing off of an always impossible responsibility (actually a greedy desire to know everything).  But it doesn't.  It feels horrible, both reminding me of all my wasted hours and of the acceleration of time towards The End.  Oh well, at least I found 'Up from Mametz', which I shall now read (and keep).  It is inscribed with my grandfather's name, which was 'Wynn Wheldon' - books do live on.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


On one side of the road
beneath Palestinian flags
emphatically unPalestinian
demonstrators chant their vitriol.

On the other side of the road
beneath Israeli colours
emphatically unIsraeli Jews
sing patriotic Israeli songs.

Within. one who seeks
the two state solution
describes how hard it is
dealing with those who want it all.

June 2014


Sad news, although I've rarely been so frightened as when, around 1980, Mayall (as, perhaps, Kevin Turvey or prototype) advanced on me at the Comedy Store and asked me "what's so funny?" I have no memory as to what reply I gave.  Probably none.  I should simply have said "you", because he was.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


 Slipping from their cups the acorns rain, making
Tiny disturbances in the universe.
Clattering gently through dark boughs, blue beyond,
They pool around stiff trunks, their newness fading
As they fell; they crack now beneath the foot,
Brittle brown, translated from seed to sound.

Here on the Heath on an October afternoon,
The sun destroying vision, the acorns rain
And the shades of ancient poets
Flit between the hedgerows, comfortingly sighing.

Wynn Wheldon

[Originally published in Tiny Disturbances (Acumen, 2012)]

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Thursday, 5 June 2014

THE MIDDLE by Ogden Nash

When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

FLYING CROOKED by Robert Graves

The butterfly, a cabbage-white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has- who knows so well as I?-
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the acrobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.

Of this poem Robert Graves said (to my father): "that's about me - not the butterfly" - but I reckon it's not so bad on the cabbage white either.


Warne vs Gatting


Subtitled with true teeny-bop hyperbole 'The Rise and Fall of a Twentieth Century Superstar', this was a depressing read.  Not because it was poorly written - it is competently done - nor because Marc Bolan died young, but because so much work and effort has been put into describing the life of what is, by any objective standard, a minor talent.  I loved T. Rex myself, and Bolan wrote half-a-dozen first class pop sings.  But we're not talking Irving Berlin or Paul McCartney, Randy Newman or Cole Porter.  Bolan made a little go a long way, and the earnestness with which this book's author writes about this little is bathetic.  So why start reading and why not stop?  Well, I thought there might be a life worth dramatising (there isn't - Bolan emerges as a delight in short bursts and a boring egomaniac in the long run) and I kept on to the end because - well, one enjoys gossip, which in the end is the stuff of which this book consists.  In addition, and perhaps shamefully, the fact that Bolan's fatal crash happened bang outside my best friend's house has made me possessive of his story. There may be a touch of irony in the author's 'Superstar', with its nod to Glam modes of exaggeration and preening, but I don't think that's something the publisher would have noticed.  Bolan was a pop idol for a year or so, and for those of us of a certain age six months will not pass without an occasional uttering of a T. Rex lyric, silent or perhaps in front of one's children.  My own tends to be "she's faster than most / and she lives on the coast / ah ha ha". Wonderful, but hardly worth 400 pages.

Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a Twentieth Century Superstar
by Mark Paytress
Omnibus, 2006

Sunday, 1 June 2014

What is written history?

" is the fragmentary record of the often inexplicable actions of innumerable bewildered human beings, set down and interpreted according to their own limitations by other human beings, equally bewildered."
‘The Historian and the World’,
from Velvet Studies, Jonathan Cape, 1946