Be nice if every city had a guide like The naked guide to Bristol: not all guide books are the same (5th ed: Tangent, 2015). Scathing wit and a whole lot of sub-cultural love and knowledge, a production of real urban identification and affection. Organised energetically by postal district BS1 to BS8, and by theme, giving a people’s history. We were out in the suburbs in BS9, Henleaze, but I thought this publication worthy of mention. If its span had reached as far as where we were staying I’m certain they would have raved about the fruit and veg shop on the main drag – beautifully presented and full of temptation beyond what we had the capacity for. Wish I’d taken a photo of that basket mixed in shape and colour – purple, green, yellow, oh, and red – of English tomatoes. Also Badock’s Wood.
A short stroll over a minor crossroads and up a bit, Badock’s Wood is an oasis of green in a mild sea of mixed suburban housing – if Richard Thompson’s Mock Tudor had been a song rather than an album title I might have been humming down some of the streets. According to its Friends organisation “It is a small, semi-natural, broad-leaved woodland situated in a limestone valley with adjacent areas of grassland.” There’s a small river along its edge and the circular fitness route the council has instituted with unobtrusive distance markers involves, as we shall see, a bit of a climb.
Badock’s Wood has survived because it was given to what was then the Bristol Corporation in 1937 by Sir Stanley Badock, a local landowner and industrialist – something to do with metal smelting and refining – so that the citizens of Bristol could enjoy the woods as a public open space in perpetuity. The deed of gift specifically excluded the erection of any buildings on the land. Good for him; and wouldn’t developers just love to get their hands on it. I mention this because I was reminded that within living memory financial success was once regarded as an opportunity to make a grand gesture and give something tangible back to where you lived, as an expression of civic pride; rather than, these days, self-indulgence far away. (Locally one must give a very big nod of appreciation to Jim Marshall, of Marshall Amplification no less, and all that he contributed to Milton Keynes, but inevitably the nature of philanthropy, of land or libraries, has changed.)
And for sure the locals do appreciate Badock’s Wood. Especially the dog owners and the keep-fitters and those with babes napping in prams. Walking by the wild garlic in full flower and scent, then through a carpet of pink chestnut blossom.
On the path (river to the right) up to top of the woods a bisected fallen tree trunk invites you on, but not before taking in the not wasted opportunity for a bit of wood sculpture – the spider stood out but other creatures and the inevitable serpent featured on the other side of the path too.
At the top a wild flower meadow and modest tumulus – a Bronze Age burial mound – and rumours of a windmill. There’s a stainless steel sculpture marking the tumulus that plays nicely with its position and the light, the work of Michael Fairfax. The hole is at adult face height.
The windmill is anecdotal – there used to be one somewhere around here – but that seems ample justification for the inscription curling at the foot of the piece, written by the sculptor’s dad, John Fairfax:
“At Badock’s Wood ghostly windmill sails turn / and like a rewound film spin through history / to remote times when this was burial place for bronze aged warrior / In that landscape wolves prowled / and nervy red deer grazed / while hog rooted among the trees.“
It’s a thought.
Back home in time for Book Group. Half of us had read John Williams‘ Stoner (1965) before but none regretted a re-read and it retains its quiet power admirably. This is a special book. Put simply, the only son of a farming family who could have posed for Grant Wood’s American Gothic, William Stoner, at the urging of the Land Agent, goes to uni to study agriculture, struggles with the compulsory EngLit intro until he has a classroom revelation and devotes the rest of his life to medieval and renaissance literature there. His dissertation? – “The influence of the Classical Tradition upon the Medieval Lyric.” But you don’t hear much specifically about that.
He’s not that great a teacher, though he gets a bit of a mojo in that regard after a personal tragedy brought on by backstabbing spirit-destroying departmental politics. It’s the story of a decent man’s life, how he copes with its slings and unreasonable arrows (“…the density of accident and circumstance”), related in an even-toned unspectacular yet haunting prose, and it is absolutely thrilling. Incredibly sad and yet so life-affirming.
Reading it the second time round I was struck by how vivid the supporting cast are; the slow tragedy of his mentor’s despair as he sees how others react to the Great War (“There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history”), seeing his mate Finch as less of the uncaring careerist I’d thought, and further ruing the loss in that war of the third of that Friday night drinks trio, who, for all that he “… gave him a glimpse of the corrosive and unspoiled bitterness of youth”, might have given Stoner the odd useful kick or pointer when he needed it: “Dave Masters, the defiant boy they both had loved, whose ghost had held them, all these years, in a friendship whose depth they had never quite realised.”
And then there’s his wife … Now I wasn’t the only one – and I’m the only male in the group – who’d wanted to strangle the bitch (sorry, it just slipped out, but it’s visceral in the book), but discussion had us wondering how damaged she was even before she met Stoner: when her father dies she comprehensively destroys all her stuff with any connection to him, and cruelly reclaims their daughter, the saving grace of the marriage for him – is it more than jealousy and bloody-mindedness? If I ever read it again – not out of the question, it’s a great book – it’s something to look out for. Again, on second reading, the hope and excitement of his compensating affair seemed even more vivid: “… after a while, the outer world where people walked and spoke, where there was change and continual movement, seemed to them false and unreal.”
He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember. (p181) [that number again!]
He had dreamed of a kind of integrity, of a kind of purity that was entire; he had found compromise and the assaulting diversion of triviality. He had conceived wisdom, and at the end of the long years he had found ignorance. (p275)
Thrilling? Life affirming? A life worth living? A book worth reading. You betcha.
Here’s the link to what I said at first reading a couple of years ago: https://quavid.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/this-is-your-life/
And not just for the launch of the T-shirts (see photo below). Two very fine guest acts who formed a mutual admiration society while being quite different in their subtle offerings. First up were hazeyjane – one word, no spaces – two blokes with no qualms about bravely wearing the Nick Drake influence on their sleeves, but doing their own nicely crafted material. Was that a five-string bass? Indeed it was, being mellifluously played behind some accomplished singing and guitar from the writer. Only thing I would say, is you probably need to dig a bit deeper in the Drake oeuvre to find another name, not because of gender confusion but because it’s already quite a well used web identity. There’s even a US ‘saison’ beer (whatever that means) from the Mystic Brewery.
Then we had Wednesday’s Wolves – that’s them on the poster – two young women who describe themselves on their worth a visit website as doing ‘contemporary folk’, again doing their own stuff. Enchanting vocals, some aetherial harmonies, engaging songs, the one who didn’t play guitar getting away with playing glockenspiel on a couple of songs in an often noisy pub. As Lois, who had got these two duos to come along, said: a magical evening. (Not forgetting the open mic-ers too, he added, of course).