High Wood

every so often a poem catches my breath and I feel wonder at its impact.  This prophetic poem was written in 1918.  The poet Philip Johnstone appears to be a pseudonym and little else is known about him.  There are some preserved trenches in Belgium and France, and I too have trod the tourist’s path s at Hooge and Vimy Ridge, feeling slightly uncomfortable at indulging in battlefield tourism.  
High Wood

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood, 
Called by the French, Bois des Fourneaux, 
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen, 
July, August and September was the scene 
Of long and bitterly contested strife, 
By reason of its High commanding site. 
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees 
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench 
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands; 
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave. 
It has been said on good authority 
That in the fighting for this patch of wood 
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men, 
Of whom the greater part were buried here, 
This mound on which you stand being… 
Madame, please, 
You are requested kindly not to touch 
Or take away the Company’s property 
As souvenirs; you’ll find we have on sale 
A large variety, all guaranteed. 
As I was saying, all is as it was, 
This is an unknown British officer, 
The tunic having lately rotted off. 
Please follow me – this way … 
the path, sir, please
The ground which was secured at great expense 
The Company keeps absolutely untouched, 
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide 
Refreshments at a reasonable rate. 
You are requested not to leave about 
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel, 
There are waste-paper-baskets at the gate

By Philip Johnstone.



Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,

They go to the fire; the nostrils prick with smoke

Wandering slowly into the weeping mist.

Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!

A flame seizes the smouldering ruin, and bites

On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust:

All the spices of June are a bitter reek,

All the extravagant riches spent and mean.

All burns! the reddest rose is a ghost.

Spark whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild

Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,

Time for the burning of days ended and done,

Idle solace of things that have gone before,

Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there:

Let them go to the fire with never a look behind.

That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise

From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,

And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;

The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.

Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.

Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.
Laurence Binyon

My life in books

Prompted by a friend’s recent FB challenge that I secretly hoped would never end, whereby you post over 7 days a picture of a different cover of a favourite book, I discussed with same friend how difficult it was to select just seven books, how books reflect various aspects of my life and personality, and how to continue this theme, I decided the best option would be to just continue posting photos, either with it without commentary, and maybe invite friends to add their contributions.
The first book I remember entering my life was not one that I remember reading for myself but one that was read to me and my sisters by my father.  I still consider it an act of betrayal when parents stop reading out loud to their children.  But my lovely Dad did the next best thing.  He took us into town into the public library .  

This was a magical kingdom – I knew it was magical not just because it was a place filled with shelf upon shelf of books, but you had to enter it through the magical portal of the revolving doors.  No other place in my experience had such a wonderful entrance.  And there to my utter disbelief and bewilderment, we were allowed to pick a book, any book, from off the shelves, and take it home with me to read.  This was the start of a life long love affair with books and with libraries.

I don’t recall what my first choice was, no doubt something colourful with plenty of pictures.  But I do remember the stories my Dad read to us.

What stories did your parents read to you?

What are you reading to your children?

Have you forgotten yet?

​Prompted by recent events I am currently reading “Globalising Hatred: The new antisemitism” by Denis McShane.
The book arose from a cross-party parliamentary report a decade ago looking at the rise of antisemitic incidents across the world.  Jew-hatred has not been consigned to the past;  people may attend Holocaust memorial services and claim “never again” yet walk away in total denial about what is going on around them, and in how they are contributing to the poison of contemporary Jew-hatred.

The book does not make for easy reading – 12 pages of one chapter simply lists examples of antisemitic attacks across the world in 2006 alone.  

One phrase though should give some small hope – the author, a Labour MP, states that his political community – that is progressive, left, liberal, pro-European, supporters of human rights, etc  – “needs to understand that until neo-antisemitism is confronted, contained and rolled back the chances of movement on the Israel-Palestine question are slim. 

But  I did say some small hope.  These words were published a decade ago.  Plenty of time for party leaders and activists to take heed and take action, yet here we are, 10 years on with a Labour Party at best, in complete denial that there is a problem, or even worse, aggressively dismissing the concerns of British Jews as a politically motivated smear and attacking those who are genuinely concerned about the rise of antisemitism.

Across the rainbow bridge

Their short lives, over too soon, enrich our own own with their devotion.

I’m deeply saddened by having to make a final update to Max’s page.  I never imagined that this would be the ending, nor that it would come so early.  I had planned to grow old together, there were plenty of walks still to do, sticks to throw.  

Dear sweet loving boy.

Thank you for the best of times

Run Free

Max 29.4.2007 – 10.2.2018

Gathering Sticks on Sunday

If the man in the moon

Gazing at the waning earth, watches

How the frayed edge of the sunset catches

Thimbles and nodules of rock,

Hachuring distinct with threads of shadow

All that is hammered flat in the earth’s brass noon;

And if he sees,

New in the level light,  like pock-

marks on a face, dark craters,

The size of acorn cups, or scars

Vast as his own dried oceans, then

He’ll know that soon

The living world of men

Will take a lunar look, as dead as slag,

And moon and earth will stare at one another

Like the cold, yellow skulls of child and mother.

Norman Nicholson