Motorway flora


Motorways have become a wildlife haven; yes there is roadkill, and yes, on a summer’s day the windscreen is a mess of dead insects, but the banks beyond the hard shoulders are often a glorious displays of colour.

You can see primroses and cowslips in the spring, bluebells if you know where to look in May, and then a tumult of colour in summer, crimson and scarlet poppies, blue cornflowers, pink rosebay willowherb, yellow St John’s wort, purple loostrife, creamy meadowsweet, purple thistles, red, white and pink valerian, buttercups and daisies…

Ships That Pass In The Night… Reg


29’ June – 2nd July 1940

Reginald J Harry 232496 Date of birth – 18’ June 1919

52nd Lowland Div., Royal Corps of Signals. Wireless Engineer

Home: – Ealing.

Stationed: – The Garage, Harston.

Reg was actually in the village a week and Beryl and Monica met him three times, but he was not brought home to be introduced.

About six days after he left Harston, Beryl and Monica were very surprised to receive a letter from him and letters were frequently then passed between he and Beryl. On the 24th August he borrowed a motor bike and came over to see her. This was the day we had been on the river with Fred & Co., as described in the previous chapter and Reg met us off the boat. To say Beryl was surprised to see him, is putting it mildly. To quote her own words “but as with all our other “ships,” we never dreamed we’d see him again.”

He also came over on 26th August and the 1st September and interspersed his visits with letters.

He once bet Beryl his bottom dollar she couldn’t write him a 100 page letter, and did she accept the challenge? She was so short of news by page 75 that she started telling him her life story, but she managed the 100! Fifty sheets of school exercise paper written both sides. What a pen! Her reward for this was not the bottom dollar but a large box of Black Magic, received on the 26th September.


Beryl has written to him many times since, but has received only one letter, written from Hospital on the 6th October, in which he said he had met with an accident and would she write to him. We are rather afraid something has happened to him as we have heard nothing more.

Reg was a regular soldier who joined up on the 31st March 1937. Having lived in Canada for several years, he had a slight Canadian accent.

We hope you are alright, Reg!

With a fairly uncommon combination of names I was able to find both Reg’s birth, in Devonport, Devon, and his passing away in 1998 in Truro, Cornwall.  His middle name was James and I cannot find a marriage for him, but there was a Reginald G Harry married in Tavistock Devon in 1965.

Passing on the love… teaching poetry

I have always loved poetry… and written (or tried to write) poems almost as long as I have been writing anything. I was going to show you a couple of my early attempts but they are just too awful… my later attempts are worse, the love poems excruciating!

My mum Monica loved poetry and it was an integral part of our education. I still get so much pleasure from verse, my favourite poets, Martín Espada, Patrick McDonogh, Jon Loomis, oh and many, many more. As  a teacher I tried to open my students’ eyes to the joy of words and language, not always easy for most students, for the students I latterly taught in pupil referral units, it seemed like a greater challenge. However, I chose an exam syllabus which allowed free choice of the poems we studied and I have to say, honestly, that the poetry lessons were some of the most successful and enjoyable.

Sometimes I had to sneak poems up on the students and an example of this is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, our poet laureate.

Carol Ann Duffy

Many of my students had had brushes with the law, shop lifting, breaking and entering, taking without consent, mugging… So I would start the lesson with a general conversation about ‘nicking things.’ Sooner or later I would be asked whether I had ever stolen anything; I would prevaricate and ask them instead what the strangest thing was they had ever stolen, not money or cigarettes or bikes, but the strangest thing. There were the usual odd items, traffic cones, hats, garden ornaments… and then they would ask me what the strangest thing was that I had ever stolen.

I would glance at the door as if checking that the head teacher was not about, then lower my voice and say slowly: “The most unusual thing I ever stole?” I stopped to think, then slowly continued. “A snowman.”

There was a chorus of comments and questions and then I’d nod and repeat it “A Snowman.” They knew I told stories so they’d wait to see what was behind my extraordinary claim. “Midnight. He looked magnificent; a tall, white mute beneath the winter moon.” I’d pause and glance around; they would mostly have guessed this was going to be something other than a confession by me of a minor and eccentric crime but they wanted to know more.

” I wanted him, a mate with a mind as cold as the slice of ice within my own brain.”

As the poem progressed I began to read it but also act out what was happening, reaching up to take the snowman’s head, staggering as I tried to shift the torso “He weighed a ton.” I was vicious as I spoke about the children who would wake in the morning and find their snowman gone, and then become perplexed as I thought about my life of loneliness and petty crime. I described myself as ‘a mucky ghost’ and watched my hand twisting the doorknob, then pretend to breath on the mirror of the bedroom I had broken into.

I would aggressively pretend to kick the snowman to death, “I took a run and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out in rags.” When I came to the end and said “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?” they would always respond thinking I was actually asking them, not reading the last line of the poem.

This poem always provoked great debate and discussion as the students tried to unpick the character of the narrator, and quite often it would generate some good written work too. I don’t think this would have happened if I had just walked into the class and told them we were going to study a poem as part of the English course!


The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman.

Midnight. He looked magnificent; a tall, white mute

beneath the winter moon. I wanted him, a mate

with a mind as cold as the slice of ice

within my own brain. I started with the head.

Better off dead than giving in, not taking

what you want. He weighed a ton; his torso,

frozen stiff, hugged to my chest, a fierce chill

piercing my gut. Part of the thrill was knowing

that children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough.

Sometimes I steal things I don’t need. I joy-ride cars

to nowhere, break into houses just to have a look.

I’m a mucky ghost, leave a mess, maybe pinch a camera.

I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob.

A stranger’s bedroom. Mirrors. I sigh like this – Aah.

It took some time. Reassembled in the yard,

he didn’t look the same. I took a run

and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out

in rags. It seems daft now. Then I was standing

alone among lumps of snow, sick of the world.

Boredom. Mostly I’m so bored I could eat myself.

One time, I stole a guitar and thought I might

learn to play. I nicked a bust of Shakespeare once,

flogged it, but the snowman was the strangest.

You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you?

Carol Ann Duffy


I kept getting little wordpress messages that my library was getting full of pictures… and there certainly were a lot of repeats and pictures which I had never used. So full of vigour for a good spring-clean I went back to the beginning and began to delete old pictures from the library… not realizing that if they went out of the library they would also go out of the posts. I have lost my header… I have lost pictures from previous posts… oh dear… this means I’m going to have to go back and check every post to see what’s missing…

… what a waste of time! I have so much else to do!! So much more to write!! So many new posts to load…

… I hope this comes as a warning to others… and if you know it already please don’t laugh at me too much!

Ships That Pass In The Night… The Legionnaire, Tall Fred and Howard


10th August – 2nd September 1940 (L. – 11′ Sep)

Leslie Gould                     Home:- Swansea

Fredrick Charles —     Home:- Romford

Fredrick Cobbett.

182nd Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.

Stationed: – Pinehurst, Harston

We all three went to a dance in Harston Village Hall on 10th August and met the Legionnaire, Tall Fred and Howard. More fun!

The Legionnaire (who was a C.O.) was a tall Cub-Master before being called up. Beryl and Monica gave him this nick-name as they thought he looked rather fierce and just the type for the French Foreign legion.

Tall Fred had a very attractive smile. He was about the tallest soldier we had met so far, hence the adjective. It was after this dance that Beryl, who thought she was walking home with the Legionnaire, kept talking about Tall Fred whom she hadn’t properly met and asking who he was, arrived at the gate, to her dismay (or delight?) she found she had been walking home with Fred not Leslie!

Howard, who was a ship’s barber in civil life, got his nick-name because he was so very like a cousin of ours of this name. He was actually another Fred. The Army seems over-run with them (Freds we mean)

We also went to another dance on 17th August, but didn’t really know them, apart from having met them at the previous dance.

On the 24th August when Rose Bowyer was staying with us, we four girls and three boys spent an afternoon on the river in Cambridge We had a punt, took sandwiches for tea and had a grand time.

Punting on the River Cam; Audrey, a friend, and a soldier

It was unfortunate that Leslie, who had been so good all the afternoon, while the other two boys had been trying to sink the punt by “rocking” it should fall in. He was trying to get on the bank from the boat when the latter wasn’t moored and it just sailed from under him and in he went! He was rather wet and came home for a hot bath and supper, but before getting home there were more adventures!

Three small boys in another punt spent the afternoon following our boat and trying to sink it. It was getting late and we were afraid of missing the bus home as all our efforts to return downstream were thwarted by these boys. Then Fred had an idea. He leapt from our punt to theirs, got hold of their mooring rope, then leapt on to the bank and there he sat holding their boat fast while we hurriedly paddled downstream.

Monica and a soldier boy on the River Cam in the summer sunshine

When we were well on our way and out of reach of our tormentors, Fred let go of their rope (after having suffered much splashing from the boys) ran along the bank and rejoined us some hundred yards further down. Fred certainly saved us from missing our bus.

Leslie used to come in most evenings and one afternoon, the 8′ September, he took Monica on the river at Cambridge in a rowing boat. The other two never actually came to the house.

We saw Tall Fred on 12′ October when the convoy he was in paused for refreshment at the Old English Gentleman. We just had time to say “Hullo” and “Goodbye.”

A safe and happy voyage through life, lads!

What a wonderful time the girls must have had; as intelligent young women and with a brother serving in the RAF, they must have listened anxiously to the BBC news on the wireless, and read the reports from the Front in the newspaper, but they were young, and lovely and enjoying their life!  

The confusion of Beryl over the identity of the young soldier who walked her home is understandable because it would have been a black-out, no street lights, no lights allowed from windows, it really would have been very, very dark! Going on the river was a regular and common thing for Cambridge folk… forget the University, they are ‘gown’ think of us Cantabrigians, we’re ‘town’!

The photos were actually taken the following year, the summer of 1941, and I don’t know the identity of the young man paddling them along!

Living as a River


Every so often you come across a book which you know will be a friend for life. I borrowed ‘Living as a River’ by Bodhipaksa and then bought a copy for myself. Bodhipaksa  was born a Scot but now lives in the Unites States; he is a Buddhist and member of the Triratna Community and he runs the online meditation centre, Wildmind,

The blurb from the back of his book

This is a lovely book to read, Bodhipaksa’s style is as fluent as the title of his book and it is beautifully written, no clunking text here! However it is a challenging read; the images are evocative but the ideas need some serious consideration, although once I (mostly) grasp his meaning, it is as pellucid as a mountain stream, and as lively!

His introduction starts with a quote from P.G.Wodehouse and this gives the reader a clue that the message will be pertinent, simple even, and yet with a humanely humorous perspective. Bodhipaksa describes himself as a skeptical Buddhist and he writes for a wider audience than those within his own community, or Buddhists in general. He is discussing self, and what we mean and what others mean by self. Self changes, self is not constant in a changing and inconstant world.

Chapters include ‘The Self I don’t Believe In‘, ‘The Body as Mirage‘, ‘Stepping Into The Stream‘, and chapters on the six elements.

As I have already mentioned, this book is a challenging read… I’m still reading it and I’m not going to go into what it says in depth, you will have to read it yourself, and I do recommend it!

My well-thumbed copy