Lingering in blossom summer

More from John Clare… it’s an important night tonight as the votes in the General Election are counted, but let’s take a break for the moment, taking a break with fingers crossed, and enjoy this catalogue of garden delights:


Some ancient customs mixd wi harmless fun
Crowns the swains merry toils-the timid maid
Pleasd to be praisd and yet of praise affraid
Seeks her best flowers not those of woods and fields
But such as every farmers garden yield
Fine cabbage roses painted like her face
And shining pansys trimmd in golden lace
And tall tuft larkheels featherd thick wi flowers
And woodbines climbing oer the door in bowers
And London tufts of many a mottld hue
And pale pink pea and monkshood darkly blue
And white and purple jiliflowers that stay
Lingering in blossom summer half away
And single blood walls of a lucious smell
Old fashiond flowers which huswives love so well
And columbines stone blue or deep night brown
Their honey-comb-like blossoms hanging down
Each cottage gardens fond adopted child
Tho heaths still claim them where they yet grow wild
Mong their old wild companions summer blooms
Furze brake and mozzling ling and golden broom
Snap dragons gaping like to sleeping clowns
And ‘clipping pinks’ (which maidens sunday gowns
Full often wear catcht at by tozing chaps)
Pink as the ribbons round their snowy caps
‘Bess in her bravery’ too of glowing dyes
As deep as sunsets crimson pillowd skyes
And majoram notts sweet briar and ribbon grass
And lavender the choice of every lass
And sprigs of lads love all familiar names
Which every garden thro the village claims
These the maid gathers wi a coy delight
And tyes them up in readiness for night

John Clare

In the summertime

The summer of 1970, and I just remember exams finishing, revision over, and we danced in the street in the rain – well, it was Manchester! The song I think of is ‘In the summertime’ by Mungo Jerry… I never once thought or connected it to T.S.Eliot…

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clown, quick-change comedians,
tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had extensive reputation.
They made their home in Victoria Grove–
That was merely their centre of operation,
for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well know in Cornwall Gardens,
in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square.
They had really a little more reputation
than a couple of cats can very well bear.

If the area window was found ajar
And the basement looked like a field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls:

Then the family would say:  “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!”
And most of the time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had a very
unusual gift of the gab.
They were highly efficient cat-burglars as well,
and remarkably smart at smash-and-grab.
They made their home in Victoria Grove.
They had no regular occupation.
They were plausible fellows, and liked to
engage a friendly policeman in conversation.

When the family assembled for Sunday dinner,
With their minds made up that they wouldn’t get thinner
On Argentine joint, potatoes and greens,
And the cook would appear from behind the scenes
And say in a voice that was broken with sorrow:
“I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow!
For the joint has gone from the oven-like that!”
Then the family would say:  “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer!”
And most of the time they left it at that.

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer
had a wonderful way of working together.
And some of the time you would say it was luck,
and some of the time you would say it was weather.
They would go through the house like a hurricane,
and no sober person could take his oath
Was it Mungojerrie–or Rumpelteazer?
or could you have sworn that it mightn’t be both?

And when you heard a dining-room smash
Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
Or down from the library came a loud ping
From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming–
Then the family would say:  “Now which was which cat?
It was Mungojerrie! AND Rumpelteazer!”
And there’s nothing at all to be done about that!


Not a Jellicle cat

We had the pleasure of the company of a charming house guest, our neighbour’s cat Smirnoff, who, after mysteriously vanishing for ten days returned; the neighbours were on holiday so he lodged with us.

He put me in mind of T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum… I wonder if Smirnoff knows any Jellicle Cats? He’s definitely not one himself, being a bit of a bruiser, and tabby and white…

The Song of the Jellicles

Jellicle Cats come out tonight,
Jellicle Cats come one come all:
The Jellicle Moon is shining bright–
Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicles wash behind their ears,
Jellicles dry between their toes.

Jellicle Cats are white and black,
Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
Jellicles jump like a jumping-jack,
Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
They’re quiet enough in the morning hours,
They’re quiet enough in the afternoon,
Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happens to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.


Our own Macavity

We never had anything to do with cats in our family, we didn’t have pets at home when I was a child, and I can’t remember any cats around our neighbourhood. In fact, I can’t remember having very much to do with carts at all, until Tamla, a kitten who belonged to friends and I had to look after when they went away. I began to appreciate then how elusive a cat can be.

All changed when we moved into this house in 2002. The people across the road had a pair of young cats, Smirnoff and Jack Daniels – named by their son, as you might guess! Jack soon took off and moved down the road to live with some other people – his decision, not theirs. Smirnoff is a real character,and even from being little more than a kitten he was extremely strong-willed and independent.

Over the years Smirnoff has mellowed and got used to us – especially as when our friends go away we look after him, giving him his food etc. He still is ‘a real character’, although, obviously he’s quite elderly for a cat now. Our friends were due to leave him in our care two weeks ago, but five days before they went, they came over to ask if we had seen Smirn, he had been missing for two days. This is extremely unlike him; he patrols around our little cul-de-sac, wanders up and down the road, cuts through the little alley to the road beyond and patrols up and down there, annoying the local dogs and keeping a younger kit in its place… for Smirnoff who likes his food to be missing… very unlikely. He also is extremely loud, and if he was suck anywhere (he’s not as agile as he used to be) he would certainly let everyone know.

Very sad, our friends departed on their holiday, leaving us the keys, just in case the old boy returned. They were having the builders in while they were away, but had told the men about Smirnoff, just in case… The weekend passed and he had been away for a week…

We had begun to believe that Smirnoff had truly departed; Friday night, twelve days after he left home, we returned from the pub and as we got to the front door, a familiar face looked out at us from under the car. I swooped on him and picked him up for a cuddle. I expected him to be thin, decrepit, scruffy… but he looked his usual sleek, handsome self. My husband ran over to Smirnoff’s house to get his food… he made a token effort, but only to please us.

Since then we have kept him with us – his home is full of builders and we don’t want him disappearing again!

Macavity: The Mystery Cat

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumb;
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE !
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!


PS breaking news! We have just spoken to the builders… apparently Smirnoff has been home since just after the neighbours went on holiday – the builders have been feeding him too!!

Come queen of months

Despite some grey skies and a splash of rain this afternoon, our lovely summer-like weather continues; John Clare in The Shepherd’s Calendar calls May ‘the queen of months’, and she is certainly very regal at the moment.

The Shepherds Calendar – May

Come queen of months in company
Wi all thy merry minstrelsy
The restless cuckoo absent long
And twittering swallows chimney song
And hedge row crickets notes that run
From every bank that fronts the sun
And swathy bees about the grass
That stops wi every bloom they pass
And every minute every hour
Keep teazing weeds that wear a flower
And toil and childhoods humming joys
For there is music in the noise
The village childern mad for sport
In school times leisure ever short
That crick and catch the bouncing ball
And run along the church yard wall
Capt wi rude figured slabs whose claims
In times bad memory hath no names
Oft racing round the nookey church
Or calling ecchos in the porch
And jilting oer the weather cock
Viewing wi jealous eyes the clock
Oft leaping grave stones leaning hights
Uncheckt wi mellancholy sights

John Clare


I can’t sing, well actually I can, of course I can, and when I’m on my own no-one else would believe how tuneful and melodic I am… I love music, but I just can’t keep in tune with others and I never know what register to start in so I’m either groaning away, or squealing, which is probably as unpleasant for me as others around me. Even something like ‘Happy birthday’, I sometimes mime (enthusiastically of course) because I can’t seem to set off at the right moment – and that’s another thing, keeping in time with the music… I drift off all over the place.

As well as being an artist himself, my husband teachers art, and one of his big things, particularly when thinking back to teaching young people, is the strange transformation which happens, usually between junior school and ‘big school’, when children suddenly say they can’t draw. Little children grab pens, pencils, crayons and draw away happily, just enjoying what they’re doing, and usually pleased with the result even if it isn’t what they intended. Then partly because they become more perceptive, but partly because of others’ attitude (parents, teachers, older people like brothers and sisters) they suddenly decide they ‘can’t draw’.

When I was young I sang away in my lessons at junior school and at Sunday School, until I heard a recording of the class singing… I suddenly realised that the enthusiastic out-of-tune, out-of-time bellow was me… I kept on singing, of course, we had no choice, but as I grew up, and my voice changed, I came to realise that I was struggling a bit – or maybe I just became self-conscious.

So now, unless I’m on my own, I don’t sing much… Which doesn’t really matter for me, I don’t have any great desire to join a choir or group (lucky for them, maybe!) However, I think back to my ‘singing days’ and I realise with gratitude, not just about the physical singing which I’m sure is good for you, but how lucky we were with what we sang. The wonderful collection of songs, mostly British folk songs, but some from other cultures, which we had in our songbook, the stories they told of adventure, tragedy, love, death, jealousy, beauty, everyday activities – the words, the poetry, the inspiration for other creativity… The same applied to the school hymn books we had, which fortunately I still have. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure, that the culture of appropriateness, of relevance, of accessibility, dominates and permeates even dinging lessons. I’m not sure how much singing goes on in schools, the curriculum is under constant pressure, but it is a hugely rich resource which can last people throughout their lives.

I seem to have wandered away from what I was thinking about – the wonderful songs we sang at school, and how often I think about them and am inspired by them!

A whistling gypsy came over the hill,
Down through the valley so shady,
He whistled and he sang,
Till the greenwood rang
And he won the heart of a lady.

She left her father’s castle gate,
She left her fair young lover,
She left her servants
And her estate,
To follow the gypsy rover.

She left behind her velvet gown
And shoes of Spanish leather.
They whistled and they sang
Till the greenwood rang
As they rode off together.

Last night she slept on a goose feather bed,
With silken sheets for cover,
Tonight she sleeps
On the cold, cold ground
Beside her gypsy lover.

Her father saddled up his fastest steed
And roamed the valleys all over,
Sought his daughter
At great speed
And the whistling gypsy rover.

He came at last to a mansion fine,
Down by the river Claydee
And there was music
And there was wine
For the gypsy and his lady.

“He is no gypsy my father” she said,
“But lord of these lands all over
And I shall stay
’til my dying day
With my whistling gypsy rover.”

Happy birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

Happy birthday, Charlotte, what a long time ago since you were born – two hundred and one years to be precise! I know you are quite elderly, but you will be pleased to know you are very popular today, and not just because you are on some exam syllabus somewhere, but because people love and read and reread your books!

You were born in Thornton, in West Yorkshire, the third daughter of your father, Patrick  and mother Maria. Your big and oldest sister, Maria must have thought you were an early second birthday present for her – she was born on St George’s Day, and also Shakespeare’s birthday, 23rd April. Your other sister was Elizabeth, born between you and Maria.

Your family moved to the vicarage in Haworth, and what a busy place it must have been, because a year after your arrival, your brother Branwell was born, then the next year Emily, and last of all, in 1820, baby Anne arrived. After all the happiness and excitement of the safe arrival of you six children, tragically, your mother died when you were only five years old.

Your life had many very sad, heart-breakingly sad times; you were bereaved by all your sisters and your brother, and you yourself died before your time when you were just thirty-eight, leaving your father to mourn his family.

However, on your birthday, let’s celebrate your life and be thankful for your wonderful legacy, your poems and of course your novels, Jane EyreShirleyVillette and The Professor.


Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall ?

Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly !

What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away ?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway ?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair !

Charlotte Brontë