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The Medals of Victory



In honour I gained them, and in honour I will die with them.

Horatio Nelson

In the third week of October, 1805, the western littoral of Spain reverberated to the thunder of cannon. Skeins of smoke were tossed by offshore wind. Every so often the radiant blast of an exploding ship was seen by those searching the horizon from the clifftops. Beneath leaden skies, the sea was full of what looked like blazing matchwood, broken hulls and masts collapsing into the maelstrom amid screams of panic.

As the action lost momentum and resolved into a scene of forlorn wreckage, the wind gave way to an angry gale that continued to lash the Atlantic coast of Spain for a week.

On November 6th, 1805, Admiral Collingwood's account of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of his colleague, Horatio Nelson, by a cannonball in the chest, reached England. The British assault had been a herculean success and had broken the back of the Franco-Spanish Navy for good. Napoleon might be gaining ground in Austria, but his Navy could not hope to rally sufficiently to scale the 'wooden walls' of England.

At Kew, the King shed a tear at Nelson's heroic bravery, along with many others'.

“At least,” he said to Pitt, “he is gone out in a blaze of glory. Eh? No greater sacrifice. This calls for a State funeral, nothing less. Make ready, sir.”

“As Your Majesty proposes,” responded Pitt. “Shall the ceremony be in St Paul's?”

“Wren's monument to almighty God. Ah yes! Anthems to make the rafters ring!”

“Your Majesty's government would concur in that, have no doubt, sir.”

“We've given those Gauls a trouncing at last! What! A cue for rejoicing!”

“It will certainly raise morale against Bonaparte. But we shall not be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.”

It was late afternoon and dark. The room had the sombre glow of a Rubens domestic tableau, lit by a prudent posting of candles. The king was sporting a green shade over his eyes and was looking down at the carpet, as if trying to read sound. His eyesight was lately failing which had the effect of honing his perception.

“Come closer,” he beckoned. “Your voice is not as sure as it was wont.”

“I beg your pardon, sir. Collingwood's despatches arrived in the small hours. It has long been my habit at such times to place my head upon the pillow and sleep again. But in this instance, I could not, and I rose at three. There is so much to weep and rejoice over at once.”

“Indeed. Indeed. But you must take care of your health, Pitt. You have acquired a frailty of tone which speaks of a fatigued constitution.”

Pitt dared to glance at the clock and hoped the King would draw matters to a close. There was much to be done. He must oust his prepared speech and write a new one for the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall on Saturday night. Sharp, fiery pains tore at his stomach. He needed his palliative white medicine as soon as he could lay his hands upon the bottle.





















Excerpted from THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Second Book in the Berkeley Series

English Languish


























for June Casagrande



My Dad was one of those you cite
Correcting syntax as of right
A 'great big meany' to the core
He put construction to the fore
The spirit of the piece was lost
And in the basket ended tossed
The budding author withered then
And never showed him work again
 
My heart was shattered by the flaws
A split infinitive could cause
A misplaced preposition, too,
Could wreck a scene of derring-do
I quaked at the subjunctive mood
And clauses giving too much food
For thought midst plots that wouldn't hatch
And parts of speech that did not match

The hanging phrase is widely banned
And sentences that start with And
And sentences that start with But
Will cause an academic Tut!
The strict corrections they propose
Have blighted my immortal prose
O woe is me! I am undone!
There is no licence to have fun!

The muse is gone, I wonder why
My verse can't fit the needle's eye?
And art is left to hang its lyre
On weeping willows and expire
But now I think I've said enough
And must not brook this kind of stuff
My future work they'll not be faulting
I think the pedants are revolting!





A Mystical Ingredient






















from A House Not Made With Hands

“Plough a straight furrow, lad," William's father would counsel. "Fix your eye on the far side and never look back."

The cultivation of crops and the tending of beasts ran in George Cooper's blood. Both his own and his wife's families had been farmers for generations so that William could not fail to possess an easy affinity with the land.

William loved the rolling Wreake Valley with its winding watercourses, lush meadows and plains where sheep might safely graze. On his return from Melton Mowbray market, footsore and weary from goading the stock, he would marvel at the curious transparency of the air around Rotherby whose cottages snuggled under the square-towered church like chicks about a mother hen. His mother had been Hannah Fletcher, a Syston maid born and bred, whom her husband had carried off to Rotherby after their wedding on All Fool's Day, 1746. It had long been a joke that George had put his head in the noose on so inauspicious a day! That very month, news had reached them of the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in the Scottish Highlands. Bonnie Prince Charlie's hopes of the Crown had been dashed. The Hanoverian redcoats had butchered the Stuart forces and gone far beyond the call of duty in laying waste the Gaelic way of life. Having next to no idea what they were fighting for, half of them, they had sorely punished the brazen-faced clansmen, but the Prince had cunningly slipped through their fingers and gone scuttling back to France. It seemed that Protestant and Catholic had been forever at each other's throats and William, who was given to pondering these matters, was at a loss to fathom why those who proclaimed one Lord could not live in reasonable harmony.

By now, the third George in succession was on the throne. He was German, of course, but unlike his predecessors, spoke English as well as any Charterhouse schoolmaster. He distrusted the nobility for their ambiguous values and preferred to consort with simple mortals. Farming fascinated him. He had a model farm at Kew for the instruction of the young Princes in his overflowing nursery. When he went to take the air at Weymouth, he loved to linger over a breakfast of boiled ham and oatcakes in the kitchen of some local farmhouse while he and the overawed tenant mulled over the problems of good husbandry.

The trouble was that the old ways were changing fast. New techniques were being pioneered to make the growing of the nation's food more efficient. Over in Norfolk, Viscount Coke insisted on the importance of crop rotation. Did he imagine that cottagers could afford to let their strips lie fallow for one year in three? To cap it all, landowners were looking for new means of fattening their pockets. They preferred to see their affairs managed by a dozen large tenants than chase scraps of rent from scores of small ones. This meant that country people were having to turn to labouring and were losing a pride in tending their own patch. Everywhere, land was being enclosed by hawthorn hedges which cost good money to maintain and left little common where you could scratch out a living with a pig or a cow. Fodder had to be begged, bought or stolen.

William was used to hearing his parents discuss these things long into the night over a guttering tallow candle. They had had their share of hardships but had well survived. "Make no mistake, Will, the Lord always provides," his mother would declare, "though not without a vast deal of toiling and spinning from me!"

"How can you be sure?" he had probed as a youngster, though he entertained less doubt of her than of the Almighty.

She was pummelling dough at the time, her freckled brown arms powdered with flour. "Do I take bricks out of the oven when I bake a loaf? See this! Left in the warm for a couple of hours, twill be twice the size and more full of hot air than the vicar!” Hers was a mischievous heresy. While she had the deepest respect for the tenets of the Christian religion, a lively nature occasionally drove her to poke fun at the Church as an ecclesiastical institution.

"Is it magic, then?" asked her son, turning his bright face up to her.

"Little nippers ask too many questions and that's a fact."

"But is it?"

"Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't. You might call yeast magic in a manner o' speaking. Tis like faith, like saying your prayers and believing you'll receive what you need."

Now that he had reached the age of twenty, William's contribution to the rent was substantial. He was a broad-shouldered youth of medium height with a mop of yellow hair tied back with twine, a skilful farmer with a propensity for book-learning. Before he was three, he had mastered the alphabet from a hornbook at his mother's knee and a year later was composing whole sentences upon his slate.

"Give over stuffing the boy's head with these clever notions," George Cooper cautioned. “It'll do naught to put bread on the table."

But Hannah thought she knew better. If God had given her son talents, he would not readily see them squandered.

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Where The Spirit Leads



"Ah, Leicestershire," sighed John Wesley as his mount kicked
over a stony track, "where I always feel such liberty and see but
little fruit!"

He had just taken his leave of the brethren at Markfield, the
foothold of his ministry in the Charnwood Forest, when a flushed
and breathless rider came galloping alongside. At once he
recognised John Coltman, a hosier from Leicester with whom he
had dined on several occasions. Not long ago the poor fellow had
been gravely depressed and had tried all manner of remedies
until the little preacher had laid hands on him and called down
the blessing of the Heavenly Physician.

"Mr Wesley, sir, I heard tell you were abroad in these parts.
Won't you come and speak to the good folk of the town?"

Wesley reached out and put a lightly consoling hand beneath
his companion's elbow. "I don't wilfully neglect them, my friend.
I must go where I'm most needed and the Spirit leads elsewhere.
There's a deal of trouble brewing in the Border Country since
Charles Edward Stuart landed on these shores."

"Ay, he'll do away wi' King George and turn us all into
Papists!"



"He's a long way to go before that, thank God. But we must
not underestimate the strength of Jacobite feeling. Tis an odd
irony that we Methodists, as Dissenters from the Established
Church, are oftentimes mistaken for Catholics. Our sect is
everywhere spoken against."

"Then they suffer much in the North?"

"Praise God, they do!" beamed the wiry clergyman. "There's
nothing to make the gospel thrive so much as persecution. The
best Christians are to be found among the strongholds of the
devil. Go and tell them in the town to pray for a happy outcome
of these affairs and I engage to visit you on my return."

The comrades parted, the hosier to broadcast this heartening
exchange, the man of God to reflect on the phlegmatic nature of
these Midlanders. Many was the time he had passed through the
county and expounded the faith in its villages, but the area did
not beckon strongly enough and the town scarcely at all. They
were peaceable folk, he knew, spinners and weavers whose
grinding toil had brought a fair degree of economic stability to
the region. Sometimes they would rise in the small hours,
walking miles out of their way to hear his message before work
began, but though they listened with interest, they were slow to
respond. Materialism was their god and guide and they thought
nothing of plundering every wagon that entered the town gates to
sell its goods at inflated prices.

If only they could raise their heads above their wheels and
treadles and glimpse eternity.



from A House Not Made With Hands

Overview of book

The Foreshadowing

























One view of the conflict in the Middle East from the 'Reflections' section of THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether.

A Different Way
The Virgin Speaks

We had to go a different way –
I suppose it was to be expected –
Taking the path that snakes down into Egypt
And the rufous sands of our kindred
Country, shuffling the stones out of place,
The vegetation, itself acicular,
Resembling our abraded mood,
Fraught and fugitive.

Forewarned by a compelling dream,
We speedily forsook our homeland,
And the shabby stable enshrined by Grace,
Wherein the Spirit of our True Abode
Consumed us in its shimmering vision
And we did indeed possess
That Kingdom promised to our
Forefather, Abraham.

How soon the world's rapacious jaws
Were poised to trap the infant Hope of Israel.
Herod trod the warpath, his blood up, lest he be called
To forfeit power. Rather slay the nation's
Innocents, be sure the threat has died
The death, feasting can resume
And the illusion that he alone
Invents salvation.

No resting-place, no refuge then,
The night air gnawed the cheek-skin,
Yet the firmament above hosted the selfsame stars,
Their aspects changing subtly,
That guided men of wisdom,
Rulers of the East, and honest shepherds,
From a cold and rocky altitude
And garnered them.

Oh Abraham, hallowed patriarch!
Spearhead of our toilsome path,
God pledged a race as populous as gems of heaven,
And you believed, but could not trust the manner
Of its coming. You, childless and disdained,
Took matters into your own hands,
Abetted by Sarah, true daughter of Eve,
And begot elsewhere

A bastard line, the Ishmaelites,
Born of your housemaid, Hagar, who scorned
Her mistress' shrivelled womb and barren years,
Earned persecution for her spite and fled
Into the wilderness. It was those ancient footprints
We, the Holy Family, retraced, adjusting
Cosmic balance that quarter might be
Given to exiles.

Time's passed, is passing, will pass,
The sum of it , the essence, still distilling
I am caught up in paradise no mortal mind
Can bear the telling of. All lives, breathes peace
Unclench your fist for Eucharistic Bread,
Earnest of that age-old pact, and you will
Richly gain a foretaste of this Land,
Bending to prayer

The strife on earth does not abate,
And conflict scars the centuries for Jew
And Arab cousins. No ploughshare, no pruning-hook
Their arms foretell.  Ire explodes and gushing blood
The soil stains. Sheol needs no further depths
When they distrust God's will, an inalienable
Commonwealth, plum-rich, and blindly shun
His Different Way.