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A Mysterious Companion

Road to Emmaus - Jon McNaughton

Way Home

We had hung around
those who followed him,
on the fringes
of what was going on.
Something about him
magnetised us -
a harnessed energy -
His actions were natural
as running water,
performed with gentle
economy of movement,
as if integrity
on every front
was key to healing
and wisdom's pearls
must not fall foul
beneath forked feet.
His words singed
a place in the memory
for Good, echoing
of a past and future Now,
strange cadences
on the tongue
of a Nazarene.

The women held their breath,
rapt at the sight.
Adam was in focus
and the locus
of their response,
the chambers of the heart.

He drew the children
with no sweet enchantment,
no narcissistic guile,
only the gift
of their reflected selves
within God's eye.

Next thing we knew,
they'd laid a charge
of gross profanity
against him.
He was the pinnacle
of innocence to us.

They slaughtered him
to feed carnivorous appetite,
an orgiastic rite.
Pitch night
eclipsed the light
and Jerusalem was mute.

Turning tail, we trudged
the homeward dust
we'd shaken off
without a second thought,
retreating to a shell
that did not beckon
and reckoned with
no warmth and welcome.
Where were we headed
but to an emptiness
we'd gladly forsaken?
We knew well enough,
as twilight empurpled
the day with regal shades,
imparting mystery
to our deadened tones,
that something momentous
had taken place.
We could not match
the expectation
still suspended in the soul
with unrewarded dreams.
We seemed no longer
enough for one another.

When all at once,
our quantum leap of longing
begat a perfect stranger!
Unaware of the demise
of Israel's hope,
he kindled a flame
so bursting bright,
it cast new light
upon unfolding history
and diamond promises
of scripture.
We didn't want to part
and begged him tarry
at our door, come,
cross the threshold,
light our lamps,
set our hearth and hearts ablaze,
share our supper,
drink our wine,
let not this day's vision
go stale on us!
Our yen to seal the bond
compelled oblivion
of the meagre larder.

The tactile planes
of earth dissolved
into heaven's board
and victuals spread
before our Guest,
he blessed,
and broke the bread -
such precious fare
within his hands -
as if he would return our gift
with value manifold.
How blind! How blind
our flesh and blood!
We knew him then,
our Host!
That instant, he was gone...
bequeathing us the Holy Ghost.
Had we prefigured him,
or he us?
In consuming,
he was himself
and by that means,
he made us Whole.

From Jericho Rose, Songs from the Wilderness  (please scroll)

Ring Out Wild Bells

On the anniversary of the marriage of George, Prince of Wales to Caroline of Brunswick, 1795, an excerpt from THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, First Book in the Berkeley Series. Lord Berkeley ruminates upon the broken vow to remain a bachelor made by his royal boon companion.

The Princess Caroline of Brunswick was a regular hoyden, but the Ambassador gave no inkling of what to expect. His instructions were to bring her back safely, skirting war-torn France. This took the best part of four months and allowed rumour to precede the entourage. When it filtered through to the Prince of Wales, he subsided into despair. She was as coarse-minded as a farmhand and swore like a Thames bargee. She spent no time in ablution and dressed with little forethought, her overblown bosom straining at the seams of her gown like grapefruits tumbling from a Covent Garden pannier. Her figure was dumpy and her countenance fresh and rubicund, as though she were bursting in upon one of Queen Charlotte’s sedate tea parties from a high-speed gallop across mountain and moor.

No wonder Frederick sings the praises of the Brunswick Court,” said the Prince. “To dilate upon my cousin’s assets would be perjury!”

He was in a lather about his forthcoming ordeal. Instead of greeting his bride at Greenwich where she landed, inauspiciously, on All Fools’ Day, he sent a detachment of the Light Dragoons to usher her to St James’s Palace and confronted her in the Red Saloon with Lord Malmesbury at her elbow. It was the most desultory greeting the envoy had ever witnessed. His Royal Highness was visibly nauseated and took no steps to meet the Princess halfway. “Harris, I am not well. Pray get me a glass of brandy,” he ordered and fled the room.

The Ambassador fielded the repulse with professional aplomb, sure that conciliation would follow. The Princess had attempted to kneel in accordance with English etiquette, but the Prince swiftly raised her up in a manner that suggested she had put a foot wrong. Peeved by her reception, she complained to Malmesbury: “Je le trouve très gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.” The criticism sounded less devastating in the diplomatic tongue.

Just seven days later, their wedding took place in the Chapel Royal with heralds trumpeting and all the ritual of sacred ceremony. A contagion of church bells broke out across England to inform all her subjects, from Count to commoner, that the Heir Apparent had a wife.

How the bridegroom managed to consummate the union on his wedding night when, as the Duke of Norfolk observed, he had ‘shot the cat’ was anybody’s guess. Caroline told one of her ladies-in-waiting that he had fallen into a drunken stupor and spent the chief of the night in the hearth. That none should be in doubt he had done his duty, there was soon compelling evidence of his prowess. Exactly nine months later, a daughter was born. They called her Charlotte after the Queen.

The bells of St John, Cranford, swung into motion and cascaded into a sonorous peal while the fragrance of bluebells and violets clung to the damp of evening.

Hark!” said Mary to the children. “That is to tell us the Prince of Wales is married.”

Freddy listened, starry-eyed. “Did you have bells, Mama, when you were married?”

Goodness me, no,” replied his mother. “It was a very quiet affair. You see, I was not a Princess. I was poor as a church mouse and along came your Papa upon his white charger and carried me off.”

The poor sap’s gone to his doom,” said Berkeley in elegiac tones.

You would not marry to save your bacon,” Mary chuckled wryly. “Children, it is dusk. Time for bed. Price is waiting to take you up.”

By the time the Princess of Wales was delivered of an heir in January, 1796, Berkeley had an unwelcome feeling that he was lagging behind.

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String Theory

Image courtesy of Eva Browning

strings make music

even heartstrings

respond to the vibrations

of the universe

mythic islands

may quicken some

corner of a foreign field

despite quiescence

but gravity's

less potent than


throughout planet earth

scientists say

I wonder what

that means for us who walk it

there's no pulling strings

bowstrings slacken

and violin

strings stretched taut across the bridge

may quiver and crack

thread gems of days

on strings of gold

love knot the bright beginning

love not strained ends but

keep fine purchase

on silken cords

lest pearls be mired underfoot

iridescence lost

Rocking The Dynasty

The Second Book spans the years 1799 - 1811 which ushered in the Regency era.

'The plot rides the heart-stopping ups and downs of a remarkable marriage and reveals how the tightrope between truth and illusion can swiftly turn into a hangman's noose.'

You've heard the term 'berk'. It conveys idiocy, doltishness, an agent of reckless escapades and madcap follies. But do you know its origins? A contraction of 'berserk' or 'berserker', perhaps? Well, 'berserker' is derived from the Viking and a noted raider, Harding the Dane, was the forefather of the family in this saga, but 'Berk' is a diminution of 'Berkeley' and, according to legend, was first attributed to the sons of Mary Cole, 5th Countess of Berkeley, protagonist of the Berkeley Series.

Mary gave birth to eight sons (seven living) and five daughters (three living). Among them was a distinguished Admiral, Maurice Frederick Fitzhardinge Berkeley, several MPs, a glorified gamekeeper, a tearaway officer in the 10th Royal Hussars, the Prince of Wales' Regiment. Harriette Wilson, upper class courtesan of the day, who liberated funds from a battery of illustrious figures on the understanding that they were firmly edited from her wickedly mischievous memoirs, described this last, Augustus, as 'a young savage' on account of his volatile temper and crude imagination, but appears to have found sight of his banker's drafts as welcome as the Duke of Wellington's.

However, the apple of Mary's eye was 'Fitz', the eldest son, a hard-drinking blade, around whose rightful heritage a furore swirled for decades, both before and after the 1811 Peerage Trial. He came to inhabit a half-world encompassing theatrical, cultured and country pursuits. He enjoyed the society of servants, celebrated beauties, hostesses, wives, widows, maids and mummers, never knowing quite where he belonged, a hostage to his chequered ancestry and the ineptitude of his noble parent. He was to feature in a number of court cases of the 19th century for whippings, firearms offences, divorce proceedings and breach of marriage contract.

From an early age, he knew how to manipulate his mother. She was no sop, but nursed a sore conscience for her part in striving to 'make right' the cruel deceit practised upon her by the Earl. Such were the twists of destiny, that a fake marriage proved impossible to disavow. Despite that the Countess had retrieved the family estates from ruin, something no mistress (and seldom a woman) would have attempted, the House of Lords was disinclined to believe her testimony and she was forced to flee the country in the thick of the Napoleonic Wars, on the advice of the Prince Regent, with a jail sentence, and possibly worse, hanging over her head.


When the Earl of Berkeley narrowly escapes death in a duel at Arundel Castle, he realises the outcome is not what his opponent intended. His wife has been compromised by a deadly foe, Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, brother of the Prince of Wales.

After a long spell of seclusion, the Countess is launched upon the beau monde. The couple strive to subdue gossip caused by the failure of the 1799 Pedigree Trial to recognise their first marriage. A careful strategy must be adopted to ensure their eldest son succeeds to his father's honours.

The blood of kings and tradesmen runs in Fitz's veins and he struggles with a conflicted identity. In many minds, his courtesy title, Lord Dursley, is far from fixed, whilst his reputation for philandering is every bit as robust as Lord Berkeley's. Equally at home in Green Room, boudoir or barn, his proudest conquest is The Fair Greek from Smyrna, bewitching wife of the English Consul in Egypt.

Dursley's beautiful and tiresome Mama dare not put a foot wrong. The Prince of Wales is courting her favours and her watchful spouse well understands that safeguarding her virtue may exact penalties as surely as risking her good name.

Among other intrigues, Lady Berkeley finds herself caught up in the Delicate Investigation of Princess Caroline, banished wife of the throne's heir. A scandal involving risqué conduct and an adopted child brings the Princess into disrepute, a scenario exploited by her husband who wishes to divorce her. One of his chief spies, Lady Charlotte Douglas, grew up in Gloucester and is familiar with Mary Cole's past. She tells how a distinguished barrister once enjoyed a liaison with the Countess at a time she vows she was married.

The Earl's demise after a tragic accident means his widow must confront the House of Lords Committee of Privileges alone. Witnesses are summoned from every stratum of society and her history taken apart. Rogues emerge to stake a claim upon the Berkeley fortunes and romantics to set the record straight. The aristocracy closes ranks. Royal promises are broken and allies melt away as the lengthy hearing wends its sensational course before Cumberland inflicts the coup de grâce.

It seems the only emblem of true loyalty is a Jacobite white rose.

A Pearl Through Burnt Glass


The poem below was inspired by a recent visit to the Constable at Petworth Exhibition in West Sussex.

Petworth House, now in the hands of the National Trust, was the home of George O'Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, a generous benefactor of the poor, an enthusiastic enquirer into science and a patron of the Arts, of whom J M W Turner was the most celebrated. He appears to have been remarkably unmoved by Constable's naturalistic pastorals. However, his largesse extended to inviting the painter - who readily admitted to feeling awkward 'with the great folks' - to be his guest at Petworth where he ensured a carriage was at his disposal at any time of the day. The two men found they had ground in common in attitudes to Anglicanism and what was happening to the agrarian landscape in Britain. There is a scene at Petworth House, featuring Lord Egremont and some of his friends, in The Sheep and The Goats, Second Book in the Berkeley Series, to be published this spring.

Constable first visited Sussex and set up his family home there in the 1820s when he hoped his wife, Maria, stricken with tuberculosis, would benefit from the seaside air.
He was clearly inconsolable at her passing in 1828 and wrote '...hourly do I feel the loss of my departed Angel - God only knows how my children will be brought up...the face of the World is totally changed to me.' He never remarried and cared for his seven children alone.

Yet there is a distinct sense of liberation in the ensuing years. He was freer to embrace his destiny and go where he would. Though he did not care for the Sussex coast, he fell in love with the South Downs and its villages. 'Claude nor Ruysdael could not do a thousandth part of what nature here presents.'

It is a matter of personal satisfaction to me that the last picture he painted, just before his death in 1837, was of Arundel Mill and Castle and was one of his most widely appreciated.

Arundel Mill and Castle




There is nothing here

for the painter

but the breakers

and sky

this place is a receptacle of fashion

offscouring of London

Who am I in this

Piccadilly by the sea?

An August dawn

the seamless tide

all mellifluous silk

and tattered lace

a reaper's sun

spilling alizarin

along a linear horizon

shingle grates


impedes motion

shifts and reforms

product of aeons

of attrition

and aggregation

a millstone

that belongs to no mill.

Maria, dear wife of my soul

mother of my children

who shunned an inheritance

to share my yoke

is slowly consumed

stumbles under the weight

of sheer mortality


tethered each

the seagulls circle and cry

and articulate

the presage of loneliness.

I seek the inward path

through forest and field

the rugged ascent

that offers panorama

the cornfields

the sickle that gleans

the freighted hay wain

the sky its own canvas

chief organ of sentiment

I want mastery of colour

and chiaroscuro

the sound of water escaping



old rotten planks

and brickwork.

I love such things...

I want to forget Ruysdael

and Rubens and Lorrain

nature depicted

sometimes wrested

to its own destruction

I yearn to render

the outer and inner


perfectly matched


the taming of wilderness

My pictures

will never be popular

for they have no handling

but I do not see handling

in Mother Nature.

I practise mood clouds

stride in safety

the chain pier

over a mercurial sea

I sculpt and limn fast

beachbound boats

anchors, creels

the real business of coast

light and shadow

never stand still

I collect red and yellow earth

to transport to my studio

and rake the walls of memory

for detail

when light resembles

a pearl through burnt glass.



Cowdray Park

Chichester Cathedral

(Pictures courtesy of The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.)