Archive for November, 2012


‘On the road to Chester, on the outskirts of Farndon, stands a monument to the late Major Barnston, raised in 1858 by his tenantry and friends. It consists of a grand obelisk, having at its base, four handsomely carved stone figures of recumbent lions.’

 History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, George Ormerod, 2nd Edition 1882.


The lions, positioned north, south, east and west –

encompassing the, now reduced, estates–

are lying, on their tomb chests, heads on paws

as if asleep. The Barnston family,

originally of Norman stock,

had been landowners in the parish

for six hundred years of unstinting service

to their estates, England, the monarch –

and had the church’s chancel named for them.

The monument – the design the result

of a competition – is, perversely,

sculpted in yellow not local sandstone

and cost the equivalent of £30k,

met entirely by public subscription.

A farm hand earned two shillings a day.


The inscription tells us the Major fought

‘In the Indian Mutiny campaign

in 1857; in which

he received a severe wound whilst gallantly

leading an assault at the relief

of Lucknow…from the effects of which

he died at Cawnpore…aged 31 years.’

He had, it seems, neither wife nor children.


This grandiose memorial surprises

on a country road and the landscape,

across the gentle Dee Valley into Wales,

appears much as the Major would have seen it

for the last time – orderly, productive,

agrarian. I note the irony –

a pitiless, criminal war for land –

and picture, from six thousand miles away

and more than a century and a half,

the noise, the blood, the hate.




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The Last Absolution of the Munsters at Rue Du Bois, by Fortunino Mattania, depicts an event which took place on 8th May 1915, near Neuve Chapelle.



The push for Aubers Ridge had been postponed

because of rain. But the Saturday

was dry and sunny. Going up the line

in the early evening, the battalion

stood easy at the shrine to Our Lady.

‘…in remissionem peccatorum…’

By noon, next day, nearly half were dead,

caught on the German wire Haig’s ill equipped

artillery had, once more, failed to cut.


In Mazingarbe, an industrial town

ten miles south, the British commandeered

the abattoir. The first to be shot at dawn

was a Munster regular from Cork.

‘…in nomine Patris…’




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In the centre of the square is a fountain –

an inspired, aesthetic roundabout –

a contemporary design, the numerous

jets spurting three or four metres from the setts.

On the way to the restaurant, she sees it,

and, of course, fascinated by water

in all its forms, tugs at her reins – but the cars

circulate heedlessly and, anyway,

we are guests. She tantrums.


Later, the fountains are turned off, traffic

is forbidden and la jeunesse takes over

with its skate boards and hip hop. By then,

she is asleep in her buggy. A marble

plaque records the one hundred and fourteen

Jewish men, women and children sent

to extermination.




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One early afternoon at the nadir

or the zenith of the so-called Cuban

Missile Crisis – a good or, rather, bad

two years before ‘Dr. Strangelove’ and ‘Fail-Safe’

were screened – I was waiting in the drear

and white-tiled catacombs of Liverpool’s

Central Station – where it always seemed

as if it were night and the blitz still on

and water appeared to drip continuously –

for the next train, under the Mersey,

to Chester, when I heard somewhere beyond me,

somewhere unidentifiable, a loud,

continuing roar like boulders crumbling

or, more likely, city blocks tumbling

onto the streets above and I feared

that either or both the shoe-thumping

Premier and the tanned President

had advanced Armageddon. I believed,

then, rhetoric and realpolitik

were one so the momentary fear was



The Soviet Empire has been demolished,

the American reduced, not least

its consumption of Havana Cigars,

but Cuba welcomes all tourists, though those

with only U.S. dollars to exchange

are surcharged.





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The Waziris call them ‘bangana’ (Pashto

for ‘buzzing wasps’) as they drone day and night –

like Doodlebugs in perpetual motion –

endlessly visible, unremittingly

audible, five thousand feet above

the clay-walled villages and towns, the markets

and the farms, the madrassas and the schools,

until some CIA operative,

in a Nevada mountain bunker,

or RAF personnel near Lincoln,

wakes and, after his/her double espresso

and cranberry muffin, identifies

the true enemy and left-clicks the mouse.



Note: the piece has subsequently been published at





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