the storyteller’s trapdoor: ‘And it so

happened…’ But it does sometimes. Aristotle

called them ‘accidents’ – and here’s a pile-up!


It is a Thursday night – and bell ringing

practice at the parish church we can see

from the long window on the half landing.

Our house was here years before the church

or the houses behind us or in our street.

The Shoulder of Mutton Field was bought

at auction and the first built was ours

more than a hundred and sixty years ago.

From the window, uninterrupted,

there would have been Cheshire countryside.

The first tenants were the Caldecotts,

one of whose sons was the illustrator

Randolph Caldecott. I attended

the same school he had done. The first grown up

poem my mother read me was Cowper’s

‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’.

How I loved the drumming of the metre,

the slam-dunk of the rhymes and Caldecott’s

gaudy, storytelling illustrations!


A city infant, he was certain

the hedgerows, pasture, dew ponds of his boyhood

had inspired his art. He died, not quite forty,

in an unseasonably damp and cold

St Augustine, Florida, where, of course,

he had gone for his health. The cause of death

was the heart disease he had developed as

a child. I imagine him descend,

say on some early summer morning,

the wide, sunlit stairs, one hand carefully

on the bannister, the other gripping

a pencil and sketch book; edge through the back door

kept ajar for the air, cross, as quickly

as he is able, the swept, cobbled yard,

lift the latch of the door in the high wall

and step through into the brightness of the fields…




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  1. #1 by Sarah Selzer - July 22nd, 2014 at 15:09

    I love the image of Randolph Caldecott clutching his pencil, holding the bannister which we’ve all held, including E – and her love of art! Maybe there’s something in the atmosphere… xxx

  2. #2 by John Chapman - July 22nd, 2014 at 16:18

    David, your heart seems to have lightened this month, a very family rich batch of musings.

  3. #3 by Howard Gardener - July 24th, 2014 at 18:22

    I have to agree with John Chapman about this month’s postings. Family-oriented but definitely neither mawkish nor sentimental – great work, David.

  4. #4 by John Chapman - August 10th, 2014 at 08:47

    Your house has age which brings a certain magic when thinking of the previous incumbents. When we looked for our first house we alighted on Meppershall which, though not more than 15 miles from either of our homes, we had not heard of. I started tracing our ancestors a few years ago and found that in the 17th century my father’s ancestors moved here and dwelt as property owners for many years? I often go through the churchyard on my village walks and stand to muse at the church door as to my ancestors crossing the threshold and what their way of life must have been like.

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