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…