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I am standing near the loud evangelists

by the medieval sandstone cross that marks

the centre of this erstwhile Roman camp,

Castra Deva, base for two centuries

of the Twentieth, Valeria Victrix

streets south and west to the Dee, east to forests

and the lush plain, north to sandstone outcrops.


The Presbyterian rhetoric

of Damnation and Sweet Jesus keeps

other spectators away, gives me

a clear view of the midsummer,

pagan parade –



Though they lived for decades no more than a block

from each other in Greenwich Village – one

in Washington Square, the other Patchin Place –

there is no record they ever met,

Hopper the painter, Cummings the poet.


They would have thought that they had nothing

in common – the real, the lyrical.

But, hey, what do geniuses know?


They may have passed each other on some sidewalk,

on Sixth Avenue or Bleecker Street,

or in the subway on 9th,



As we travelled back from a London weekend

in the Quiet Zone on the afternoon express

three very young, head scarved mothers nursed

their newborns and chattered softly all the way.

At Chester they headed for the North Wales train.


Not far from the Great Orme Tramway Station,

Church Walks, Llandudno, and near St Georges,

is a three storey detached house whose ground floor

has been a synagogue for a century

and more. Lubavitch rabbis officiate.

Above the shul,



Our house, the street’s first, was built epochs ago

on Cheshire pastureland. There has been nothing

for history to note here – only births, deaths,

the occasional fire and break-in,

and marriages at the Methodist Church

almost opposite us. Empires collapsed

from within – Austro-Hungarian,

British, French, German, Ottoman, Russian,

and Soviet. Here only the seasons came,

and bed-sits, then gentrification.


Now the St Petersburg Resurrection

A Cappella Choir – founded post-Gorbachev

to sing the liturgy in concert halls –



We flew late, on the year’s busiest Friday,

to Toulouse. As we drove in the hire car

through Haut-Garonne and Midi-Pyrénées

into Gascony, its rolling hills green

with August’s growth, the sun was setting –

the burgeoning fields of sunflowers paused, bats

swooped before the car like twilit angels.


As we topped each rise we could see the glow

fade in the west above the Bay of Biscay.

We arrived in darkness at the pension.

The patronne gave us supper on the terrace –



The timetabled rumble of the Northern Line

between King’s Cross and Euston stations

moves beneath the British Library’s

‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’.

Aficionados like my granddaughter

are oblivious, focused on the wonder

of ancient texts and modern images,

the alchemy of ink, pigments, alphabets

transformed into art. Between trains there is

the clip-clopping of Centaur’s hooves.


We walk to King’s Cross to see Platform

9¾. People are queuing

to take selfies beneath the sign attached

to the wall next to The Harry Potter shop.



One had a lovely face,

And two or three had charm,

But charm and face were in vain

Because the mountain grass

Cannot but keep the form

Where the mountain hare has lain.

‘Memory,’ W.B. Yeats


Thomas Cubitt, London’s master builder, built

Woburn Buildings (on the Duke of Bedford’s land);

a pedestrianised street from Woburn Place

to what is now Euston Road, and abutting

St Pancras New Church with its caryatids

and ionic columns.




Am I alone in my egotism when I say that never does the pale light of dawn
filter through the blinds of 52 Tavistock Square but I open my eyes
and exclaim,’Good God! Here I am again!’…?”
Virginia Woolf


The Woolfs’ house was on the south side of the Square.

From there the couple ran the Hogarth Press.

The place was razed by a stray bomb in the Blitz –

but they had moved, the year the war started,

to their house in Sussex near the river Ouse.



Two of the rooms in the British Museum

I always visit are numbers 7

and 8, ‘Assyria: Nimrud’. Named,

in modern times, for the Biblical Nimrod

the three thousand year old city of Kalhu

is twenty miles south of Mosul. On display

from the palace of Ashurnasirpal

are gypsum panels, carved reliefs, products –

faultlessly sculpted – from a master’s workshop.

They are, for the most part, pristine, and portray

absolute kingship, its circumstance, pomp,

and prisoners’ heads severed after battle.



I have made my English journey – by rail,

Chester to Euston return – maybe,

on average, three times a year since I was four.


It is like revisiting a ragged

museum of serendipitous

keepsakes: Canada Geese on Cheshire ponds;

GEC become Alstom in Stafford:

wind turbines and mobile phone towers

jostling radio masts near Rugby;

concrete cows in Milton Keynes; Ovaltine

in Kings Langley; Watford’s mosques;

and, anywhere, marshalling yards of

derelict rolling stock,