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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,



Ascending south east from Manchester, over

Eyam, the ‘plague village’, towards the Wash;

cruising over the Channel, observing

the shipping below me with wonder like some

latter day Bleriot; then Rotterdam’s docks

and the Rhine; sun glinting momentarily

like fireflies, and I am nonchalant

as Icarus, mindful as Daedalus,

noting place names freighted with histories;

past Munich, and the bared Austrian Alps,

then due south along the Balkan Mountains,

smoke drifting north from polluting fires,

roads following the contours,



The thirteenth century’s major earthquake

resulted in a tsunami that buried

a bishop and his congregation, razed

the castle – a Byzantine fort – broke

the Roman breakwater, leaving rocks

like cracked teeth, rendered the harbour useless

for sea going vessels and reduced this once

capital city to a fishing village

which the odd traveller would visit

for the lustrous mosaics nearby.


On the corniche, watched by strolling tourists

and two armed Port &