Sunday, 3 December 2017

Bristol & Johnny Cope

I wanted to go to Bristol to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge. And to see other things too but in the end, there was not enough time or daylight hours or energy. We took a train from Bradford-on-Avon to the grandeur of Bristol’s Temple Meads Station, another of Isambard Brunel’s designs. And we walked through Bristol’s streets, saw its tree-lined Queen Square, its yellow sandstone buildings, its glass-fronted modern geometric architecture and one building is topped with golden unicorns.

We climbed Brandon Hill, its park and gardens, full of sunshine, and at the top, the Cabot Tower reflected in the pond just below it, where goldfish flit and swarm, and a few crows circle before landing on the grass and gazing out across the city. 


On the way to the gardens and the Cabot tower, there’s a flight of steps beside the cathedral, with elegant black painted lamps, they remind me of steps leading up to Montmartre in Paris, and the circling paths around the green hill remind me of the green area around the Sacré Coeur, and the view out over Bristol from the top of the Tower is like the view over Paris from the Place du Tertre, scaled down, and much more solitary – there are few people in the gardens – but the feeling of height and overlooking is there, the elegance in the lamps and flights of steps is there, and the same vastness to the sky can be seen from the Tower top showing the sweep and bunch and variety of cloudscape, how much like a river the sky can seem, with its flotsam that rides along the surface, the unevenness of cloud that lets in faint light or spears of light through holes, or mostly, a spread curtain of light, that moves and ripples according to the weight of wind or its pause, its meandering, its halt, where light piles up on top of itself like steps leading to an avenue, and a summerhouse of sun.

View from Cabot Tower: Suspension Bridge in the distance


In the time it takes to climb the spiral steps inside the Tower, the sky has changed completely, cloud armies have massed from all directions and the city dangles underneath the cover, a jumble of scenery from a theatre’s backroom, a tangle of philosophies.

Then we walk through the streets of Clifton, until we reach the bridge.

And here’s another careful loop of thread – the bridge over the Severn, the brickwork of the pillars, and the gentle curve of metal that keeps it all in place. The rocky sides, and far down on the earth, the mud banks, steep sand yellow and the trickle of mud-coloured river. By the time I’ve walked across the bridge and back, the sky folds shut and it begins to rain.

Early morning on the Avon river

It’s the day I have to leave the boat and go home. C wakes me up with ‘Hey Johnny Cope are you wauking yet..’ and an announcement of coffee. I shout to him about my sleeplessness, my having to get up in the middle of the night – to pee, and to refill the hot water bottle which had gone cold. I apologized for my lack of desire to converse, in the cold early hours, in the cold loo, the cold rubber bottle, cold lino under my feet, window cold to the touch, when I looked out. Because I saw a strong beam of light, which then went off, then on again. Also heard a loud bang like a boat door being closed – too fast, too hurriedly, with too much emphasis, with anger with desire to make someone else climb the steps too quickly, fling the door open, follow them out onto the frost-crisp towpath, the muddy planks, flailing arms, furiously, with boots and spanners, logs and bottles at the ready to be used as emphasis or as defence – or perhaps wrapped with shawl or towel or blanket, to entreat their return.

I knew, I said, when I had that late evening cup of tea, I would need to get up during the night, I knew I would regret it…
Oh…. Says C, breaks into song ….je regrette tout, je regrette ma vie, c’est comme ça, oui…..
I go on,… je regrette le thé, et surtout café au lait
je regrette toujours/ ce que j’ai fait,/ le thé, café,/les coups donnés, en bref/ tous ce que j’ai jamais fait…

Morning coffee. Scrambled duck eggs, toast. Pack. Repack. To the station. Catch the train. Change at Bristol.

At Sheffield, the ticket collector announces ‘if you are alighting here please check you have all your personal possessions, please do not leave behind any small children old people or other wild animals.’

I’m reading Rory Stewart’s The Marches. And here’s a coincidence. On page 64 he quotes the words of the same song that C had sung earlier.  We learned it in school, but don’t exactly hear it often. I wonder if they still teach it in schools?

Hey Johnny Cope are you waukin’ yet?
or are your drums a-beating yet?

Sir John Cope commanded the government troops at the battle of Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, fighting Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army in 1745. He was defeated by the Jacobites because he apparently slept in, or at least slept too late, as the Jacobites made a surprise dawn attack.

He slept too long, he missed the dawn,
he didn’t see the sun rise or hear the first bird song.
He might have had a restless night
stayed up too late,
and worried at the coming day,
to lead his men into a battle,
heard his horse move in the darkness,
sensing the day to come
would not be an easy one.
How could he take his horse
into the fight, carry him, his armour
and his sword, when his heather bed
was soft, but damp and he could hear
owls calling in the night?
What if it rained? Turning hard ground
underfoot to mud? Perhaps he only fell asleep
just before first light. Pulled himself
from dreams too late,
the fight already started, and already,
it was over.
As if the stars had written it
all night, in their slow scrawl
across the sky.

Canal reflection in Bath