Bobby and the 43 Steps
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;— that branchless ash,
Unsunn’d and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann’d by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d
Much that has sooth’d me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting’d, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters.
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
‘Tis well to be bereft of promis’d good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
It’s quite long… but the poet has injured his foot and his friends go for a walk without him. He is annoyed, sits in the hollow of a Lime tree … my prison … He imagines the walk they’re on … goes with them in his mind and describes what they will be seeing, and him not seeing … He then has a realisation … that imagining it is as good as seeing it. He is then able to notice the less obvious beauty of where he is.
Two pink lines on that lateral flow box were a bit of a blow, but somehow not a surprise given his determination to carry on life as he always had within the government’s rules and taking as much care as he could. The ballet; theatre; football; buses; trains. It’s been fun. But now it was self-isolation. What he could do rather than not. Most importantly, his own private garden at Laurel Cottage is part of the home for self-isolating.
The garden is quite small, with a Victorian brick path built by Bobby the length of it. At the bottom is the garden room. Newly re-roofed and externally restored. Awaiting a springtime refurbish inside. It’s a den. Full of memorabilia, posters, a dartboard and a seventies Hi-Fi system. We wrote ‘Making Movies‘ in there a couple of years ago, and it is just as relevant now.
But Bobby has a problem. Much as he loves Laurel Cottage and its gardens, he never really relaxes there. Preferring the freedom of the hills and far away places. Laurel Cottage was a love nest. It still is. Without one of the lovers.
So what to do? Walk, of course, but in a structured, challenging way to keep it interesting. It’s 43 steps from the back door to the dartboard in the garden room. Or 86 Bob yards there and back. Or 21 laps equals a Bob mile. I chalked up each lap on the dartboard, culminating in 84 on the last day of isolation. Four miles.
Suddenly, it dawned on him how lucky he was to have this little garden. How years ago he had poured love and energy into creating a tiny Victorian garden as requested by Diddley. The brick paths in particular, as over half the bricks come from the Cotswolds. A demolished town house in Cheltenham via a reclamation yard in Pensford Somerset. Pensford – the home of Acker Bilk.
Suddenly he noticed the new buds on the Queen of Spring. Clematis Armandii. The fluffy buds of Magnolia Stellata. The fat buds of the white Camellia Diddley bought in.
Woolworth’s for ten bob, a long time ago. The early promise of Acer Brilliantissimum, which gave such pleasure from a bedroom window during his daily garden birdwatch during the first lockdown. And lots of containers full of spring bulbs that is his pure delight. The photographic memory of last year’s spring.
43 steps is in full view of Redlands Forest and is in effect a walk in the Surrey Hills. He is grateful to gardener Monty Don who told his television audience to stop being too tidy in the winter garden. The leaves, dead seed heads, unpruned shrubs could all be tidied in the spring. For now they provided food and cover for all kinds of wild creatures. From tiny insects to rummaging birds and animals.
An incentive was to have breakfast ready and waiting in the garden room for the end of that day’s 43 steps. Different music too gave it a sense of rhythm. Bearing in mind it is power walking, using walking poles. Most importantly, he looks forward to continuing the challenge. Not every day, but two or three times a week he can revel in the luck he has to own his little piece of paradise.
Just like Coleridge, being prevented from doing something had opened his eyes to what was on his own doorstep.
The National Trust, who own Coleridge’s Cottage stage a re-enactment of the poem at the property.
Not surprisingly, his first day of freedom post self isolation required a little shopping. The sun beamed down and he chose the best shopping trip he could think of. To the Watercress Farm.
And here is a picture story of the shopping trip:
Lighting a Candle for Diddley