Saturday, 15 September 2012


It is six o'clock in the morning.
The fish are in their pond.
They look all round their little world.
They do not look beyond.

They find a fly to feast upon
How glad are they to feed!
The youngest says, “O lucky day!”
The oldest says, “Indeed!”

They flick their fins in the sunlight
which is an act of folly.
They flash their splendid golden flanks.
The world, they think, is jolly.

The herons have lived on the Western bank
since Ex’ter built her wall
but sometimes one will cross the tide 
and condescend to call.  

The herons have been at Powderham
since Harold lost an eye
but now and again one flaps this way
and drops in from on high.

Oh,  noble is the heron
and stately is her flight!
She looks down on the suburbs
as a noble creature might:

the emerald of little lawns,
of bushes, trees and fronds,
the ruby rose, the sapphire phlox,
the diamond garden ponds.

“O do not leave me, fellows mine!”
So speaks the youngest fish
“I would not stay here all alone!”
The heron grants his wish.

It is six o'clock in the morning,
or maybe a minute more,
and all the fish who once swam here
ride high in the heron’s craw.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


On Sunday 6th August 1815, a couple of months after the Battle of Waterloo and a couple of weeks after the excitement of Napoleon being off Brixham aboard the Bellephoron, four people, a manservant and three women servants, were enjoying a quiet day's boating on the Estuary.   They had hired an Exmouth boat skippered by a  fifteen year old boy.   In the evening they found themselves in the Bight where the great colliers were moored and a sudden squall of wind drove their boat in such a way that it fouled the hawser of one of the ships lying there.   The boat was upset and a young woman was drowned.   The others were helped aboard the collier by the 'active exertions' of the crew.

As well as being squally weather, it was probably that time of ebb when the infamous 'race' is running    Even today,  when there are no colliers' hawsers to plague us,  many a small boat gets into a tangle in that part of the river.

 The report does not tell me,-  I am reading this in the Woolmer's  Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of August 12th 1815, -   but I imagine that these were four young people from a local household enjoying the one day in the week when they were allowed out.   We are not told the name or age of the girl who died.  She was, after all, only a servant!

It is no doubt perverse to feel much sympathy with someone whose death took place two centuries ago when there are so many contemporary tragedies shouting for our attention but I am in a melancholy mood today so I am wondering what this lost 'young woman' was like.  One moment she was perhaps laughing, chatting, joking, the next she was fighting for her life in the chilly waters of the Exe encumbered by her impossible Regency petticoats.  Was she still a teenager?  Was she pretty?  Did she have a sweetheart to weep for her or aged parents to grieve?    The distance and the very casualness of the newspaper report somehow make her sad death seem all the sadder.