Saturday, May 31, 2008

You'd think, wouldn't you, that May would be the ideal time to plan a group walk on the Quantocks and Exmoor in the footsteps of Coleridge from Nether Stowey to Porlock... except that incessant rain had flooded most of Somerset, with callouts to the emergency services coming at 3 per second. We forded several roads on our route-planning tour, and found the wooded footpaths marked on the OS map as alongside streams had readjusted the preposition and were now within them. Relief to return to the Castle of Comfort, ironically so named when the 1600s miners' cider house; a coffee-house by the time Coleridge and Wordsworth met there, and now a rather posh guest house. Our room had sherry and a library, where we discovered the Diary of William Holland, vicar of Over Stowey, and gems like this:
"October 23rd 1799. Went with my wife to Stowey and bought a gown of Mr Frank Poole who smiled and bowed graciously. Saw that Democratic hoyden Mrs Coleridge who looked so like a frisky girl, or something worse, that I was not surprised a Democratic Libertine should choose her for a wife." Coleridge would have been 27, married to Sarah Flicker and recently moved from Devon to Bristol, where he lectured at Unitarian chapels and wrote anti-war poems. The Lyrical Ballads had just been published. Kubla Khan and opium addiction came later.

Bath Fringe has so much exciting looking stuff I wish I could get to see more of it. Like all festivals, there's a buzz from just walking around the town on a warm night with audiences spilling out from every kind of event from classic to chaotic. My Friday choice was "A Bath with Bladud" presented by Touch & Go. No script, no repeats, promised the flyer. "An alchemy of movement and sound and more" promised Michael at the start. "It may not be the story you know" he added, usefully. There were places where this tale of the leper King with a fascination for flight seemed not to be a story even the performers knew, as ancient Greece slewed into a place of flamenco and cornetto accents, and Bladud's descent to the Underworld appeared to take him into a bar in Aberdeen. Bizarre impro explorations only added to the audience's enjoyment, and sense of privilege at sharing something ephemeral and courageous, with the themes - aspirations, choices, flight, fatherhood - powerfully shown.

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