Saturday, 30 September 2017

Coventry Cathedral

It's the last day of September, which for me represents the true end of summer. The sun (when it shines) still has some power to warm, but one can feel its strength waning; the trees, although still in leaf, are beginning to shade from greens to yellows and browns. Everything is withdrawing.

October heralds a new season, a new academic year (in the university world) and is redolent for me of memories of moving to Coventry (October 1972) to study English and American Literature at Warwick University, whose campus is situated, as it happens, in that city and not in Warwick itself.

It wasn't the first time I'd been to Coventry, having been taken some ten years previously on an outing from Peterborough, one of those jolly charabanc trips of church parishioners and their kids, to see the newly finished and recently consecrated cathedral.

I wasn't the only new boy in town either, that autumn of 1972 (and I'm not referring to the other students). Tommy Hutchinson was sold by Blackpool to Coventry City in close season, reason enough for me to go and watch him play in sky-blue rather than tangerine at the city's other 'cathedral', Highfield Road,  and for the sky-blues to become my second team. But I digress.

Coventry Cathedral is an imposing creation of art and architecture, very mid-century modern in style, with some stunning contributions by the leading contemporary architects and artists of their day: John Bridgeman, Jacob Epstein, John Piper, Basil Spence and Graham Sutherland among them.

The new cathedral has been built of the same sandstone as the ruined cathedral (bombed out in 1940) that it stands beside, the two of them making a potent statement about the evils of war and the power of the human spirit to rise phoenix-like again. Although the new cathedral is strikingly contemporary, as a religious monument it is as all-encompassing and awe-inspiring as the great city churches of medieval England.

Coventry's iconic cathedral - the ruins of the old conjoined with the new
I've never been to a religious service in the cathedral (not being given much to church-going) but I have attended some other events within its splendid setting. The first was a recital of Bach's Goldberg Variations for harpsichord, which I went to with my girlfriend during the first year at Warwick. The second was a poetry reading some time in my final year and the third was a very moving exhibition of paintings, photography and poems by survivors to mark the 50th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Coincidentally, the cathedral was also the setting for my graduation ceremony in 1975, only being the rebel that I was, I declined to attend, much to my parents' disappointment.

John Piper's stained glass windows
I've revisited the cathedral several times over forty years and always find it an inspiring space and a good place to reflect on life, the universe and et cetera.

I'm heading back there once again at the beginning of November to hear the fabulous Beth Hart perform one of a trio of "solo shows in beautiful settings" she's giving in the UK; (the other two being in Leeds Town Hall and Bath Forum).

I discovered the music of Beth Hart circa 2003 when an American bass player I know said he'd just played on some sessions for her album 'Leave The Light On' and that she had one of the most incredible voices he'd ever heard. He wasn't wrong. (He also went on to play in her touring band for a few years.) I reviewed Beth's first ever UK gig for the music press in October 2008 and have watched her become as popular in Europe in the last decade as she is in her native USA; a troubled woman - by her own admission - searching for grace through music. She is a force of nature and her voice is a gift from the gods. I'm looking forward to hearing her perform and to renewing my acquaintance with a wonderful building.

On to today's poem then, which frankly has little to do with any of the above, but it does connect with the broader weekly theme. It was provoked, as you might expect, by my recent visit to Kos.

No Time For Bigotry
Clock stopped permanently
at ten to three
in this babbling square,
where careless vacationers
from many nations
tuck into their fare
of full eclectic breakfasts
beneath dusty, ancient plane trees
trembling with sparrows
that shield their tables
from the mid-morning glare
of another azure day.

Clock stopped permanently,
record of the moment months ago
when earth moved mightily here,
when church and mosque
which border on this bosky square
shook terribly,
when walls were rent and icons fell.

All Greeks are philosophical
and forbearing;
they will repair in time,
though it must surely shock them
to hear some holiday-makers tell,
as they queue
to photograph these wounded buildings
all cracked and cordoned off,
that they feel sorry for the orthodox
but aren't too bothered about a shattered mosque.

I almost wish the ground would open up again.

Having got that off my chest, I'll leave you with an audio link of Beth Hart performing: Sky Full Of Clover. Just click on the song title and play it loud for maximum, soulful effect.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, S ;-)


Anonymous said...

Another good read, thank you.

Adele said...


Anonymous said...

Great blog, great poem and Beth Hart, wow she can sing.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. An excellent blog. Thank you.