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Friday, 25 June 2021

The Black and White Trail

I’ve always been intrigued by the term 'Chocolate Box Art, not with regard to its origin; Richard Cadbury was the culprit. Son of the founder of Cadbury's chocolate he designed his chocolate boxes using his own paintings. The phrase then adopted a life of its own, coming to mean any painting critics labelled as kitsch.    

No, what puzzles me is its longevity as a phrase. Chocolate boxes haven't used scenic covers for years - you will find them on biscuit tins—but virus like the phrase has moved on from its original host and is currently residing in Herefordshire. 


The Black and White Trail is a circular route, beginning and ending in Leominster and rivals the Cotswolds for picturesque villages. The term black and white comes from the manner of construction, ie timber frames from green oak, each beam cut to size were it was felled. The timber was numbered and assembled on-site. The space in between the frame was infilled with rubble or wattle and daub and whitewashed with limewash for added protection. The unseasoned oak eventually turned black with age, hence the black and white appearance of the houses. 

Dilwyn Green and main street.

On a fine summer’s day, we drove through Dilwyn, Weobly, Sarnesfield, Kinnersley, Eardisley, Kington, Lyonshall, Pembridge, and Eardisland. It was like driving back through the 1950s on empty roads and countryside bursting in green.


Weobley is one of the best-preserved Tudor villages in the country and like Leominster, the ‘o’ is silent, so they are respectively pronounced Webbly and Lemster. (Just to confuse Americans and Scousers) The name comes from a Saxon chief ‘Wibba’ and ‘ley is a Saxon name for glade. So long ago, it would have been known as Wibba’s woodland clearing. It’s mentioned in the Domesday book as Wibelai held by an Eadwig Cild before it was granted to the Norman Roger de Lacy. South of Broad Street are the remains of a castle first recorded during the mid C12th civil war between Stephen and Matilda and, during a later civil war, Charles I stayed in the Unicorn Inn formerly sited on the corner of High Street and Hereford Street. 

A more permanent though less famous resident was James Tomkins. He had a cottage in the centre of the village. It was the C16th and he used his time wisely. Tomkins fathered 33 children by two wives and is remembered in verse

Babes thirty three did from two mothers spring,

To famous Tomkins, O, admired thing!

And may the loud resounding trump of fame, 

Proclaime great Tomkins for a man of men.

The two wives have left no comment. 

The Parish Church of St Peter and Paul. The building to the left was the rectory where Dorothy Wordsworth briefly drank tea. 

Yes, I'm a sucker for the peace of an English country church.

After Weobley, and having whipped through Sarnesfield*, Kinnersley, Eardisley, we were starving and needing liquid refreshment. Kington sounded a nice place to stop, but in this respect we were disappointed. Everything was shut or closing. 

Kington main street.

This soured things. It was all well and good being another village mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, all well and good being recorded as Chingtune from the old English Cyne Tun meaning royal manor and that the Normans built a castle on the high ground above the river and the town itself spread from its base. It was all very well that here lies the tomb of Sir Thomas and Lady Ellen Vaughan; that Thomas was known as Black Vaughan who died in the Battle of Banbury in 1469 and came back as the Black Dog of Hergest, the source of the Hounds of the Baskervilles. We cared not a fig. We eventually found food, in my case a cheese and pickle sandwich, and moved on. 

The last two villages are gems. First Pembridge built near a ford across the River Arrow—which supplied drinking water to the village. Drinking water wasn't put on tap until 1960.  Like the other villages on the black and white trail it predates the Domesday Book and was granted the right to hold fairs in 1239: the Cowslip Fair in May and the Woodcock Fair in November. Most of these timber framed houses date back to the C15th – Bishop Duppa’s Alms-house on Bridge Street being a C17th Johnny-come-lately 


As you walk from the car park

Full of interesting nooks and crannies

Main street.

Village shop

Bridge Street on the way to the river

                               The river Arrow which connects many of these villages

The parish church of St Mary has one of only seven detached Bell Towers in the county. Behind the church are traces of the castle owned by the powerful Mortimer family. When Edmund Mortimer died in 1435 the land was passed on to Richard Duke of York.

Bishop Duppa's alms-house on Bridge street. Zoom in on notice. 


The River Arrow

Eardisland was once a Bronze age settlement, later held by Morcar, the Saxon Earl of Northumberland, seized by William the Conqueror and given to Baron William de Braose  by the Conqueror’s son. It ended up in the hands of Richard Duke of York via marriage, forfeited to the crown and held briefly by Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary I.

We passed Parish volunteers  
weeding in silence on our way to the church

I was intrigued by the incumbent who obviously survived the turmoil of Henry VIII and beyond

Set farther back from the C13th Church is a moated motte, all that remains of a castle defending the land from the Welsh. Now visitors are provided with afternoon teas. 

At Sarnesfield is the grave of John Abel , Carpenter to Charles I. I wanted to pay my respects but time didn't allow. Retrospectively distraught. 

Friday, 11 June 2021

Clay Cross: The story continues

Clay Cross first appeared in 2015, the book making the point that pulp fiction is but a blink from reality. The original aim was to bring a 1950’s private eye into late C20th Newport; but how to do it? Eventually inspiration struck—expressed in the introduction to the original book, Clay Cross:

When James Finn ran down the priestess daughter of Ginny Mambo in a Louisiana bayou, he never imagined the consequences. 

When Laura Finn begins a search for her husband, the nightmare begins. Imprisoned in ‘soul bottles’ by the houngan, Ginny Mambo, they are inadvertently released in an inferno caused by one seeking to escape a similar fate.  

In what becomes a nightmarish blaze that sees the release of hundreds of imprisoned souls, Laura and James Finn are transformed into Djinn, creatures of fire and dust seeking form. James Finn finds himself trapped in the persona of Clay Cross, a cold war warrior and misogynist private eye, in fact, a composite of every pulp novel he’s ever read. 

The equally cultured Laura Finn has mutated into Sheri Lamour. Earthbound and heralding a new age of Djinn, both become the playthings of two competing Loa, Damballa and his brother, Baron Samedi. Clay Cross, now a noir Don Quixote out of his depth and far from his comfort zone, is pursued through time by a vengeful Ginny Mambo, horrendously changed in her quest for immortality. 

Clay Cross is a swirl of Voodoo and Noir, mangled metaphors, and flights of misplaced hyperbole. In it, comedy, horror and tragedy fused in a 1950’s private eye out of his time.

This collection continues the story, Cross and Lamour’s adventures ranging from the near to the far future with occasional forays into the past.  It is, essentially an ode to old time pulp fiction and noir  cliche.

But this is where I need your help. The back cover is as yet unfinished, the present text just a place holder for what is to come. Below are a few suggestions. Any feedback/preference for one or another would be most welcome. Currently the first one is my favourite, but its a moveable feast or, perhaps, amuse-bouche.

“Sheri, you ever think we’re in a goddamned comic book?”

“We’re all in a goddamned comic book, Clay. Some call it life.”

“Some call it lots of things.”


The Chronicles are an ode to pulp, the mangled poetry of noir cliché and two unlikely heroes, Clay Cross and Sheri Lamour 


Sheri, you ever think we’re in a goddamned comic book?”

“We’re all in a goddamned comic book, Clay. We just turn the pages."

"Some call it life.”

"Some call it lots of things."


The Chronicles are an ode to pulp, the mangled poetry of noir cliché and two unlikely heroes, Clay Cross and Sheri Lamour


Sheri, you ever think we’re in a goddamned comic book?”

“We’re all in a goddamned comic book, Clay. We just turn the pages until the end."

“We don’t have an end, Sheri—we’re Djinn.”


The Chronicles are an ode to pulp, the mangled poetry of noir cliché and two unlikely heroes, Clay Cross and Sheri Lamour 


Friday, 4 June 2021

Cats on a mission

Cover Artist: Gerard Whyman 

The Murenger sells a good pint of Sam Smiths. It also has stronger stuff under the counter judging by ‘Tails of Phoebe and Mags Worthington of “The Mew’s” Belgravia.Think Lucia and Mapp on acid, Hunter S Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Vegas’ channelling E. F Benson. It’s what I love about The Murenger, the eccentrics it attracts, (myself included) Within those walls there is something in the air, mercifully not covid, that sparks gentle weirdness.

As the Forward in the book states: ‘The ‘Tails’ originated in the period 2005-09,’ amongst a group of writers who enjoyed working together. The ‘Tails’ were later circulated via round robins, revived during lockdown and now finally published. I should add I had no part in this, a project begun before my time. In fact, until the book was presented to me, I had no idea of its background or how it was all put together. 

So, how best to describe it? First of all, it’s not a children’s book, not with lustful mice like Podge Ogilvy Innes III  or characters like Lady Leonora Cooperwhitty, one ‘of that class of women who enjoy being on top of men, women, children and elephants.’

Lady Leonora 

Not someone to trust with a gun

Think 'The Famous Five' meet ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ in a world that oscillates between Scotland and Belgravia; a world where cats, opera singers, Russian spies, gangsters, and feline family trees interact, a hallucinatory whimsy that needs to be read in a firm Scottish accent. 

Cats on a mission

Toffs up to no good

For Paval Zoubok, “Collage is the cut, the tear, the rupture and the overlay of our contemporary culture. It is the hybrid language of urbanity – the remixed, recontextualised, and wholly built from the fragments of daily life.” He was explaining a new school of art.

Lady Katrina Ogilvy Opera singer and cat lover

A disturbingly erotic cat

In this sense, ‘Tails of Phoebe and Mags Worthington of “The Mew’s” Belgravia’ is the literary equivalent but set in the interwar years. In this world, characters like Podge Ogilvy Innes III (a mouse) Dimples Dennistoun (a nanny,) Dame Sheba Gingers, Babs McTooth, and Phoebe and Mags Worthington (two cats) have a series of loosely connected adventures in the 1920s. Archive photos side by side with beautifully drawn Cats blur the line between different states of seeing: the mundane and the almost impossible. The book should be read with “Three bottles of 1907 Heidsieck Champagne Gout Americain,” the favourite tipple of Olga the White Russian cook.