Archive | August, 2015


29 Aug

Walking from Lockner in the beautiful Surrey Hills following my friend Alexander Dawson Shepherd in a colour coordinated sort of way I was struck by the nature of friendship.

I needed to meet my daughter Polly in Holborn, London to see how she was faring in her new job, and to take her a birthday present.

Alec suggested that we walk from his beautiful cottage on the grounds of the old Albury Estate to Guildford and catch a train.

I packed my smart shoes (it does not do to appear dishevelled for the daughter) and her gift in a day pack, put my knackered old steel toe capped work shoes on and traipsed after Alec into the hills.

Past the old Gunpowder works, an organic vineyard and this lovely sculpture

… we climbed up the steep hill to St.Martha’s chapel where Alec’s family are buried.

His father rests here: Hanbury Knollys Dawson Shepherd (fabulous name), so too his grandfather Harry Bowyer – the local miller. Alec still lives within a stone’s throw of his parent’s and sisters house and from his family’s grave we paid our respects and¬†drank in the view.

Popping in to this wonderful ancient chapel to admire the restored oak beamed ceiling we saw carpentry at its most enduring and endearing.

We chatted about old friends, family, work and the Natural History around us as we walked. Oftentimes content to say nothing at all we listened to the grasshoppers below and the birds above inhaling the scent of silvan wildness.

The path we travelled along was The Pilgrim’s Way. Chaucer himself may have seen horse shoes like this perhaps?

The Pilgrim’s Way is an ancient track and is the route of medieval Christian pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket of Canterbury.

Pilgrimage seems to me a metaphor for the nature of long term friendship. Friends may walk together for a time sharing air and artful conversation, then part hopefully to journey again one day along a mutually agreeable track.

Alec journeyed with my wife Clare and I when I was sectioned and in hospital diagnosed with manic depression. He was the only pilgrim who visited me in my hour of need.

I found out at that time who my true friends were and how shockingly few they were back then.

I don’t know how we find our friends, but I do know this – we must take time to renew the narrative between us. To rethread our own Canterbury Tale;¬†share tales, bawdy and preposterous, ordinary and mundane – for the story of friendship of itself a very human thing.

Alec, Polly and I had lunch in a lovely park near a statue of Bertrand Russell. I was able to pass on the tale of her Oma (her Dutch grandmother) – the photographic memory of her provenance, bound in a textile of her own making – a frog on a lilly pond.

Chaucer would have approved I think, after all, he was the father of the vernacular – the lingua Franca or language of friends, dear pilgrim. Franca – frankness – the basis of true friendship.

With special thanks to Anne Heppell (book binder).


7 Aug

One of my earliest memories is of swimming on my Dad’s back in the pool in Takoradi in Ghana.

I remember his freckles, sandy hair and the feel of his big muscles under my four year old hands.

My dad was an accomplished swimmer and a great diver, he could water ski and he played water polo too.


One day my mam, little brother Tim and I were sitting on the beach in Takoradi, Ghana. Mam noticed a chap some way out to sea waving and calling for help. The man’s family was nearby so she went over and said “I think your husband is in trouble”

His wife said “I know, but I don’t want to upset the children”

Mam said something very rude in Dutch and strode down the beach to the water polo team where my Dad was having a beer and she raised the alarm.

A huge posse of super fit young swimmers, with characteristic ‘V’ shaped backs, leapt into the surf to help the stricken man.

They all ended up having to rescue each other because of a rip tide which had trapped the man in a huge trough between two big waves just beyond the reef.

But not my Dad. He swam all the way up the beach and back down the wave trough, grabbed the guy and swam all the way back up the trough and back round the other side, with the bloke holding on to his back. They were absolutely exhausted.

He saved this man’s life.

He saved mine when I was in hospital having been diagnosed with manic depression way back in 2001, with the immortal words:

“Steady on son”

He’s always had my back, thanks Dad.