We are just pulling out of Bristol Temple Meads on our way to London, first stop Bath Spa, where my niece Elen used to live on a houseboat. The railway runs next to the River Avon towpath.
It has been a good week for us. Yesterday I took a different train, to Taunton, county town of Somerset, mainly in order to visit my father’s grave. He was buried at St. James’ Cemetery, Staplegrove Road, almost exactly 33 years ago, on a wet and windy day. If he had still been alive today, he would have been 102 years old; today was his birthday. I felt surprisingly unemotional, seeing the gravestone with its inscription including a line from a hymn by John Donne --- I shall be made thy music --- after all, those words imply that the body lying in the ground is not really my father, any more. My mother told me earlier this week that what lives on after us is our thoughts, and it is therefore very important to express good thoughts. Another thing that heartened me in the graveyard was the loud voice of an invisible robin singing, hidden somewhere in a thick old yew tree. All I had remembered of the graveyard were the evergreen trees there.
I continued walking until I came to the town centre, across the watermeadows by French Weir, another area I couldn’t remember. At the sandstone castle is the Somerset Museum, free entry. I had some lunch in the museum's cafeteria and looked at the exhibits. A couple of the temporary exhibitions were excellent, one showing the entries for an international photography competition, portraits mostly, extraordinary faces (or faces made to appear extraordinary) from around the world, The other gallery I lingered in was where they were showing pictures (photo portraits again) of the working-class Somerset people whom Cecil Sharp had recorded singing traditional folksongs at the start of the 20th century, such as Blow away the morning dew, initiating a craze for such music, some of which developed into the quintessentially British art songs composed by Vaughan Williams, Holst, Benjamin Britten and so forth. I hadn’t realised that Sharp had also lived in Australia. Also in the Somerset Museum was an astonishingly well preserved Roman mosaic from this part of Britain, depicting the story of Dido and Aeneas, a buxomly realistic, naked Dido clinging to Aeneas (wearing a Grecian kilt) in the centre of it.
After a pleasant return to Bristol on the train bound for Edinburgh from Plymouth (which journey would take a whole day), Chris met me outside our hotel and took me for a ride on the Big Wheel that we had all to ourselves in the nearby Millenium Square. This gave us a bird’s eye view of most of the sights we’d previously seen at ground level.