Rosy Cole

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Rosy Cole was born and educated in the Shires of England. Her writing career started in her teens. Four apprentice works eventually led to publication of two novels. Life intervened, but she returned to authorship in 2004. She has worked as a Press Officer and Publisher's Reader and is a member of the Society of Authors. Among widespread interests, she lists history, opera, musicals, jazz, the arts, drawing and painting, gemmology, homoeopathy and alternative therapies. Theology also is an abiding interest. As a singer, she's performed alongside many renowned musicians and has run a music agency which specialised in themed 'words-and-music' programmes, bringing her two greatest passions together. Rosy's first book of poetry, THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether, was published in April 2012, National Poetry Month, and two other collections are in preparation. As well as the First and Second Books in the Berkeley Series, she has written several other historical titles and one of literary fiction. She is currently working on the Third Book in the Berkeley Series. All her books are now published under the New Eve imprint. Rosy lives in West Sussex with her son, Chris, and her Springador, Jack, who keeps a firm paw on the work-and-walkies schedule!

Pax Aeterna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A story of St Clare of Assisi, friend of St Francis and founder of the Poor Clares

 

I hear them, wave upon wave, mounted upon terrified steeds, poor abused beasts who have no Francis to calm them. I hear the clash of steel, the primal screams and cries, the whinnying, the shuddering clack of wood upon wood and stone. Francis raised these walls with his own bare hands until they were chafed sore and bleeding, so eager was he to protect us from the barbarian at the gate. Outside, the meeker Guelphs, defenders of His Holiness, the Pope, are pitted against the mighty Ghibellines of the Roman Empire who have enlisted hordes of bloodthirsty Saracens to strengthen their arm. How easily the world, in the folly of its pride, rushes lemming-like to perdition!

As I lay on my narrow pallet, in the frigid heat of fever, my mind clamours for peace, but hope begins to seep from my heart. I mutter the Rosary in broken phrases, almost non-believing. Holy Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Is this how it all ends? In defeat? My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?

A vision shimmers on the wall. I see armies swarming into the valley, thousands strong, to let loose their stinging assault upon this fortified city, mindless, and with a single purpose. The axe is laid to the root of the tree. Will the earth beneath us hold out against the apocalypse? Surely the Lord will prove his mettle.

A thin shaft of light is falling obliquely on austere slab. It dilates with promise, bathes the dust motes in praeternatural gold and proposes peace. Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world. No sooner is the notion formed than a cloud shrouds it. The sun is a fickle mentor. Yet he who made the sun...

A shifting presence bends my ear. There is an angel in the wings of these crowding shadows, two, several. Fear not, I bring you... What? What do you bring? Oh, speak! Francis, is it you? Your spirit is never far from us. Plead with the Saviour, I beg you! Intercede for us in our frailty!

I remember my first sight of him that day we strolled in the market place, my cousin, Pacifica, and I. It was the Friday before Palm Sunday, a day of Sorrowful Mysteries, but a day of joy and liberation for me. We wandered among the vendors and purchasers of oil, lemons, basil and oregano, the smell of tanned leather wafting us, dogs and chasing children winding about our path. In Assisi, animals exude a special vitality and have the eyes of creatures whose inner souls contemplate paradise.

"Chiara, who is that man so oddly attired in crude sackcloth that he compels an audience?" she demanded.

"It is certainly not on account of his clothes or his stature!"

"I want to know what he's saying."

We latched on to the gathering of rapt citizens around him, cut short in their busyness by his resonant tones, the way his blue eyes mirrored the sky as he sought inspiration there. He spoke at once with the tongue of men and angels, telling how he'd abandoned wealth to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He had chosen poverty, he said, to be at one with the Lord, the mendicant, the leper, the outcast, the dregs of the Commune. Now he applied himself to cultivating his vegetable plot, caring for animals and tending the sick and maimed. An ascetic life, but no mere subsistence. A banquet for allcomers. He had learned to lean on an unfailing Providence. If the Second Coming should take him unawares, the Lord would find him digging his garden, filling a manger with hay, or binding up the wounds of the afflicted.

His message was so cogent, it struck through my heart like a rapier. I became conscious of our fine merino and silks, how expensively we were shod. The raiment which had covered me in vainglory and was designed to attract the rich suitor my parents craved, suddenly became rags and tatters in my sight. How could I bear the destiny they had mapped out for me? How could I marry a man I did not care for, when the countenance of this poor anchorite was emblazoned with a love whose dimensions I should never comprehend?

In the dead of night, I put on my cloak, gathered up my skirts and, seizing a torch, made good my escape from the parental roof, never to return. Francis and his friars welcomed me at the Portiuncola. There, in the chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, I removed the fillet from my flowing locks which he cut off as though harvesting corn with a sickle. He then furnished me with a rough tunic, like his own, and a veil of the same fabric instead of a hood.

Divested of opulence, I vowed that henceforward Jesus should be my only Spouse.

All that was long ago, when Francis was in his prime. In the intervening years, with hard work, courage and his  dedicated aid, we have established an Order of Poor Clares here at the Convent of San Damiano. It is radical and seeks to unfold the privilege of poverty under the noses of those noble Umbrians who take wealth for granted and seek to perpetuate its tyranny.

I think it took its toll on our dear Brother. He seemed frequently to ail, but never complained. The radiance of purpose never quite forsook him. I knew he was a saint and needed not the unction of Rome when the Five Wounds appeared on his hands. They bled and would not heal, but neither did they fester. Mortality had its way, but not corruption.

Hark! What is that? Dear God! The felling of Jericho! Our walls are breached! Our cloisters are ransacked by jackbooted infidels who will revel in their pleasure with innocent virgins. They are crying out in terror, these children, cowering in corners, behind doors. I am weak, my breath forsakes me. I raise myself, panting wildly, and instruct the older women to take up the silver and ivory Monstrance which bears the blessed wafer, the beloved Body of Christ, and raise it high before the enemy. Beseeching the Almighty from the depths of distress, I fall prostrate on cold stone.

"Behold, my Lord, is it possible You want to deliver into the hands of pagans Your defenceless handmaids, whom I have taught out of love for You? I pray You, Lord, protect these Your handmaids whom I cannot now save by myself."

By a miracle, I hear with such clarity the precious voice of a child. "I will always protect you."

"My Lord," I venture, "if it is Your wish, protect also this city which is sustained by Your love."

"There will be many trials, but I will always defend it."

I rub my eyes. It is hard to believe the scene before us. These marauding troops are falling under a spell. They throw down their bludgeons and bows, their swords and sabres, and turning tail, seethe back over the hill like a colony of ants possessed. Hell is defeated. They are gone!

The echoes die away. The birds erupt into sweeter song, the flowers lift up their heads with sentient colour, and I am restored once more. What was it all about, the Shadow of Death?

Listen! ...The hills are awash with the sound of silence, older than time. I finger the Pax Cross on my breast, symbol of beloved Assisi.

This is the Peace of Heaven, do not doubt it.

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Copyright

© © Rosy Cole 2009

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Such a vivid description, Rosy.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:25
Rosy Cole
Thank you, Katia. I suspect that faith and perception were quite different in those days and even mundane reality starker, more bl... Read More
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 15:56
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The Foreshadowing


One view of the conflict in the Middle East from the 'Reflections' section of THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether.

A Different Way

The Virgin Speaks

We had to go a different way –
I suppose it was to be expected –
Taking the path that snakes down into Egypt
And the rufous sands of our kindred
Country, shuffling the stones out of place,
The vegetation, itself acicular,
Resembling our abraded mood,
Fraught and fugitive.

Forewarned by a compelling dream,
We speedily forsook our homeland,
And the shabby stable enshrined by Grace,
Wherein the Spirit of our True Abode
Consumed us in its shimmering vision
And we did indeed possess
That Kingdom promised to our
Forefather, Abraham.

How soon the world's rapacious jaws
Were poised to trap the infant Hope of Israel.
Herod trod the warpath, his blood up, lest he be called
To forfeit power. Rather slay the nation's
Innocents, be sure the threat has died
The death, feasting can resume
And the illusion that he alone
Invents salvation.

No resting-place, no refuge then,
The night air gnawed the cheek-skin,
Yet the firmament above hosted the selfsame stars,
Their aspects changing subtly,
That guided men of wisdom,
Rulers of the East, and honest shepherds,
From a cold and rocky altitude
And garnered them.

Oh Abraham, hallowed patriarch!
Spearhead of our toilsome path,
God pledged a race as populous as gems of heaven,
And you believed, but could not trust the manner
Of its coming. You, childless and disdained,
Took matters into your own hands,
Abetted by Sarah, true daughter of Eve,
And begot elsewhere

A bastard line, the Ishmaelites,
Born of your housemaid, Hagar, who scorned
Her mistress' shrivelled womb and barren years,
Earned persecution for her spite and fled
Into the wilderness. It was those ancient footprints
We, the Holy Family, retraced, adjusting
Cosmic balance that quarter might be
Given to exiles.

Time's passed, is passing, will pass,
The sum of it , the essence, still distilling
I am caught up in paradise no mortal mind
Can bear the telling of. All lives, breathes peace
Unclench your fist for Eucharistic Bread,
Earnest of that age-old pact, and you will
Richly gain a foretaste of this Land,
Bending to prayer

The strife on earth does not abate,
And conflict scars the centuries for Jew
And Arab cousins. No ploughshare, no pruning-hook
Their arms foretell.  Ire explodes and gushing blood
The soil stains. Sheol needs no further depths
When they distrust God's will, an inalienable
Commonwealth, plum-rich, and blindly shun
His Different Way.
 


Recent Comments
Orna Raz
Thank you dear Rosy for this beautiful poem. The conflict is never with our brothers/sisters/cousins. It is a conflict of extremis... Read More
Sunday, 10 August 2014 14:30
Rosy Cole
That is so good to hear, Orna. As with the Civil Wars in Britain in the 17th century, which divided families, there is nothing wor... Read More
Monday, 11 August 2014 12:50
Nicholas Mackey
Beautiful writing about such a sad situation. Very moving and if only the protagonists involved on either side would spare a momen... Read More
Sunday, 10 August 2014 14:37
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5 Comments

Where The Lilies Blow

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'I was vowed to liberty. Men were to be as gods, and earth as heaven.' Robert Browning.

 

Ever since Eve was seduced by the serpent while Adam looked on, last Friday was it? - or Tuesday? - I forget, her children have been plagued by a desire to return to the idyll of Eden and to innocence.

There, everything was of a piece. Time was timeless. Language was the inspired communication of all the senses at once. Body, mind and spirit were entwined in a joyous interface that set the scene for success and happiness in all undertakings, and the slip between cup and lip, so to speak, was unknown.

No Decalogue was yet devised to keep our primogenitors address-tagged and mindful of their true home. (Darwin still has a place.) There were no Fauvists, Cubists or Pre-Raphaelites, no practitioners of the Impressionist and Expressionist schools. There was no Canova, Bernini or Michelangelo to beguile them with petrified ghosts of immortality. There was no call for Shakespeare, Ibsen, Tolstoy or Salinger to spin their deep-textured tales and pour wisdom into deafened ears. Furthermore, and a searing index of how consummate their bliss, there was not the faintest need of Mozart and Beethoven, Bach, John Tavener or Bose Ltd!

Adam and his spouse were engulfed in a state of being that naturally incorporated surround sound; they were living the vision. And what a vision it was! A multi-dimensional world of rainbows and efflorescence, abundant fruit and gem-paved pathways, and everything exuding the same radiant energy.

The beginning was a golden time. The tenants of the Garden were as free as air. Or birds. Or fish. Or snow leopards. Or forest gazelles. They could soar with the eagle and dive with the dolphins, interpret the sonar vibrations of the seas, the glistening tick of the cricket in the meadow and the chirrup of the wren in the hedgerows. They could call constellations into being, just for the wonder of it, and dissolve themselves in the spectral colours of a raindrop.

No delight they could imagine was denied them. But there was just one proviso to keep all this in place. The tree at the heart of the Garden was out of bounds. Its pendulous crop, glowing and gilded, must be ignored. That seemed a small price to pay, for Adam and Eve did not yet know how to covet.

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 All was well, until one day, Eve chanced to walk where the lilies blow. They bloomed near water cascading into a rockpool that was dappled with sunlight and shaded by the mysterious Tree. There she lingered, caught up in the Music of the Spheres, when the breath was suddenly snatched from her throat. The first frown etched her features. A stifled note was struck. A sibilant note that crept and wound and bound the sound, pinning the Music to staves from which it was impossible to fly. A breeze whispered across the surface of the water, disturbing it with a pattern like angels' wings and seemed to speak of other presences.

At that moment, Eve caught sight of the golden snake coiled amiably about the branches, peering between the luscious globes of fruit. He observed her, smiling, and her heart, which had not learnt to fear, did not recoil.

“Come eat,” said the snake, “and you will see what you are missing. You will become as wise as God. The husband who gazes in adoration upon your being will know that you are beautiful and to be forever desired.”

Eve looked down at her reflection and saw that she was indeed beautiful and wished the angels' wings away so that her image was less blurred. She stretched to the highest place her arm could reach and plucked the fruit and bit into its juicy pulp and savoured it.

“Adam, taste, oh taste,” she cried, “this fruit has the most succulent flesh of all.”

“Then we may eat and not sicken?”

He took and ate and it was indeed delicious. The pair were beside themselves with ecstasy to have penetrated the mind of God. They could be in control of their own destiny without let or hindrance. How impoverished seemed the paths of humility which required them to be beholden to their Creator, trusting him like a parent.

Soon the sun began to set, the shadows of evening gathered and the air grew chill. The couple knew that they were naked and, of themselves, without sustenance. Then they heard the footfall of the Lord God upon the stepping stones and were filled with dismay. The spirit of Nemesis stalked them. The lustre was fading fast and the Garden, though hauntingly beautiful, was suffused with a knowledge of blight.

The Lord God was as greatly displeased as he was disappointed. He seemed to have taken on their own fearsome aspect. And still he was mightier than they.

“I gave you the gift of free will, but for one thing. I charged you not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, lest you lose sight of your heritage. Sadly, you have disobeyed. Go, then, and find your own way. Man, dig for your supper as the serpent bites the dust, dig though the elements may conspire against you. Work out your salvation by your own toil. Woman, labour, bear the pangs of Creation in your own body. This is what you have elected.”

The couple's sorrow was profound, so that the Lord God had pity on them.

“Your free will I do not withdraw. Go and do it your way. But whenever you turn to me in distress, I will deliver you. Wrath shall become mercy until many things have come to pass and Heaven is restored.”

He pointed to the horizon beyond the Gates and ushered them out of the Garden, into the damp and the cold, to trudge the desert, looking for this oasis and that, tilling and sowing and reaping, tiring and begetting and striving. When they turned and looked back, there were guardian angels at each entrance armed with flaming swords and none could enter without a key.

All too quickly amnesia set in. And that, perhaps, was a mercy in itself. The memory of possession would have been too overwhelming, the agony of longing for paradise too acute, the remorse too burdensome to carry in the throes of all that must in future be endured.

But all was not to be lost. The where and when and why are gone, but Adam's children know that there is somewhere they belong, in a realm where peace and joy rule and there is no currency of having and getting. Sometimes the soul flashes with recognition, the scintilla of dew upon a rose, the lark song as the streaming sun rises and floods the opal sea with molten fire; the icon, idol and image that are inanimate conceits but yet speak of what once was and still might be again if only the cipher could be decoded, or the shifting formula adjusted this way or that.

Princes and Presidents have not discovered it. Tyrants have mocked it and tried to appropriate their empires by force. Everywhere men and women are in chains, no matter the colour of their skin, or their class or creed. They are pawns of their masters, of their régimes, their bankers, their inner gods, their dogmas. They are hooked on the biochemistry that will keep them forgetting. They are slaves to the lottery, supposing it can restore for them the kingdom of happiness.

The tragedy is that since the great Fall, wholeness has fragmented. Body, mind and spirit have come adrift from each other. The psyche is forced to seek consolation from its dreams and to cling to Hope, its guiding star.

Yet a key still remains under the lily-pot of innocence. It is the lost virtue of humility that admits we are not God. We need our Heavenly Father upon whom to rely in all our vagaries, who is willing to pour out upon us more blessings than we know how to ask for.

For me, this is the essence of freedom.

What we sacrifice is the yearning for what we think will make us happy: what we gain is what we truly need and much more besides.

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Copyright

© © Rosy Cole 2010

Recent comment in this post
Stephen Evans
To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Monday, 04 August 2014 19:41
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1 Comment

Song of the Earth

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A little while back, 'your favourite novel' was suggested as a theme for a blog post. I wonder, if I perform this task with aplomb, do I get to marry the Prince? Maybe it would be easier to empty the pond with a thimble, or hew down the whole forest and chop the trunks into logs before nightfall.

Certainly it isn't easy to see the wood for the trees. A battery of titles springs to mind.

Readers are hooked on fiction for a myriad reasons. Pure entertainment and comedy are always indispensable. But so are those stories providing escape into another time and place, or insight into someone else's dilemma, a sharing of the mental, emotional and spiritual journey of those who have suffered and triumphed and whose wisdom we can adapt to our own experience. For many, it's fascinating to be drawn into the Byzantine maze of the criminal mind. Then there are authors who inspire us with their dazzling command of language, the picturesque metaphors, the smells, sounds, tastes, textures and colours of another state of being, realms we cannot visit by any other mode of travel than through the written word.

The only criterion which unites them all is that they must be well-crafted in order to linger in the memory.

If I mention one or two, I feel an injustice is done to a hundred others.

I love Anya Seton for her authentic recreation of history, the rich tapestry of interwoven realities from serfdom to kingship, Jane Austen for her arch and wicked humour and, of course, for Mr Darcy! Then there's Susan Hill for uncovering the dark nuances of an 'dinary' psyche; Anita Brookner for her microscopic forays into hidden crises within the mundane. There's William Golding for his archaeology of human nature stripped of civilisation and bereft of redemption. Perhaps this is better realised in RITES OF PASSAGE than LORD OF THE FLIES. The proposition of being confined aboard a vessel on voyage (during the Napoleonic Wars) with its set of characters representing the social compass, is, perhaps, a tamer analogy of our common experience. The imagery of D H Lawrence and his understanding of the treaty between his characters' inner selves, and of the anatomy of possession, is compelling and, for me, has been life-changing.

Virginia Woolf, too, is a writer like no other. She will alter your perception of the world for ever. Her stream-of-consciousness technique is irresistible. The sheer fluidity of her prose, the eclipsing and falling away as the spirits of her protagonists interact with each other, modify and change each other, now darkening and lightening the mood, now opaque, now transparent, motiveless, free-floating. The sheer rhythm of THE WAVES is hypnotic. It seems freed of the striving and yearning and wistfulness of TO THE LIGHTHOUSE.

But if I really do have to play the game and settle for one novel on my desert island, it would have to be SUNSET SONG by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. It describes (records?) the effects of the First World War on an isolated Scottish community with heart-wringing poetry and humour.

This Scottish writer died in 1935 at the age of thirty-four, a tragic end to a promising career. His output was phenomenal. It was as if he sensed that he didn't have long. (He might be compared to André Gide who cited fear of imminent death as his main incentive to write!) Gibbon managed to concertina the normal pace of maturity into less than two decades. Meanwhile, he was developing a mastery of language which is stunning and enthralling. His voice is truly original. Such was his imagination and empathy, that he could so convincingly describe childbirth that some readers thought the author must be a woman writing under a pseudonym.

SUNSET SONG is the first of a trilogy (A Scots Quair) about rural life, just inland of the East Coast of Scotland, below Aberdeen, at the turn of the twentieth century. It has been described as a 'crofting elegy, as eloquent in its championing of human rights as it is lyrical in its celebration of the natural world.'

It follows the life of Chris Guthrie whose mother, ground down and debilitated by endless child-bearing, poisons her young twins and commits suicide. With two older children despatched to relatives in Aberdeen, Chris and her brother, Will, are left to help their father run the farm. Will, however, soon grows tired of the deadly grind and, yearning for freedom, runs off to Argentina with his bride to seek his fortune there. When their father falls victim to a stroke shortly afterwards, Chris is hard put to hold things together. After his death, she wonders whether she should consider urban life and a teaching career, but the pull of the land, its rhythms and its turning seasons, are in her blood and bone. Enter Ewan Tavendale, a young farmer who wants to marry her. Together they try keep their way of life going under the threat of mechanisation and the calling of brave hearts to the Great War. These two factors are soon to alter the face of the landscape and horizon that belong to this folk heritage. The drumbeat of the wider world impinges and Ewan enlists as a soldier, only to lose his life, while Chris gives birth to a new generation.

This close-knit community is full of well-drawn characters. You can feel the pulse of them, hear their mannerisms, in time with the pulse of the land itself. They are funny and sad, tragic, joyful, disgruntled, mischievous. And all of their dialogue is bound into one long narrative prose poem that echoes of fable and rings with the cadences of the old Scots tongue. It is sprinkled with a wealth of descriptive Gaelic words, explained in a glossary at the end of the book.

Finally, as the community assembles at the prehistoric Standing Stones to uncover a memorial to those who have died, Chris clasps the hand of little Ewan, and feels somehow consoled, having learned that his father was shot as a deserter. He had realised the futility of war and had wanted to come back to her and the bairn, to Kinraddie and the precious land he had lost.

"And then, as folk stood dumbfounded...the Highland man McIvor tuned up his pipes and began to step slow round the stone circle and Blawearie Loch, slow and quiet, and folk watched him, the dark was near, it lifted your hair and was eerie and uncanny, the 'Flowers of the Forest' as he played it.

...It rose and rose and wept and cried, that crying for the men that fell in battle, and there was Kirsty Strachan weeping quietly and others with her, and the young ploughmen they stood with glum, white faces, they'd no understanding or caring, it was something that vexed them and tore at them, it belonged to times they had no knowing of.

He fair could play, the piper, he tore at your heart marching there with the tune leaping up the moor and echoing across the loch, folk said that Chris Tavendale alone shed never a tear, she stood quiet, holding her boy by the hand, looking down on Blawearie's fields till the playing was over. And syne folk saw that the dark had come and began to stream down the hill, leaving her there, some were uncertain and looked them back. But they saw the minister was standing behind her, waiting for her, they'd the last of the light with them up there, and maybe they didn't need it or heed it, you can do without the day if you've a lamp quiet-lighted and kind in your heart."

It's no spoiler to reveal that in Book Two, CLOUD HOWE, the widow takes up with the minister.

Copyright

© © Rosy Cole 2014

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I've never heard of it. Thank you for bringing this book to our attention. I'll put it on my list!
Thursday, 24 July 2014 20:57
Rosy Cole
We're admitted to a lost world in these books. They're so atmospheric and especially resonant just now with the focus on the cente... Read More
Friday, 25 July 2014 10:59
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2 Comments

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans Spark Plugs and Synonyms
10 December 2017
The book of John was certainly the most poetic of the gospels. :-)
Rosy Cole Spark Plugs and Synonyms
10 December 2017
Steve, in your inimitable way :-) you have come an unconventional route to the all-time, universal T...
Stephen Evans Spark Plugs and Synonyms
09 December 2017
I have just started reading Umberto Eco's Kant and the Platypus (great title ) and this basic proble...
Rosy Cole Spark Plugs and Synonyms
08 December 2017
John Betjeman likened poetry to journalism more than to poetic prose. It's a helpful comparison to b...
Stephen Evans Spark Plugs and Synonyms
07 December 2017
Neology is an under-rated science.

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