By David Clement-Davies

“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet

Whatever side you are on in the Brexit agony, perhaps there is another way of seeing things too, highlighted by a rapidly approaching celebration next month, St Lucy’s Day, depending on if and when you actually celebrate it. It’s long been argued here that Shakespeare’s age represented a sea change in ideas, especially for England, perhaps even some kind of shift in human consciousness. Perhaps only equalled by what is happening now, a mere four or five hundred years later, a pin-prick in Geological time.  Because of the explosion of Printing in Europe, seeing the dissemination of something like 6 Million printed books by 1500, equivalent to the number of books hand made in the past 15 centuries, along with penny pamphlets, and vital maps rearranging the World and knowledge, depending on how things were being discovered. Then with the rise of Protestantism and Henry VIII’s Reformation and split from Rome, the true start of a modern Capitalist system, so much centred on London.  The dawn of the modern, Capitalist world, that so defines us now. Represented by Joint Stock ventures,  reflected by new theatrical companies too,  stocks and shares, the creation of a Tudor navy, Merchant Adventurers and the formation of Globally expansionist but essentially private Companies, like the East India Company . Which would also create private armies too, though in the name of the Crown, and by 1607 had established its first fort outpost in Madras, bristling with cannon. Of course our major Protestant allies by then, The Dutch, were much at work too, hence that race for the Americas, beyond the fight with Spain, and New York once being called New Amsterdam. While if Endomol or Euromillions concern you, plantings in the New World where engineered as early as 1611 with public ‘Lotteries’.  Today’s sea change and equivalent in both possibility and threat though would be the Internet, which has reeked such havoc in the publishing and bookshop trades, online lives lived against the new map of hyperspace, Globalisation, and for the UK the trauma of maintaining an identity within or outside the European system, perhaps reflective of the old Catholic, Rome-centred world.

If that is a little simplistic, the equivalent sense of trauma is certainly not. Many have argued that Shakespeare’s plays so often attempt to heal a profound emotional dislocation going on in England then, both intellectual and religious, or in our terms perhaps ‘spiritual’ , if you are not an Atheist.  Like Henry  V, if not using primarily Catholic language, appealing to the troops before Agincourt by thrilling reference to “St Crispin’s Day”, the feast of those twin saints “Crispin Crispianus”, patron saints of shoemakers, if kit is all, and in one of the most rousing patriotic speeches and calls to arms ever penned.  There are many examples of a tryst with a changing world and sensibility, but the most obvious is Hamlet.  That troubled Prince of Northern European and by then Protestant Denmark crying “The Time is Out of Joint, Oh Cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right“, in his metaphysical anguish. Of course the time is out of joint for idealistic Hamlet for many reasons, not least the appearance of a ghost he is not sure he believes in, his father’s murder and what his duty is to do about it. It resulted in what the World considers, when talking about it, as the very greatest tragedy.

But by 1587 the time was very literally out of joint with the Continent in Elizabethan England, because of the Papal Bull Intergravissimus. Which introduced the  Gregorian Calendar across Catholic Europe, as opposed to the old Julian Calendar, used in Britain until 1750. It’s importance is no mere historical foot note, because it must have been as significant in terms of attempted systemisation as leaving the Gold Standard, matching weights and measures, linking rail and road networks or Decimalisation. It is very possible too that the Papacy issued it in that year as a specific forerunner to trying to re-assert authority over England with Spain’s thwarted Armada invasion of 1588.

Before Brexiteers or Non-believers carp that everything that emanates from Brussels or Europe though is some kind of enemy plot, the Gregorian Calendar charting our Solar orbit and correcting annually for inaccuracies, is more accurate and more scientific than the Julian, and the one the West uses universally today. In that sense England and other protestant countries were simply wrong and remained so for nearly 200 years. Yet something else was simultaneously taking hold, the dominance of a Meridian line and Greenwich Mean Time, centred at Greenwich in London, which was by no means a given and only established as a now universal ‘Time and place Zero’ because of the success of British Naval and then Imperial expansion. Other claimed meridians have included Rome, Washington, Paris and Jerusalem and of course the Meridian point was essential to recording Longitudes at sea and therefore travel, exploration and mapping The Globe.

So though, because of dual Western calendars, in terms of dates and festivals an actual time slip had begun with now Protestant England and the Catholic Continent,  that can produce errors in the records too, which would eventually produce a mis-match of between eight and tens days. Just as London street and place names were rapidly changed from old Catholic locae, as would happen during the French Revolution. Does this have any special resonance or significance though, except that shared holidays like Christmas would not be celebrated on the same day, and Continental Saint’s Feast days were supressed, as the machine of working Capitalism engaged?  For a long while in England too a New Year was not celebrated on December 31st, but on March 25th, the Festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin’s  pregnancy, Lady Day, and also the day contracts, leases and debts fell due. Of course that average human incubation span takes you straight to Christmas Day, December 25th. Well, it was two years work looking for Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund in London that led to a link with the tavern in Southwark where he died, or was staying before his death in 1607, The Vine, and a Church called St Margaret’s. The little Norman Church stood on Long Southwark, today’s Borough High Street, more or less, and very literally that ‘Canterbury Road’ of Chaucer’s famous pilgrims, mouthing so marvellously and often very cynically in Middle English. Because the real Tabard inn, where it all starts, was right opposite. The Church is no longer there, but today is the site of the old town hall, at a building a bit like a miniature Flat-Iron building in New York. Now occupied in part by the Slug and Lettuce bar chain, in one of history’s lovely ironies.


On the right of the current War memorial on Southwark’s Borough High Street is The Slug and Lettuce bar. A plaque on the side of the building is all that commemorates the site of St Margaret’s Church

Vanished St Margaret’s Norman Church had the most astonishing history on that both real and fictional “Canterbury Road”. It was the place where the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor William Waynflete, who founded Magdalene College Oxford, met the rebel Jack Cade, after the battle of London Bridge, who had camped in the White Hart inn just down from the Tabard. Cade, that rather dubious figure in the second of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy, whose men of course marched to The London Stone and executed several nobles, was double crossed later, tracked down and his dead body brought back to London in a cart, with his head in his lap. Waynflete was acting during the regency of the young Henry VI, but in 1460 that very troubled Monarch granted rights by a Charter at Westminster to the wardens of the Southwark church to form a little Fraternity, called The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption. So allowing them to wear a livery, collect alms and above all to buy land and property in Southwark.  They started investing in two taverns especially, along the riverside so associated with brothels, gambling, bear and bull baiting and of course the rise of the new theatres, the Haxe or Axe, mis-logged in the London Metropolitan archives as the Har-, and The Vine.  They were also paying ‘purse money’ up to the later much criticised Bishops of Winchester. Especially Henry Beaufort, who had been blamed for betraying England by ceding Anjou and Maine to France, though of course he was in fact Henri de Beaufort, in a world intimately entwined with France and Europe.

The very Catholic Church would be supressed at Henry’s Reformation, which also attacked and dissolved the Monasteries and Chantries, in one of the greatest land grabs in history.  I’m yet to decipher the scrawled Latin documents, ‘Testi 1-5’, that suggest the five wardens, among them Watermen and Joiners, were accused of nefarious dealings, just as one record of the Axe in Henry VI’s day refers to an argument with a Flemish lady, in an area of many Dutch incomers at the southern gate to then walled London, over London bridge.  Just too as local St Thomas’s hospital was shut for being a ‘bawdy house’ and the Stewes or brothels, protected since the 12th Century, were thrown down by Royal proclamation and ‘a blast of the trumpet’.  Not for long.  That Church became a little Compter prison and court though, where the man who built The Swan Theatre and Lord of The Manor in Paris Gardens, Sir Francis Langely, was brought up for not paying his dues, or keeping the ways clean. It would later be The King’s Head tavern, ‘in the middle of the King’s highway’ under James but it also stood right at St Margaret’s Cross where that World War II soldier now stands, and the famous, rowdy and often riotous Southwark Fair began. Later immortalised in Hogarth’s famous painting, which I think may well depict the claimed St George’s Church just down the road but St Margaret’s, and certainly making much of a reference to Henry VI.

The hand written Church records are the most fascinating little journey down a river of time, giving insights into its swelling ambitions, new roofing, and a new grave yard, in the then very intimate style of dating, taking you from a said year in the reigns of Harry V, Harry VI, Richard III, to both Henrys and it’s fall.  That year-of-monarch dating rather echoes the intimacy of a closeness to both Crown and individuals in a far smaller world echoed in Shakespeare’s Crispin Day speech, but ran in parallel to the Anno Domini system, like 1460. But just in tiny details there too opens an emotional and imaginative doorway straight back to Chaucer and those Canterbury tales, on that part real and part fictive Canterbury Road. One I think in a sense was dammed up both by Reformation and Shakespeare’s transcendent genius, in also so rewriting the English language. Because the church documents record money being paid to ‘players’ too there, since before the time of Henry VI, on both St Margaret’s and St Lucy’s dayes:  The type of travelling players performing Mystery and Miracle plays, before thy were banned by Reformation, or became professional companies with the rise of permanent and secular London theatre houses by 1550. St Margaret’s day was the Catholic festival of the Church’s Patron Saint, but it was St Lucy’s Day that caught my attention.

In today’s Catholic Calendar the Feast of Santa Lucia falls on December 13th,  supposedly celebrating a 3rd Century Christian Martyr who brought food, via candlelight, to Roman Christians hiding in the catacombs.  Or so the story goes. But take into account that 8-10 day shift with the change from the Julian and Gregorian calendars and where does that festival of lights, much celebrated in both Italy but also Northern Scandinavian countries by maidens wearing wreaths of burning candles, somewhat witch like, take you back (or forwards) to?  December 21-22 and The Winter Solstice, the day, coming up in barely a month, that the Earth begins to turn in its orbit back towards the Sun.  Just as the Feast of Christmas on December 25th was in the Ancient Roman Calendar the Feast of Sol Invictus, and effectively the birth and rebirth of the Sun.

Can this throw any light though on our current re or mis-alignments or Brexit fears and woes? Well, from my viewpoint, just as Shakespeare’s power springs so much from nature, essentially ‘pagan’ festivals bound inextricably with the seasons, and in human storytelling celebrating, as in so many faiths, the triumph of light over darkness and the rebirth of the Earth, could only underline both an ancient link with Europe, as Shakespeare and Renaissance London certainly had, but now the whole Planet. So the disaster of ignoring the warnings of Climate Change, and the dramatic need for Environmental protections and initiatives, like the Paris Accord, abandoned by Trump and so little talked about by Brexiteers, very keen on Fracking in the UK too. It is a major reason for my opposing Brexit, yet still questioning much about Europe and the way its individual member countries do things. As I would argue that though Shakespeare did give a changing England the most extraordinary language of National identity, the cannon is far more complex than that, as is the poet playwright’s journey towards Truth, meaning and above all dramatic effect. Before the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg dared to summon his name to push a Cameron towards a Referendum he assumed he’d win. “The time is out of joint” said Hamlet, “Oh brave, new World, that hath such people in it” declares Miranda in The Tempest, as does every new generation perhaps.  Yet what ‘modern’ Super Capitalist or ‘brave, New World’ can the Planet afford now? Perhaps we have forgotten though that in both that storytelling language of Faiths, and in the attempt at absolute Scientific Truths, like dates and times and spacetimes, both are also kinds of languages, that so often collide when they think they are right alone, or are even saying the same thing. If you are trying to have a conversation then, at least learn to hear what others are trying to say, before you dismiss it as right or wrong, in perhaps a never ending journey down a part real and always part fictional road.

As for the Solstice, or  St Lucy’s Day, the fact they once talked to each other, trying to find a road, or a diverging path, is proved beyond doubt by another famous London inhabitant of Shakespeare’s day, the soldier, Dean of St Paul’s, father of 11, and Metaphysical poet John Donne. Because he titles his “Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day“,  partly writing in mourning for the death of his favourite daughter Lucy, as “Being the shortest day of the year“. Namely not December 13th of the current Catholic Calendar, but The Winter Solstice.  It itself is the most beautiful, heart breaking act of anguish, combing faith with astrology, alchemy and an emerging scientific language too, to try and find confirmation and hope in great darkness, above all in the search for some higher love.

‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it
is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
⁠The sun is spent, and now his flasks
⁠Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
⁠The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
⁠For I am every dead thing,
⁠In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
⁠For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
⁠I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
⁠Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
⁠Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
⁠Were I a man, that I were one
⁠I needs must know; I should prefer,
⁠If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
⁠At this time to the Goat is run
⁠To fetch new lust, and give it you,
⁠Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.



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Re-blogging a cultural essay with Brexit in mind:


Normandy, this Sunday, on a grey, early-February day, seemed empty and almost closed. Apart from the chattering and irreverent French school group, snaking down from the magnificent medieval gothic cathedral of Bayeux, vaulting in its simple brilliance, through the defiantly haute bourgeois and rather charming town of Bayeux. With its original 16th century wooden cross-beamed buildings, the lovely centre presents a French-Tudor aspect, to a head rooted in Shakespeare, though on the roundabout sweeping you into town, arms at his hips as ever, legs set attentively apart, is a far more modern vision, in the large metal statue of General Montgomery, with a stone gateway behind, staring towards the city of Caen, that he paused to attack for two months, for fear of casualties. But it is armed with a taped guide, piping jaunty medieval music at you, that you can enjoy Bayeux’s most famous ‘World’ attraction, that almost thousand-year old tapestry, that stretches for nearly seventy stitched metres behind its glass case in the town-house museum.


The great Bayeux Tapestry seems at first a bit of old cloth, perhaps a cover for a very long French bolster, until each scene is explained by the nifty recording in its full story-telling aspect. As it would have been displayed, for two weeks a year, in that great Cathedral, for a mostly illiterate medieval populace, to explain to them the ways of the Great and the Good, or not so good. The tapestry, of course, commemorates William’s and the Norman’s conquest of England. Commissioned by archbishop Odo of Bayeux, it does more than that though. It tells the very detailed story of the Confessor dispatching Harold to see his cousin William in France, of his capture at the hands of a local French noble, William suing for his release into his hands and Harold’s oath that the crown will pass to William on Edward’s death. It is of course a case of woven propaganda, even if oaths and the family relationships of noble houses were enormously politically important. As they believed they were, right up until the First World War, when Historians and theorists began to argue about other world forces, pressing to the individual, from economic imperatives to Marxist teleologies, sweeping us all before them.

The unfolding scenes also depict Harold fighting alongside Normans against a French nobility, local warlords really, like the English barons, his return to England and of course the Confessor’s death in 1066 and Harold’s coronation, so breaking his oath to William the bastard. So to the all-dominating theme of that remarkable tableaux; massed warfare and invasion. Most of the larger sequences are dedicated to the construction of that Armada and invasion force then, underlining how real warfare is a truly social enterprise, dependant not only on men and arms, hero or not, but ships, food, drink and supplies. The landing at Pevensey and the Battle of Hastings is presented in extraordinary detail, its triumphs and losses, with the bad omen of Haley’s comet streaking overhead, in barely faded threads, and the Saxon’s near rout of the French invading force, believing William dead, until he lifts his visor and the battle turns. The importance of the Norman archers, firing skyward, is stressed, as the lower strip is littered with mutilated bodies, until you reach that most piercing moment, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, Harold’s death from an arrow in his eye, and several in his body too.

It was rather appropriate then to ‘do’ those famous beaches, from which the French set out to cross the channel a thousand years ago, on the way to the Brittany Ferry back to the UK, from the incredibly badly signposted port of Ouistreham. The French still seem to want to look away when they contemplate ‘The Door of England’, La Porte D’Angleterre, and their arcane signposting can be its own kind of weave, in Bayeux or elsewhere. But I had set off that morning from my host’s house near Carentan and popped down to the beautiful sandy beaches at places like Colville-Sur-Mer, Arromanche and Pont Du Bessin. I had another purpose though, apart from interest and getting home, and that was trying to track the fate of an American friend’s relation, who died near St Lo in 1944, when an invasion force, the largest ever mounted in the history of the world, came the other way to the Normans, on D-Day, June 6th. Normandy may be stripped of tourists right now, but it certainly flags those events nearly seventy years ago, in giant roadside signs, and its seaside tourist industry makes full use of it too. So French place names have taken on others, far more modern and resonant, in the annals of change and time – Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold, where the might of the allied Invasion force struck back against Nazi occupied Europe. Names that as a boy certainly stirred my blood heroically.


Utah and Omaha, where the Western Invasion force landed, US troops in Operation Overlord, lie West and East of the twin legged estuary that feeds the sleepy town of Carentan and competes with the canal system that once brought French butter to the coast, to be imported surprisingly into England in the 19th century. The British and Canadian troops landed east of them, at Sword, Juno and Gold, the Eastern Invasion force, and although Utah, Omaha and others have returned to a golden vista of sand and surf, edged with low slung chalet style holiday homes, and to remind you that life really should be a beach, it is only really at Arromanche that you get a taste of what it must have been like, and of the ‘monstrous anger of the guns’ that day, to quote Wilfred Owen’s grizzled First War lines. There the beach, despite the shrugging, insouciant disinterest of the French desk clerk at The Museum of Disembarkation, perhaps a residue of a Gallic or Norman contempt for all foreigners, especially English ones, is still littered with huge metal hulks from one of the most remarkable episodes of the war. Just as the wide bay is ringed with a large metal semi-circle of what constituted ‘Mulberry B’, a transportable Mulberry Harbour, to protect the men and crafts trying to disembark, from the wrath of the sea itself. Apparently it was Churchill’s own idea, to raise that vital visor of leadership, and even Bastard William on that other shore that day, despite so much criticism of Churchill’s own military tactics and input. Hence this place too has been given another name, ‘Port Winston’.

If the Bayeux Tapestry highlights the importance of the ‘war effort’ as a mass enterprise, a thousand years before, Arromanche writes it across the coastline in rusting pontoons and humble though crucial metal memorials. Memorials not only to the men firing weapons, but to the engineering corps that constructed the thing in the first place, and so much else, and the numerous support units of war too. Like the portent of Haley’s Comet though, back in 1066, a storm had struck the channel – to return to the weave of cloth and clothes, ‘The sleeve’ in French, La Manche – and almost delayed that fateful D-Day on June 6th. It went ahead, but another terrible storm was to strike in the week of the 9th June, 1944, the Great Storm, that lasted until the 17th. That Mulberry Harbour withstood its natural bombardments though and did its remarkable work too, far outlasting its envisioned use, and making Arromanche perhaps rightly ‘The Key to the Liberation of Europe’, as the sign says, and the vital foothold that fed the advance south: The door to France.

Of course it was the mass effort that constituted the astonishment of those Normandy Landings too. The months of prior bombing, disrupting bridge, rail and road in occupied France, the work of intelligence networks, the sea and merchant war and the massive Armada of Men and materials that was stock-piled across the channel and then set in motion. Like those Norman archers, the domination of the skies too. If, in driving through Normandy’s flat, crow-specked fields you also touch an earlier if recent age, in contemplating war, the horrifying vision of dug-in, mass trench warfare, man to man, bayonet to bayonet in the First ‘Great’ War, World War II was marked by enormous leaps in technology. It defined the power and direction of the rapidly moving German Panza Divisions, for instance, or ultimately the race for the Bomb. Who can say if such things are better or worse, but to return to those broken bodies below that ancient tapestry, and the agony or thrill of fighting on the ground, I turned my thoughts back to my friend’s relative and made a little pilgrimage to Colville-Sur-Mer.

It is of course, despite that Museum man’s insistence on the French name, which reminded me of how my Dad exploded once with Churchillian fury on a Paris railway platform, crying ‘you weren’t so bloody rude when we liberated you in 1945’, part of Omaha Beach, and just above it lies The American Cemetery in Normandy. If the coast has now been re-defined by the macho utility of military operational names, I stepped back seventy years when I rounded a rustic, medieval bend of French houses, grouped about those famously perpendicular ‘Norman’ church spires that would be built all over England, to see ‘Big Red One’ emblazoned on a farmhouse wall. Big Red One was of course the US First Army and its thrusting point was at Colville-sous-Omaha.


So to a walk in the sand and then to the hugely well signposted cemetery. If America, that land of salutes to the flag, in 11am school bells, tolling the free or brave before school shootings kick off again, knows how to do one thing extremely well, it is of course memorials, in its near obsession with the fallen. The cemetery is a shrine, a beach head for the dead, and truly stirring in those rows upon rows of simple white marble crosses, on the rise of land above the sea, that tell how men from Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and every US state, with names as varied as Mazzinni or Carruthers too, met their end on the beaches and in the fields of France. Like the Lincoln Monument in Washington, it echoes not so much with triumphalism, but an endless seeking for some lasting and hallowed ideal; that great American split, perhaps, between high idealism and true hard ball, defined in size and the monumentality of power and might. Yet, and not forgetting our own war effort, it is there too where you shiver to remember just how important those days were, and what we were really fighting for too. As my host commented, in dismissing so many who argue the ‘impressive’ might of the German war machine, whether it first foundered on the Russian Front or not, and in talking of their viciousness and in the end human obscenity, he stressed, in the hard terms of a veteran military historian, ‘well, I consider that a failure’. He meant Nazi soldiering. Of course, and in so many other ways too.

In its generous grounds, and clipped, well-tended box hedges that US satellite in Europe is of course also extremely well-funded. So, in the museum beside it, there is a brilliant exhibit, relaying war footage of the landings, and news footage of Eisenhower and others. It also highlights a mass effort, like the tapestry, and in its spare physical exhibits reminds you of the importance of the soldiers kit bag, while before you step out among those serried graves, in a large glass case there is simply a WWII rifle, stuck into gravel, bearing just a tilting tin helmet. That icon nearly made me cry. Though my investigations into today’s cultural values did not, in stopping at the Macdonalds on the way to the ferry to compare tastes and find them exactly the same in France, London, or New York, fill me with the wonder of World union, it is, on that spit of land, a fanfare to the common man indeed, Copland’s dawn. For all its problems in terms of America’s enormous capacity for forgetting, or for sometimes glorifying the wrong end of war, the barrel of a gun. Very striking too in its difference to Paris’s great cemetery, that I had visited the week before – Pere La Chaise.

There lies the monumental masonry not only of the French dead, but intense cultural hierarchies and the impossible aspirations of families and dynasties to outstrip eternity itself. The tombs in eerie, ancient Pere La Chaise are like little stone beach huts, row on row, casketing the blown ashes, literally, of what we cannot hold back individually. Yet of course it is a place of defiant individuation too, in the names of many famous Frenchmen and women, including the fallen in both wars, but also others that made a far less conventional mark, whether it matters or not, from Jim Morrison to Oscar Wilde. It was Wilde’s rather bizarre grave, an art deco monument to a semi-eqyptian angel of inspiration, that I paused over most, among the gravelled dirt and nearly melted snow in Paris. The snow drops were coming. In the end I found those marble crosses at Colville more moving though, if less interesting – perhaps it was that movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, always tipping us towards the point of human meaning, though verging too on American sentimentality. If those crosses told you very little about what happened to the US soldiers, and what they did, saw and felt. Perhaps it does not matter, because we all know it now. You do not have to wander through to find something of your own past either, because on screens inside the effective museum you can now call up that honoured roll call at the touch of a button, and find out where they lie.

I didn’t find my friend’s relative, ‘JT’, just as I know nothing about him, but then only 40% of the US dead lie here. The rest were shipped back home, or perhaps lie in cemeteries elsewhere. But since this was a pilgrimage, I lit a little night light that I had brought along for JT and others, wrestling to stay alight in the stiff sea wind stirring the clipped grass, in front of one of those crosses, of which there are many, that say the same thing in the end, “Known only to God”. In a thousand years time, perhaps as distant yet telling an image of the Unknown Soldier as those barely recognisable faces, beyond the identifiable Kings and Bishops, on that great weave in Bayeux.


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Exposing bad ‘publishers’

Just to say via Phoenix Ark too that Scream of The White Bear, and another book as well, will now not be going ahead with Jonathan Thurston and very probably at all.  I’m sorry. After being further exposed by one of his own editors on Facebook, he seems to have run for the hills and unfriended me! Hardly a surprise from such a person and fighter for truth, environmentalism, wolves or bears. So if anyone else is hooked up do feel free to share this to his Timeline, strictly on my behalf of course. DCD

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If you think the world is you, and all your pain, again consumed by self obsession,

Grieving, fearing, failing to be brave, or blaming others.

Again the severing of the powerful feminine too, and hence,

So tediously troubled by your selfish woes and inabilities. Perhaps your lack of love.

Then comes some unexpected news, which should always be expected, some day, if not

Quite now.

Katy is gone and very present.  So very young. Four years at war with some aggressive

Cancer, in this aggressive world.  It bolted through my chest like horror and woke me up

Again, to every  path we take apart, but then together. Inevitably.  Like Robert Frost’s, or



Dear, sweet and gentle Katy. Friends knew it and I was some friend, but didn’t know

Your troubles. Some friend!  That American girl with giant, febrile eyes, who came to

England with the gentlest soul, decked with the grandeur of an age of  Innocence,

Refusing to be startled by the headlights.  A child of Edith  Wharton. A Lamda  actress

Somewhat out of time, so filled with grace  and hopes and  dreams and kindness too. It

Troubled sometimes, all that vulnerable innocence.

In the gulf of time, and our own  disappearing, I forget some things we shared, but hear

Your lovely laughter, and I knew you Katy and am very proud I knew you too, in London

and New  York. In the Apple  we sat together in a fizzing Spanish diner and I talked of

conquering  the  world and you  tried to  reign me in with disapprovals.

Perhaps America was turning the wrong way, even then, or I was and you were right.

Perhaps it is all too big for all of us.

I told you of  my father’s coming death and how  I wrestled or resented and you  told me

How you laid out your  bed in your father’s hospital, at his side, and mounted  vigil.

“Do it for you” you said,  and you were right.  I told you of the rage that came with a  girl

In New York, at the centre  of  everything, and foolishly asked your advice and you  told

Me it would frighten you. Foolishly, because first I should have heard you, with  someone

Equally gentle, but secondly a man should ask a man how to act, or not ask at all, and

Act,  and acting is real  love. Such empty male rage.


Your voice is there, speaking your admiration for true art, your lovely idealisms, out into

The swirling, noisy, nasty, brilliant  world: Recorded Books.  You read out the very best

And walked with the very best, always. And so others read it too and hear  it

Always. Katy’s special voice.  If  they listen. And listening is love.

The grieving  tribute that  your  husband sent is a gift beyond everything, the reaching

Out with love,  not asking.   For that is you and him and what you shared. No more

Intrusion. Grief, like fear, should be silent,  contained, as dignified as you, and none of us

Knows what happens in the fight for  real  love, which is no fight at all. Good night, sweet

Katy, like flights of angels seeking rest, beyond pain, something is singing.

We think our greatest pains,  our passions, are the thing, our selfish ‘us’, but you touched

me more than any with real sorrow.

David Clement Davies







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Well, you can feel it here in Italy, but we’ve passed the Solstice, St Lucy’s day in the old English calendar, and are moving back towards the sun.  Now we just have to get through all those festive strains, but HAPPY HOLIDAYS, HAPPY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR from PHOENIX ARK PRESS

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                                                        by David Clement-Davies




Actually, this is a very little book for such a very big tree. Big or small though, you might know me from another magical book, a famous children’s book called The Little Prince. Where my bulbous forms seem to bulge like mandrake roots, or giant stems of ginger from a distant cartoon asteroid, where our hero hails from: Asteroid 325.

In that strange little fable, written by a man called Antoine De Saint Exupery, what a name, and in a book that is one of the most translated in the world, adults have the irritating habit of mistaking one thing for another though; an elephant inside a snake for a hat, for instance, or telling you quite wrongly to grow up, or give up wonder.

I won’t gainsay that you could mistake me for many things though. Some think my bark looks like the leathery skin of an elephant, and some see strange, naked human shapes in my branches. While, in the story, that Little Prince saw me first as a rose, then a threat and one he kept having to dig up, lest it swamp his star.

The Upside Down tree some call us baobabs, the Calabash, and the Cream of Tartar tree too. Or the Moana tree, to the Twsana people of the land of Botswana. While I’ll let you into a little secret; the thing about me is I love telling stories.

Since I am one of the largest and oldest trees on earth too, although I don’t exactly have eyes, or ears, or a mouth, you would hardly believe the things I have seen and heard, in the long, strange history of your World. Which I can sometimes speak too, if you listen very closely, or try to imagine it all, as the warm winds rustle my tops.

From those high tops then, when the water comes, my great branches, that can sometimes look very spikey and unpleasant indeed, bloom with green leaves, for only about three months of the year. It makes me unambiguously deciduous! While the strange nature of my bark has been used for many things by the humans over the years; stripped away and taken for matting, for instance, or since it is so very leathery, woven into useful domestic objects.

In fact, the man who named me scientifically, Michel Adanson, called me one of the most useful trees in the World. For you can eat me too, or at least the creamy extract from the nuts and pods that I produce can be turned into something called Cream of Tartar. Indeed in 2009 I was put on some list of officially and safely edible products, which is nice to know, and now can even be turned into Smoothies and Cereal bars! I ask you.

But then my new Super Fruit has been used in Africa for tens of thousands of years, as a food, nutrient, commercial product and medicine. Richer in antioxidants than both the popular goji and acai berries, it is said to contain six times more vitamin C than oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, is richer in potassium than bananas and contains more magnesium than spinach. Baobab fruit is also rich in B vitamins and iron, and provides a good source of carbohydrates and dietary fibre. You see, I’m quite delicious too.

In The Little Prince though the hero thought, at least when I was little too, that I looked like a rose. Well, you must tell me yourself if you think my strange flowers looks like a rose. Although, as for our fruit, some think it even looks like a rat, and call us the Dead Rat Tree too.

But back to stories. First I will tell you a sad tale of one of my kin, a part of the voice of me, and partly why the humans are writing, drawing and making this odd little book. Indeed, although it isn’t fashionable any more, with Ebooks and the Internet, making it out of parts of me, or my cousins at least. On paper pulped from wood then, but into a real thing, with real pages, so you too can feel something of me. Go on, feel, and turn my pages too.

It all came out of a visit by a girl called Arabella, who loved painting, to draw several of me. So, back in 2014, she travelled to a place in Botswana called Planet Baobab on her own, where people can go and stay and marvel at us too. But then Arabella went further, to the edge of the Makadikadi Salt Pans, in the great Kalahari desert, where the San and Koi Bushmen once roamed free. To stay at a place called Jack’s Camp and to look at a famous tree called Chapman’s baobab. A truly magnificent giant and my dearest cousin.

Now over a hundred years ago James Chapman was a South African explorer and elephant hunter too, in an age that hardly knew better, although it might have done. A human who I met too, when he arrived with horses and cattle in Botswana, or the land about to be the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, back in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. July 10th 1852, in fact.

He was so astounded at Chapman’s baobab though, that he put it him a book too and said he was ‘lost in amazement, truly, at the stupendous grandeur of this mighty monarch of the forest’. Well, so he should be, though I for one am a Prince, not a Monarch, and sometimes I can feel little too. Now other travellers, explorers and hunters had visited us too, for many, many years, along something called The Pioneer way, and one was a very famous explorer called Dr Livingstone. This David Livingstone was a Scottish Missionary and much influenced by another book called The Bible and his unshakeable faith in God.

It was Livingstone who would help inspire the journeys of the men from across the seas in discovering the then unmapped interior of Africa, in his search for the source of the river Nile. Until they took him home to go into the earth in England. Indeed, since the world had not been named in the way it has now, or certainly not Africa, and its lands and countries were different then, the natural landmarks, rivers and trees were a vital part of his journey and everyone else’s too. Perhaps we should all find a way back to that landscape, if with different eyes.

Now as others had carved their initials on us, over the long centuries, since humans seem to like writing things down, or leaving their mark, often more’s the pity, so Dr Livingstone made a mark on Chapman’s side too, and on others of my kind that guided him in his travels, like Green’s baobab 10 kilometres North. That Pioneer Way was also called the Missionary Road, where we were often vital landmarks for travellers, even letterboxes. But since Dr Livingstone was a missionary too, he only carved a simple cross on the sides of me facing West, sometimes with a little circle.

Some say Livingstone was a good, kind man, but others a Colonialist. He certainly came with the territory of his time and the Big Game Hunters too who swarmed into Africa. Although what I know is that he could not believe how old I or my cousin was, even then.

A hundred years before a French explorer and naturalist, that man named Michel Adanson, had written of me, so giving me another, and what they call scientific name, Adansonia digitata. He had claimed I could live to 5000 years old. You see what size can do?

Perhaps because people believe too much the things they read in books though, or it is all they know at the time, Dr Livingstone was outraged by this claim, which seemed to challenge the very thing his favourite book was telling him. The Bible. A book that has also sold and been translated so many times it has probably been read more than any other in the World, even The Little Prince. A book Livingstone loved so much as an inner guide, that when he was travelling in 1875, he read it cover to cover, three times. But you see, if I was that old I would have sprouted at the time of the Pyramids, or even the Biblical flood. Quite a problem if you haven’t yet discovered Deep Time, and how long everything has really been around, as humans were beginning to in the Nineteenth century.

Still the travelling Doctor was impressed with Chapman’s and me, and measuring another tree, said it was 1400 hundred years old. That is very old indeed. The truth is yet to be told, as you will see, but I can assure you we have been around for a very long time.

Meanwhile in my story Arabella the painter left me and went back to her home in Cape Town. That’s in South Africa. Then, on January 7th 2016 the sadness came. The rains had not arrived, the earth was cracked and parched and then a Botswanan farmer living nearby, beyond his wooden corral, heard my cousin, Chapman’s baobab, groan and crack and split, and so the giant fell down. Can you believe it? His seven great trunks, that had made him a National Monument in Botswana, tore apart and the huge weight of his arms and mighty limbs crashed to earth. So that was the end of 5000, or 1500 or at the very least 1000 years of being. I bet the Little Prince didn’t want to uproot us then.

It seemed though that as he lay there, and just like people do after they have grown, he would just rot away and decay and die. So not only those strange human marks, but all his memories and the stories around him too might be lost for ever. Well, I think that a very bad thing, if we all pass away one day. Although I should warn you, like that sometimes threatening, all consuming presence of baobab trees in The Little Prince, my stories are not always happy, and some are very dark. So sometimes you might not think this a children’s book at all, nor a fable, but very adult indeed.

But in my story Arabella then met a friend called David, she had known from years before and who liked stories too, and while Arabella wanted to draw and make moulds of my bark, David sprouted a plan to record the marks people had left on us and tell many of our stories, real and legendat. So they came back to Botswana, back to Jack’s Camp and my cousin’s fallen body, his shallow roots exposed like a witch’s hair. But now Arabella came armed with pots of stuff called silicone and mixing agents too. So they started to make silicone moulds of my bark, and the marks made on me too, like Livingstone’s Cross, with the idea they might preserve something of me, and tell an even bigger story too.

Those marks would be made into wax casts and then bronze sculptures, including Dr Livingstone’s little cross on Chapman’s baobab, before it vanished forever. But there are many other marks too, of the people, famous and unknown, who passed our trees in wonder, over the long centuries, that perhaps aren’t so long after all. Like whoever it was that carved the date 1771 on Green’s baobab to the North. Frederick Green was another South African hunter along the Pioneer Road and so there is written too – ‘Greens expedition 1858’.

This might seem a strange, eccentric exercise, leaving your mark, but it is not new. In 1779 Michel Adanson recorded, carved on the great baobab he saw on the Isle de Madelaines in Senegal, the names of some famous passing mariners, including Andre Thevet from 1555 and Henry the Navigator himself, from 1444, the Prince Explorer and ‘Father of Exploration’, but also of the terrible Atlantic Slave Trade, that bought and sold other humans alike cattle. Perhaps their journey to visit us and record those people too would grow as large as a baobab tree!

David and Arabella thought of an exhibition, of many paintings, of a documentary and of course of a book, this book, The Great Big Book of Baobab. How big should it be though and what should it say? You see, although my cousin had fallen down, there are many of me around the world, some of a slightly different genus, as scientists put it. Two native types live in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, six on the island of Madagascar alone, and one species in Australia. Where a cousin that had dried out and was hollow was even used as a prison cell once, in that land of Convicts. Could they really see us all then, see Madagascar too, or would they even want to? While perhaps they disagreed on quite what their book should be, or mean.

Arabella, you see, saw many things in us, of shape and feeling. Just as she was beginning paintings that tried to see the echoing shapes in all natural things. Perhaps the way we write things down too, like marks, or glyphs, or letters in the world. Or like the shapes in tree bark, sand, or the human marks on those trees, and elsewhere too. As if there might be a code hidden in the Universe itself! Well, if you want a code or a quest, perhaps you might work out by the end which Baobab tree I really am and where I live.

While David, although his stories told of a love of animals and nature, was very interested in history and science. He had told children’s stories as well though, just like Antoine de St Exupery, that were sometimes very adult, so would these be a meeting of those strange voices in The Little Prince?

Well, as they stood there together in the hot African sun, what they decided was this; that their book would try to do some good for us baobab trees, and perhaps for animals too, to share our wonder and pleasure with many. But that if part history, part scientific study, part fable and travelogue, working together, what The Great Big Little Book of Baobab should really be above all was a work of Art. But still the question of how to do it, in what after all they wanted to be a very little book? Nothing too pompous, nothing too demanding. Something beautiful, they hoped, that simply grows on you. OK, organic.

Since David had spent so long reading the books of other travellers too, and all those histories, and Arabella and David were moulding just fragments of their story, and of us trees too, there was only one way: to let me tell their story, and all our stories too, talking to my cousins around the planet as well, and telling how we met them on their strange travels.

But this isn’t only about travel, or history, or time. Perhaps it’s about that thing we’re all going through: Life and death. Perhaps a struggle with ‘God’ too, maybe, or meaning. But just as they say that the travel writer Freya Stark made a lot up, or at least let her imagination run wild, I must warn you that David is a children’s and fiction writer too, and so am I. So watch closely. You see, I think it’s just about how to tell the best story.




You know how people see things in things, that are apparently just not there? Like Jesus in a piece of toast, or the US President’s face in a great big rock. Although in the Little Prince’s story we know that strange, mysterious things are there, which, when you grow up, perhaps you just can’t see any more.

Well in baobabs you are very likely to see a lot of shapes and forms and stories too, even faces. Just like Arabella did when she first painted us. Perhaps that’s because thankfully she never grew up completely, like all the best people. Or because of the many legends, from many countries too, that surround us.

I mean, can you believe that in the Kafue National Park in the land of Zambia, there lives one of us called Kondanamwali, which means ‘the tree that eats maidens’? Now I don’t know if the story is true, but it goes something like this. Once upon a very long time ago a mighty and very powerful baobab stood in the great plains of Kafue, stood tall and proud, doing what trees do, just standing there growing, as the world and the wind and the clouds passed by, waiting. Perhaps some people are strong enough to do that in life too, unbending.

Then one day the tree fell in love with four beautiful maidens, with skin like polished ebony, and hair like curling vines. But the beautiful girls were growing too, as we all do, and so quite naturally they reached what humans call puberty and fell in love with four young men, whom they married. Kondanamwali was so hurt and angry and jealous though, as humans sometimes are too, that on the night of a terrible thunderstorm, as lightening flashed in giant orange forks against the hanging skies, the baobab opened its gigantic trunk, like a cloak or a cave, and took the maidens inside himself. So deep inside himself Kondanamwali took them that they seemed to become a part of his swaying trunks and rocking branches. So now, on wild and stormy nights in Africa you can sometimes hear the maidens crying, deep inside us.

Quite a story we baobabs can tell, you see, and there are legends of our making too, that would certainly disagree with Dr Livingstone and his Bible. For along the great river Zambezi, that Livingstone came to too, tribes there told the tale that we were so upright and so proud that the Gods, not One God of the Bible but many Gods, just as the Romans or Greeks had too, and many other ancient cultures even younger than us, grew so angry that they reached down from the heavens above and uprooted us all. Then they threw us back into the ground again, but upside-down. So our tops look like our roots, or even, if you are seeing things in things, human hands and fingers. That’s why we are not only called Upside Down Trees, but Finger Trees and indeed that scientific name Adansonia digitata, is from the Latin root for finger, Digit.

Is that why that Little Prince, on his distant asteroid in the other story, was so keen to uproot us too, like a little God himself? Even though when we were little we looked to him like a rose, a rose as rare and as beautiful as the woman who that the writer De Saint Exupery loved in real life. Her name was Consuelo.

“It is a question of discipline….When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth…” The Little Prince.

Now some say that the baobabs in Exupery’s story are not real at all though, but simply a symbol or a metaphor and in truth this book is much a journey into symbols too. A symbol there though about things just becoming too big for Little Princes, or for Human beings, too hard to manage or understand, so that they swamp everything else. Like a baobab tree drinking and drinking water, so much that we inflate like blotting paper and even grow grotesque. Isn’t that what modern ‘shrinks’, that they call psychiatrists, call inflation, in the human brain and imagination?

Some even say that to a man who was exiled to America, like De Saint Exupery, he meant Baobabs to mean those evil Men of blood and Death in Germany at the time, the Nazis. Well, like seeing shapes in trees and other things, perhaps that’s the nature of stories and metaphors, they are always something slightly different to what they appear. Perhaps too he meant that when things start though, it can be very hard to know their future size or shape, or to tell Good from Bad.

There is another version of the legend of our uprooting though, told by the African Bushmen in places like the Kalahari. Although it is not correct anymore to call them that, but the San and Koi peoples, who have one of the oldest languages in the World. Although the truth is Bushman peoples have different tribes too, that can often not understand each other.

Anyway, their legend tells of how their God Thora took a dislike to one of us growing in his garden and so tore him up, or her, and threw the baobab over the wall of Paradise, to land the wrong way up down on Earth. You see how Paradise has always been associated with a garden, although in the Bible it is slightly different, perhaps a place of innocence itself. But certainly a garden that surely we should all be more careful of, although we all have to grow and live?

But whatever the version of our uprooting, that angry act of the jealous Gods made us unlucky too, to some. So evil spirits caused bad luck to anyone who picked our sweet white flowers, indeed it meant that a lion would kill them. But, between you and me, I think that story spread precisely because some people wanted our flowers, and sweet white milk, and our nuts too, all for themselves. Which is why others see us as lucky instead. Just as some think that if you drink water that our seeds have been soaked in you will be safe from attacks by crocodiles! Like the crocodile in The Little Prince, or was that a boa constrictor?

Seeds. The name baobab comes from the Arabic word, buhibab, meaning ‘father of many seeds.’ No wonder other tales see us as lucky too. Along that great, grey greasy Limpopo river, which the writer Rudyard Kipling spoke of in his Just-So stories, that some now think bad, it is said, or was, that if a boy bathes in water where baobab bark has been soaked, he will grow to be a big, strong man. Just as it’s said that in kraals where Baobabs grow plentifully, woman will bear more children than usual. Now you may call that just a silly story, or a superstition. Yet in poorer places, where food or fruit is scarce, perhaps it is very real. Because if you eat better things and live in better ways you are more likely to flourish too.

Talking of a Baobab being a he or a she though, a father or mother, or a boy or girl, the truth is the way that we give birth is different to human beings. The key is our seeds being something called germinated, and so some of us can grow in the earth and become as big as we are. Though I know a fine old lady in Madagascar the humans call ‘The Grandmother’ she is so old. As for luck, or people not being able to see crocodiles, there are many stories associated with us baobabs and with animals, real or imagined. Because you humans have brains and imaginations, while your world always seems an impossible mixture of the two, they are still to come. But I will tell you just one now.

In Zambia then there is an old baobab I know that is said to be haunted by a giant and ghostly python. Now that great python lived in the baobab tree and was worshipped by all the people around, but one day a big white hunter arrived and shot it, and brought bad luck to them all. But so the ghostly snake returns and sometimes can be heard hissing in the deepest night inside the tree.  Perhaps there was an elephant inside him too, except that to the Little Prince that was a Boa Constrictor, and not the hat it looked like to careless adults.

The White Man? Like Dr Livingstone, although it was said that David Livingstone got on far better with many of the Africans he met than he did with Europeans. But white, like David and Arabella too, and now with their own real and imagined journey. Well, in searching for baobab trees, and for Dr Livingstone and others, especially up along that Pioneer Road in Botswana, but elsewhere too, they would learn an extraordinary and often horrifying story of many things that happened, yet to be told too, although they weave throughout this little book.

Stories of slavery or how Livingstone recorded ‘that insatiable blood lust’ of the Colonial hunters, and that in one year traders dealt in 75 tonnes of Ivory, amounting to the deaths of 12, 000 elephants. Or how he wrote of two ‘Gentleman hunters’ shooting 73 Rhino, in just one season.

Nowadays in gentle Botswana and elsewhere Rhino are so rare and few, in fact, that they are protected by soldiers that follow them about. But although some Europeans hunt still, paying big money to do it, and in South Africa it is even legal to hunt and shoot captive lions, one of the reasons that Rhinos are still taken today grows not in the West now, but the East. In China and Asia, where there is still a belief in the Medical and Magical power of the Rhinoceroses’ horn.

But we baobabs, although we believe in magic, know it is not true, and just why you have to be careful of books and stories. Know that Rhino horn contains Keratin, exactly the same stuff that makes nails at the end of human digits and fingers. Perhaps we should all sell our fingernails instead then, rather than pulling triggers on guns!

Is it not as sad though, as sad as The Little Prince could sometimes grow himself, to think that those great beasts are still being slaughtered? Like those Elephants which, when the rains are scarce, come to us, to pull at our barks and squeeze out the sap inside us with their trunks. For we baobabs, in order to endure harsh and dry conditions, can store as much as 120,000 litres of water in our own trunk. Just as the San and Koi people pluck a special water tuber from the ground to drink its bitter milk, but put it back in the earth again: One of the most non-invasive cultures on Earth.

So why is it that both the Elephant and the San are under threat today? Or is the real problem simply the success of Man, of how many people are growing on little Earth too and how little space there is now, or will be in future?

Perhaps the reason Dr Livingstone’s journeys were so consumed by his readers back then though, were such a mighty adventure, was that the World all seemed so much more mysterious then, with so much still to be discovered. Sometimes nowadays it is hard not to feel that although we know everything, we can’t do anything about it all, and have come to the end of the World. Or is that a question of spirit?

“I know a planet inhabited by a red faced gentleman. He’s never smelled a flower. He’s never looked at a star, He’s never loved anyone. He’s never done anything except add up numbers. And all day long he says over and over, just like you, ‘I’m a serious man! I’m a serious man!’ And that puffs him up with pride. But he’s not a man at all- He’s a mushroom!” The Little Prince.

Perhaps it was that spirit and that sense of freedom and adventure too that inspired David and Arabella on their own journey. On this journey. Mind you, whether Livingstone was a good man or not, he made friends with many of those rich white hunters and was supported by them too in his travels. In that age they call ‘The Scramble for Africa’, when European Nations raced for territory and trade routes and markets in Africa, and did the most terrible things. But then Dr Livingstone’s salary, as the Missionary he was also, was only £100 a year. Indeed, when his two loyal African attendants, Chuma and Susi, cut down a different tree to make a box and carried his dead body all the way back to England, to be buried in great Westminster Abbey in London, three of his pall bearers were hunters.

Nor is it such a simple story either. For all the attacks on Colonialism today, for instance, on Missionaries and Christianity too, England had abolished slavery in 1843. Although slaving, which had gone on among African tribes too, selling other human beings to work, was still underway. That appalled Dr Livingstone. Nor too were White Colonialists alone responsible for the animal slaughter. Elephant was certainly hunted at the time in Africa, and Elephant meat eaten too, and there were tribes that specifically hunted Hippopotamus.

Yet if Children’s stories like The Little Prince are very important, in reflecting but also changing the way we think, perhaps as Children then we naturally saw wild animals as a threat. For instance, in the classic cartoon book Tintin in The Congo, which would certainly be seen today as something called politically incorrect, there is a sequence where the brave and good reporter Tintin actually blows up a rhinoceros! I should tell you I love the Tintin books.

Perhaps though it is a question of what really seems to be eating up the world, a question of scale. The slaughter of so many animals by European hunters was achieved with technology too, of course, like the perfection of the Wesley Richards rifle.  American President Theodore Roosevelt used one when hunting in Africa and perhaps the picture of the poor creature looks like Chapman’s fallen baobab.

But that is one story, if a big one, and there are many others to follow too. Ones far more ancient than the Nineteenth Century, or the sixty short years that the British Empire was so active in Africa. Stories more ancient even than 1771, or the visit of Henry The Navigator on the Isles De Madelaines. Stories somehow carved into or absorbed into baobabs, like bodies in Arabella’s picture. But to discover them, to unlock them from the bowels of us baobabs, to know how real or false they are too, perhaps first you have to learn how to really travel.



“For the travelers the stars are guides. For others they are nothing but tiny lights. “ The Little Prince

I bet you think that trees don’t really travel. In fact that we are rather static and even boring things. So could never be what David was, in one incarnation anyhow, a travel writer. Well, perhaps I can persuade you to think again.

For a start, just look at those great lines of real palm trees in Botswana, stretching out like natural Telegraph poles, riding towards the beautiful horizon. They travelled and were planted, in straight lines, but quite naturally. Their seeds arrived here, you see, and were fertilised too, in migrating Elephants’ droppings, so they could grow and grow. Then there are us Baobabs. Scientists believe some of us travelled along the ancient slaving and camel train roots across Africa and into Arabia, to places like Wadi Hanni in Oman.

But if you travel, never forget your roots. Think then how far our roots travel under the soil, reaching out likes fingers, or nerve endings. Think of our Tap roots too, that send down a single shoot so deep into the darkest earth to bring up water. They think those roots eventually drop away when we’re grown, though no one is quite sure. Though if you still think trees don’t talk, or talk to each other, like I’m talking to you now, did you know that scientists now claim that trees have networks, a bit like human neural networks? So can not only communicate through their roots, but have kinds of children that they recognise and shield and nurture? Amazing.

But then wise trees believe that many things around the planet, good and bad, are really connected, or perhaps everything is. Like that flapping of a butterfly’s wing some say can start a storm around the World, in something called Chaos Theory (which is really about the bigger pattern, more than the Chaos), or the rise of temperatures in the atmosphere making the Ice Caps melt. Something call man-made Global Warming. So perhaps that strange story of that Little Prince isn’t so far-fetched at all. Think of that, giant Baobabs, right around the planet, looking on and listening, and talking and chattering too, for such a very long time.

As I am listening now to David and Arabella’s journeys in search of me. Since books are made of pages made of paper, the good ones anyway, and paper is made from trees, perhaps I can read too. Read bits of David Livingstone’s journals, for instance, or that other David, as he and Arabella search, like that third sparkling night in Botswana:

JACK’S CAMP – February 2017, Botswana

Oh the wonder of standing in the open shower and looking up at the stars. There it is, etched like a glittering kite across the black, the Constellation we can never see in the Western hemisphere, the Southern Cross. I saw it years ago, in Namibia, riding across the Namib desert to the Skeleton Coast.

But we got to Chapman’s baobab the day before yesterday, which I learnt fell down after the hottest day ever recorded in Botswana, failed completely in taking any rubbings, the tree being too rough and the wax wrong, but got a few silicon casts, although we couldn’t find Dr Livingstone’s cross. I dropped my sunglasses in the water between the fallen trunks looking for it and lost them. Then, on my insistence, yesterday we drove through pools of water, after the unusually heavy rains, our guide Ruh worried about getting through, and sloshed the last kilometre to Green’s baobab too, ten kilometres North. How beautiful it was, looming up out of the bush, especially after seeing Chapman’s mangled tangle of dead roots lying on their side.

The markings are far clearer and more interesting too – ‘1771’. ‘Green’s expedition 1853’. Livingstone’s larger cross on the western side again. Is that because of the European layout of a church, where the altar would be? As all religions reflected aspects of a belief in Sacred Geometry. The spreading canopy is somehow cathedral-like, and a yellow spoonbill was high in the branches, royally ignoring us.

Hmm. Quite a journey already. But perhaps I should tell you a little more about David and Arabella first. Of how they met, or met once more. If David was an author and a travel writer too, it wasn’t quite the type they do online nowadays. With Trip Advisor, blogs, and lots of people trying to sell you things. Or all the billions of words and images on the Internet, so many you wonder what gets really read.

In the days when David started travelling and writing, to places like the North West Frontier in Pakistan and the Hindu Kush, he was inspired by people, by individual voices and the likes of the writers Freya Stark, James-Jan Morris and Eric Newby. Not punters complaining about how many teabags there are in the room in your Bed and Breakfast. Then thy used to actually work on newspapers too, writing about real things, places and people, not trying to attract advertisers, or be heard in the noise. Well, those have all gone, or things called newspapers have lost much of their authority, fallen like Chapman’s baobab. Or perhaps I am being old fashioned.

But how David always wanted to go on some great adventures too, just like them. Like the likes of James Chapman, bristle bearded Thomas Baines and David Livingstone too. All very politically incorrect now, yet going on the most astonishing life journeys, that helped change the world, for good or bad.

It was bad for David that day 16 years before, in the Kalash valleys in Pakistan, with a tribe said to be descended from the armies of Alexander the Great, and where Kipling set a story called The Man Who Would be King. Or rather when David’s group walked out and drove up to The Mountain Inn hotel, in a village called Chitral. Perhaps they should have looked at the date, although it meant nothing to David, until the day after; September 11th, 2001. It’s infamous now, sadly.

A newspaper was lying on the reception desk, and the sweet young guy was grinning at America being giving one in the eye by the attackers. That famous picture of that plane going into the side of one of the Twin Towers in New York was just shocking, unbelievable, surreal. But was it then that the world changed, or is it always changing, in everyone’s life times? The only constant. Now the fall of my cousin Chapman’s baobab sixteen years later seems as big to David and Arabella.

So here he was, with Arabella and baobabs of all things. Us. Something certainly bigger than the both of them. Perhaps I should read you a little more of his journal then:

JACK’S CAMP – February 2017, Botswana

While we thought Livingstone’s cross had been lost in the fall, at lunch today another guide insisted Ruh was wrong, and it was there on Chapman’s Baobab, although you have to slosh through a pool to get to it. The problem is Arabella has run out of silicone! Disaster. She has an idea though, to make a kind of paste from bread and milk to try and get a mould, that we can take back to Cape Town so I told her to go and get it. So she’s setting off with Ruh before we leave. I’m too hot, so I think I’ll watch the Zebra and have a swim!

Despite the heat, or wondering if they would get that mould, David knew immediately we are truly amazing though, and there are things humans still don’t know about us too, like how old some of us really are. Perhaps they could find out, definitively. Just as this search for Livingstone too gripped David’s imagination. After all, that time an American journalist called Henry Morton Stanley met Dr Livingstone, the only white man for thousands of miles, and joked ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’, is one of the most famous things ever said by an explorer. Iconic. Although, because stories are often not quite true, he may never have really said it at all and invented it later. While, although Livingstone is famous for searching for the source of the River Nile, actually he used it in part as an excuse to do his journeys and above all to ‘talk to Men of power’ about the thing that he hated most – the Slave Trade. You see stories, real and imagined, like our bark, can have many different layers to them.

But Livingstone’s own letters and journals are fascinating. In his journeys into Botswana in 1852 he used a series of metallic note books, but in 1871 when he met Stanley he had run out of paper and ink, so he wrote across an old copy of The Standard newspaper and improvised ink out of local berries:

“I may as well tell you some more of our wants… a trowel; large and small beads; a ladle and bullet mould; heifers if you can get them at any price; she goats; a musket if you have one to spare; vine cuttings; fruit stones for seed; pictures; the large vice mentioned.”

So where was this Great Big Book of Baobab already leading these modern explorers, if without a trowel, musket or even a she goat? Right along that Pioneer Road? To distant Madagascar? To Oz, with a wizard and Dorothy’s shoes? To the Arabian peninsula? Back to Ancient Egypt, perhaps, or in the footsteps of Henry the Navigator too? Up the steps of the Royal Geographical Society, or even of the British Museum itself? That’s exactly where, although not exactly in that order. Perhaps though, if none of us know exactly where we are going when we start, we should all set out in life to have adventures as big as us Baobab trees.

But recording stories around us, real and legendary, making their casts and drawings too, now seemed to them to be a journey in time, place and space, all at the same time. Perhaps it’s that Little Prince too. Not that David was especially fond of The Little Prince as a boy. It was too strange and rare, too threatening, perhaps. Perhaps far too adult. As for trees and stories, their adventure for David had first come in a great act of anthropomorphism, namely making other things seem human, and the writer JRR Tolkien’s Ents in a book called The Lord of The Rings. That was so exciting as a boy David read the huge novel straight through, three times. There trees talk, and walk too, not that we Baobabs really have tree rings as such, because our bark is too leathery..

But this strange journey had begun and although he feared the Internet is destroying the World, that was part of the reason for it all too. You see, David had been stuck up in a beautiful place called Cumbria at the time, rather isolated, but with his lovely rescue dog Rascal, who had adopted him in Greece. He had had a lot of trees that year and pretty much enough too. Then he had had a dream and dropped Arabella a note on Facebook, using the Internet.

They had been at University together, Edinburgh in Scotland, in times that seem as old as baobabs, and for a year they had shared a flat together. But David had not seen Arabella in 25 years. So, a sudden, lucky trip to Cape Town had come about and the first real adventure in ages. But then a second and so that trip to Botswana too, with those pots of silicone that leached into David’s rucksack, and David’s first encounter with we mighty trees, at that tourist camp called Planet Baobab, or ours with them. You see, sometimes I can’t tell now if I’m narrating the story, or they are.

As a cousin, just the other day, was telling me the next part of their journey, from Botswana to the island of Senegal. That would be followed by Madagascar, Australia and the Arabian peninsula too, perhaps even near the source of the Nile. But first another bit of that journal.

Cape Town, March 2017

Well the bread paste didn’t work! It fell apart immediately, so Arabella has asked Ruh to take the cast, but the silicone she ordered has been held up by customs in Botswana. They want some money. Back in the studio the other silicone moulds, including the very clear cross Livingstone left on Green’s Baobab, are lying all around the floor, looking odd. But Arabella has started drawing the trees again too. My thoughts are turning to the next stage though, if it’s to happen, and the journeys of a real father of exploration, Henry the Navigator, and the island of Senegal.

So that is how David and Arabella wrote to African Airways now and told them of this book and how, with a lot of asking, thy agreed to fly them there. To see the Baobab that Henry The Navigator himself visited six hundred years ago. You see, if you really try, very exciting things can happen in life. So one day, late in October….


Copyright 2017 David Clement-Davies. The moulds in this story are subject to Moral and actual Copyright.

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The burnt-skin glare of day, sun sighing,
Beaching into reefs of deep red light, as twilight reels in the bay.
The darkening night shore smells of nameless sea flowers and of death.
Lights up.
Neon columns proclaim the distant town, and the raw, rough boys.
Out there, beyond harbour; stationary ships, slack bouys,
But hopeful lights,
And here, braving the hard shore edge, the square box windows on private lives.

Trippers retreat and we reclaim new territory; the fishermen.
Moon films of sandy wet, mounded by riggish worm,
Everywhere the bait, under our stealthy feet.
A torch beam blinks, goes out, searching and dipping in and out.
My new found neighbour in the dark? A friend?
His grittish, shadowed knowledge shy of those purer trails;
Bright corridors down the lovely moon,
Across the wild sea, to you alone, to me?
My private, sacred angle,
But shared by everyone who looks and moves along the shore,
And wide as seeing.
A person is like a poem’s line,
Experience the sea.

We are all illuminated, or darkened.
We are everything, or nothing; pebble or the sea.
I loved you, but lost our thread. The cast too sharp, I broke the line.
Why did you hurt so much, for fear of being hurt,
Or fear of hurting? But nothing can be caught.
Cut fish flesh, blood, and a barb,
Weighted on sand slop beach, then flung to the shrugging waters:
The dead-head plop of expectation,
My isolated drowning, or a rising dream of hope.

Who needs a fish,
Trust to the land?
Two girls, hand in hand,
Come trailing the whispering bay,
Suddenly laughing, out of the dark,
Navigating my alien warning, my weird intrusion,
To disappear down the moon,
Like youth.

The world is a trick of the light.
A child can feel the sea through the new dropped line,
Sense into mind, testing the hopeful mystery, then knowing,
Pleased or shocked or horrified.
But we grow into failing feeling, for safety’s sake,
Or trust blind luck, a skill, much harm – the catch.
Or we drown in scales of pain,
Too sharp for human skin,
Cutting an opening in our dying blood.

Borrowed rod, fixed point, nowhere,
Sunk in the sand,
Stabbing the spattered stars,
For delicate direction, certainty,
But flagging a sea of centuries.
Yet the bay held us all, whole, in this element, a while,
Soft kissed the dreaming air, and gently urging swell,
Wide as the swaying sky.
Its silent crash of noise, then boom,
Sounding my restlessness and wanting.
A longing, limitless, or a learning to be in peace.

Nothing stops. Everything is dark and light, moving.
Scales of the sea bass moon glance on a breaking wave.
As the earth tilted back on the crescent,
Sunken to half blood orange,
A giant question in the sky,
It vanished too, over the rim, hooked on its orbit; but a sea change.

As the tide-turn changed our fisher minds.
We both crept up the shore, shifted, wary of cold, failure,
Purposefully drifting back,
Neighbourly as seaweed.
As the earth rolled back, looping the lightless sun,
Curving again, through sleep, into glaring waking,
The stars were endless though, the sea a lovely dream,
Wet sand on skin as warm as touch re-found,
While an ancient line, taught into deeper waters,
Caught me nothing, and everything.


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Dear All,

the fake snow is falling across WordPress pages, Brexit is absurd in a World that needs more unity, Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump, and Christmas is about to stress you with the day nothing gets sorted out. But HAPPY CHRISTMAS and NEW YEAR to everyone, from Phoenix Ark Press, together, alone, troubled, happy already, not reading this, glancing, controlled by the Likes, (they never put a Hate button), and remember, today and tomorrow are the real turn of events, the Solstice, and the moment our Earth arcs back towards the burning sun and it all happens all over again.

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Well, people have enquired many times here, and it has taken eight or more years, but a fan here, supporter, young author himself and online US publisher, Jonathan Thurston, will publish SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR by David Clement-Davies, in 2018. Actually it is to be entitled CRY OF THE WHITE BEAR, in the spirit of a new adventure, and leaving behind the really terrible battle that was fought over it and other principals of art, law, truth and decency, with the major New York publisher Harry N. Abrams.  Which, because so much is about money over principle in the world today, has sky-rocketed to success with Young Adult books like A Diary Of A Wimpy Kind, that has sold over 180 Million copies.  The real story of its delay is probably as powerful as the book, but although David is sceptical about so much about the Internet world, or indeed how you really publish without the powers that be, or how much people are truly reading and connecting now, it is entirely appropriate that a young man of talent and passion like Jonathan tries to bring it to the world, with a quiet apology from the author for having disappointed his fans and readers for too long.



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My stars tonight are punctuated by people –

Scattered, tarnished, ever-distant jewels of present, past and future,

Hanging up there in the giant, curving  heavens like longing eyes-

Lost friends, the known, the Dead, the Great and all that’s greater –

The feeling of our infinite, infinitely broken, utterly minute connections.

To see a clear and lovely sky of stars though

Is always like a gift – renewed surprise,

A memory of purity, idealism, brave adventures

And a hope.  A map of wonder, picked out by our little questions,

And our endless namings too, and all our needs for definition:

Orion’s belt, The Bear, that mighty Plough,

Who’s giant furrow hangs above our understanding, just like  Time and History.

Those friendly, knowable names, in all our search for clear identity – the Map:

Would I were steadfast as thou art?

And yet the stars, like you and I, or love, are something else –

A burning doorway to the fire, the infinite, and death, always beyond our touch,

Hung in the ceaseless heavens like mighty rivers, twinkling repeatedly at our shames –

Our sad betrayals, our pettiness and pride.

Maybe that’s what the sky is,

And all those stars, and all their endless heavens too;

A call at every moment, when we look,

Like icy water thrills the waking the body ,

To be alive, to know and try to live again,

With every strange, familiar, mapped-out revolution of the Earth and Sun and Moon –

Before our special star goes out. The repetition of all that astonishing, icy,

Violent, hopeless grandeur of  Everything.



DCD Camaiore December 2017

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