I’m in Devon near Totnes by a village called Sheepwash. It doesn’t get more rural unless I were a sheep having a wash in a field near a village called sheepwash. The roof of the farmhouse is thatched and the barn made of wattle and daub not that I know what wattle or daub actually are. There’s no phone reception and no internet connection. If I could make a modem and ariel from grass and cow dung I’d be a millionaire but I can’t so I’m not but it won’t stop me trying. It. Won’t. Stop. Me. Trying.
I wake amongst mist and the long slow lows of low slung cows. The sun burns out the nodding clouds. A revelation of blue sky appears and morning is announced. The house awakes, bacon sizzles in the kitchen and the aroma curls upstairs coaxing fourteen women and two men, the course attendants, into the day. It’s either that that wakes them or the hardcore rap on my boom box.
Julia who’s been administrator to the centre directors here for 34 years tells me it’s 23 years since first I came to teach here. 23 years in which I have seen six heads of the poetry society, 6 heads of literature at Southbank Centre, I’ve seen a score or more Arvon Centre Directors come and go. I may have underestimated these numbers. I have seen friends become famous and some happily lose fame. I've seen the constant consistent poets who have doggedly continued regardless of the sway. I learn from them. And I have searched through the tumult across the globe and discovered each needle in each haystack – each member of my family.
There's something of Gandalf in Arvon. Arvon remains an anchor – an anchor to principles established in 1968 , a few months after I was born. The story is well told in The Founding of Arvon by John Moat. And those principles remain the same as 27 years ago when first I attended as a student. Arvon is the yard stick, the staff, for my own principles ready to thwack me if I lose them, something to measure myself by. This week is once again testament to those fine and noble principles.
Returning from a morning walk to Sheepwash 23 years ago 4 students and I came across a ewe caught in the brambles. It took us half an hour to work it free and no doubt from a distance we looked, how can I put this, dubious. But when we’d unhooked that last nasty bramble the ewe it stood perfectly still only its shivering legs hinted at its state. We’d didn’t know how long it had been trapped to the thorny perimeter.