So the day we had all been looking forward to, and Team Edward Thomas meet together in London for the first time and head to Faber for a visit to the Faber archive followed by afternoon tea with Matthew Hollis, author of the book we have been reading and sharing with you Now All Roads lead to France.
Now when I suggested that we all met up at the British Museum courtyard cafe, because whenever I go there it's always deserted, I really should have taken Half Term into account. It was heaving and though four of us miraculously managed to find each other, none of us we then realised had actually laid eyes on Nancy and Bill before. Nancy and Bill had arranged their vacation especially to be in London for this visit so I felt the onus was on me to find them and therefore spent some time circuiting the concourse looking for people who might seem American and look as if they might be called Nancy and Bill, unsurprisingly to no avail.
Nancy and Bill meanwhile astutely spotting the flaws in my plan had had the sense to go direct to Faber HQ and were waiting for us there when we arrived.
With some time to spare beforehand the four of us headed across to Boswell Street off Queen's Square just to see the original location of The Poetry Bookshop. Hopes were high that it might be this building which seemed nicely poetic in appearance...
Though later in the day we were sadly disabused of this fantasy, the building was actually next door, long-demolished and now replaced by a block of flats
After a fascinating visit to the Faber archive, and our thanks to archivist Robert Brown for talking with us (and for future reference L>R Bill, Robert, Carol, Fran, Hilary, Moiself, and Nancy seated...)
We were whisked off to the Covent Garden Hotel where I was momentarily diverted by the curtains because they were real proper tapestry..
... before we settled down to tea and a lovely talk with Matthew Hollis. In fact a celebratory tea because just the night before Matthew had won the First Biography award for 'our' book.
It was good to put our questions to Matthew direct and to share our thoughts about Edward Thomas, the man who had emerged from this book as well as Edward's long-suffering wife Helen, to talk about Edward Thomas's fame achieved in death and what may he have yet achieved in life had the trenches not claimed him and also the legacy of the poetry and which poems felt special for us. And all whilst eating our way through what can only be described as a very divine tea..
Our sincere thanks to Faber, to Gemma and to Matthew for such a wonderful afternoon,and my personal thanks to Team Edward Thomas for their participation and for embracing this reading project with such enthusiasm. Matthew will be back here with some written answers to our questions soon but cited As the Team's Head Brass as one of his favourite poems and I think we would all agreed with him on that...
As the team's head brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed an angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
The blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker's round hole,
The ploughman said. 'When will they take it away?'
'When the war's over.' So the talk began -
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
'Have you been out?' 'No.' 'And don't want to, perhaps?'
'If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn't want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more....Have many gone
From here?' 'Yes.' 'Many lost?' 'Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.'
'And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.' 'Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.' Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.