I love the country I live in or rather I never get tired of it in terms of learning things about it.
We are away for our anniversary and the Lovely Wife and I take turns to arrange where we go in secret so it is always a surprise for one of us (incidentally, I understand that for some people this is the worst thing they could imagine, but it works for us, probably because we are lucky enough to enjoy lots of the same things and understand also what might be enjoyed by the other half).
Anyway this year we are in a place I had never heard of but in a County I have a lot of time for – Somerset – in the seaside village of Watchet. My first impressions is that it has reached the point of quirky in terms of its residents – a lot of elderly people but at least one proto-Mod and a gay couple who proudly carried the signs of a Northern Soul life in their earlier life. There is a very amusing and high quality local cider bar and the barmaid in the best food pub in town works on her own in the chip shop on Mondays.
Like a lot of West Country seaside towns, art seems to be a big thing, but Watchet has two fascinatingly different claims to fame. Both are represented by bronze statues on the short esplanade we can see from our (old coast guard) cottage. But they could not be more different, even if they are by the same sculptor (for the record, Alan Herriot).
One is a tall, emaciated and forlorn figure chained to a dead albatross. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed for three years at nearby Nether Stowey (a lovely village and the house he lived in, run by the National Trust, is well worth a visit) and here, in the daily company of William Wordsworth and William’s sister Dorothy wrote most of the poetry he is famous for, including the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. This was inspired by all accounts by his experience of nearby Watchet and the town is rightfully proud to acknowledge the connection with the statue, and on a rough day… It is not difficult to be grim looking out to the grey, surf covered Bristol Channel.
The other statue could not be more different – a slightly rotund old fisherman, sitting a few yards away of the doomed Mariner cheerfully looking out to sea. This is John Short, known as ‘Yankee Jack’ who is the village’s most famous sailor. He was a great singer of Sea Shanties who became town crier after retirement from the sea so must have had a powerful voice. But the important part of the story is that in 1914 Cecil Sharpe interviewed him and recorded a wealth of the traditional songs that Jack was well known locally for and preserved this important part of English culture for prosperity. He is obviously well liked locally – since we have been here several people have been seen patting the statue on the shoulder, and during the St George’s Day celebrations he had acquired a number of balloons.
The weird thing for me is that every time we pass the statue of Yankee Jack is to think ‘why is that old guy sitting out in this cold wind?’
In all honesty I would not be surprised if (in my fantasy inspired head) if the statue (accompanied of course by a creaking noise of bronze impossibly in motion, c.f. the Bronze Colossus in Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ if you want a sound reference) twisted its head around, raised a bronze pint of cider and wished us a good evening.
I worry about myself sometimes.