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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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The Dandelion Fellowship Annual Gathering 2012

Posted Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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Dandelion Fellowship Annual Gathering

It was the eve of Llewelyn’s birthday as the sun set on this golden Olympic summer; the closing ceremony of the Games was being played out on the two giant screens on Weymouth sea-front as I sat on the beach enjoying the last rays of the dying sun and looked forward confidently to celebrating Llewelyn’s 128th birthday in full sunshine on the morrow.

Alas, the closing ceremony also signified the end of the good weather, for it was cloudy, dull and heavily overcast when I arrived at the Sailor’s Return in East Chaldon around 10:30 am the following morning for the August 13th annual gathering of the Dandelion Fellowship and the traditional Llewelyn Birthday walk.

On my way to the churchyard I had noticed a distinct lack of dandelions on the village green, and for the first time in almost two decades had difficulty finding enough of them to make posies to lay in tribute at the final resting places of Katie Powys, Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland, and our own sadly missed Janet Pollock.

It was especially pleasing to see that `Katie’s cross’ had once again been repaired and lovingly restored. I suspected - and it was later confirmed by the man himself - that this was the work of society member John Sanders of Wellingborough, to whom all Powysians surely owe a debt of gratitude.

Tribute to an American Visitor

I left another tribute beside a simple upright slab of weathered grey Portland Stone which always invokes in me a sense of melancholy, for it marks the grave of Walter Franzen, an American friend of Llewelyn & Alyse who died whilst visiting them at the Coastguard’s Cottages. The memorial stone bears the words chosen by Llewelyn telling of the tragedy which befell the unfortunate Walter on a May morning 85 years ago.

“In Memory of Walter Franzen of New York City who met death by falling in full sunshine from a cliff at West Bottom, May 26th 1927, aged 34. The glory of young men is in their strength & the beauty of old men is the grey head”.

First arrivals for the gathering were Byron Ashton and his lovely wife Eirlys who had travelled from Caerphilly in Wales, and whom I encountered on their way back to the Sailor’s Return from St.Nicholas’ Churchyard where they too had been paying their respects.

The first heavy raindrops were beginning to fall as I got back to the pub to be met by Bruce and Vicky Madge who had arrived shortly ahead of Richard Burleigh, and as the rain began to fall in earnest I had to agree with Bruce when he commented with arms outstretched that it was `typical August 13th Dorset weather!’ We quickly joined Byron and Eirlys in the bar and watched through the windows as a storm began to rage outside, and shortly Rob and Honor Timlin arrived with waterproofs dripping, closely followed by Rosemary Dickens, her father Norman, and Dennis who had kindly driven them down from Salisbury.

When John & Jayne Sanders arrived we had our regular `Baker’s Dozen’ or `Thirteen Worthies’, although John was currently having to use crutches owing to a prolonged bout of sciatica and would be unable to attempt the arduous walk up to Llewelyn’s Memorial Stone.

By the time Chris Gostick and Linda had arrived to take our final number to fifteen, the weather had worsened, rain lashed the windows of the Sailor’s Return, and low cloud had obscured the Downs and almost engulfed the entire village.

August in `The Twelve Months'

This was a day which completely defied Llewelyn’s description of August in his essay of that name in `The Twelve Months’.

There was certainly no evidence of the `genial opulence of the month of August’ in which `each separate spearhead of bearded corn stands grateful in the sunshine’ to be found in East Chaldon on this August day!

However, in the same essay Llewelyn also writes, “This happy holiday month is truly an august month for us in England. It is during its days of sunshine that people who have been labouring at uncongenial tasks all the year long are able to enjoy a few days, or even perhaps a few weeks, of leisure!.....Holiday makers! That is a title that we should all strive to merit on this day. From the first crowing of the backyard rooster, with scarlet comb frolic and dry, our mood should be that of good fellowship. Fastidious reactions should not be indulged. We should cultivate an attitude that is broad enough to accept life’s loosest humour. Our reciprocity with the light-hearted mood of the day should be strong to transform discarded newspapers into a litter left behind by the dancing feet of a riotous troop of dedicated Bacchantes”.

And so it was that following lunch Chris Gostick opened proceedings by welcoming everyone to Llewelyn’s 128th birthday party, reminding us why we were here, namely to honour Llewelyn’s wishes under the terms of his will: `that on each successive anniversary of my birthday, my friends may gather at the Sailor’s Return to raise a glass in my memory’.

Chris also paid a fond tribute to John Batten who had re-discovered the clause in Llewelyn’s will in 1994, and had been instrumental in organising the first of the now traditional `Birthday Walks’, but who sadly was unable to be with us on this occasion. Finally Chris proposed the toast, `to the memory of Llewelyn Powys’ and we all raised our glasses in his memory.

The storm continued to rage; High Chaldon was wreathed in a thick shroud of sea-fog, and on the steep climb up the white flint-strewn track to Chalky Knap, the hedgerows were being whipped into a frenzy by the ferocity of the wind, and twin torrents of rainwater leaped and gurgled as they raced down the deeply rutted old cart-tracks towards the village crouching beneath the onslaught in the valley below.

The brave, intrepid `Friends of Llewelyn Powys’ battled on courageously, stoically raising several more glasses to his memory in the bar of the Sailor’s Return.

John Sanders commented somewhat uneasily that this was unprecedented; the Birthday Walk had always taken place whatever the weather. This prompted many to recall several previous occasions when awful weather had soaked us to the skin but not daunted our spirits, and whilst it was pointed out that we were here to honour Llewelyn’s wishes and that there was no mention of a walk in his will, Chris Gostick finally put it to the vote by inviting anyone who wanted to walk up to the Memorial Stone to feel free to do so.

We drank several more toasts in memory of Llewelyn, before Chris invited me to give the annual reading, normally given at the Memorial Stone high on Chaldon Down with the short sheep-cropped grass beneath me feet, and now for the first time with my feet on the stone-flagged floor of the Sailor’s Return. It felt entirely appropriate to read the words written by a former regular customer!

`Impassioned Clay'

The selected reading was from Impassioned Clay p110-111:

“Nothing is more unsure, more vacillating, more treacherous than is the mind of man. Its conclusions have their origin in unaccountable under-swells of feeling. We must not look here for stability. Thoughts are like swan’s feathers riding upon ripples, like seagull feathers adhering for a moment to autumn thistles. In a day, in an hour, a man’s philosophy may entirely alter, and his sincerest words turn to a lie. We have no roots. We swing over a no-bottom pond. We clutch frantically at moss. Only one thing is true. We pledge our glad and loyal spirits to a transition of moods of a breath’s duration . Life alone is to be celebrated. The wisest of us and the most foolish of us spend our days in clapping our hands and snatching at butterflies in pied coats.

The boys and girls who give all to desire, who squander the strength of their bodies, the strength of their feelings, in `the fine and smooth and enticing motions of the flesh,’ are in no way to be reprehended. It may well be best to spend rashly what one has to give. Old men are for the most part insensitive and wicked. Possibly it is best to die young. A scrupulous husbandry often affords a sorry lesson of misapplied effort. Let us take what comes, let us fling ourselves at life with the rush of a lion on the Athi plains. Let us use wisdom where wisdom may be used, but ultimately let us be obedient to destiny, to our own destiny, seeking it out as a young gull seeks the sea.

Christianity has from the first been opposed to natural happiness. Its word is one of abnegation. “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” True lovers of life cannot but stubbornly resist such doctrines. The visible world as it is revealed to us by the senses, the world of millet-seeds, of wild honey in the comb, is all we know and all we shall ever know. As Tiberius answered long ago, when his advisers had a mind to instigate religious persecutions, “If the gods are insulted let them see to it themselves”.

We said our goodbyes over pots of tea and coffee, wishing each other well and promising to meet again next August, and whilst the storm had abated considerably, it was still raining as we left the Sailor’s Return to go our separate ways, though remaining united in the spirit of true friendship.

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