Skip to main content

The Signpost




Here’s a signpost – originally distinctive, being unique and handmade, and now even more so, with the evidence of ageing.

 … numbers, distances, which way?

While all signposts are interesting in their duty to inform, their presentation of choices and their simple declarative presence, I find this one special.

It’s not just that it has much to say in terms of where you actually are, in which direction you might choose to go, how far your destination is (down to quarter mile accuracy) and even if your chosen method of transport is suitable. It’s also special in the simple elegance of its design, with the arms’ supports and the bevelled edges of the main post rising to that unexpected point.

But the specialness goes further.  My friend James Ravilious took me there just at this time of year, over twenty years ago.  It was then upright and brilliant white, with crisp black letters. He certainly thought it was special, photographing it lovingly, in May 1988 (Chawleigh Week Cross – Beaford Archive.)

His close observation encouraged me to pay attention to it, and to remember it.

So I found myself returning, to find a signpost showing serious signs of the years passing.

 

 

Chawleigh Week Cross


Weighed down by capitals, the finger post leans

to show you the way, two lines of letters

borne by each arm. You have arrived

by the way, here at Chawleigh Week Cross.

 

Black letters screwed into white painted wood

along with their numbers, tell you in silence

where you can go, and how far it is –

right down to the halves and the quarters.

 

To go to Chulmleigh, travelling by car

that way’s unsuitable, simply unsuitable.

Stand and consider – the choice is yours

having arrived at Chawleigh Week Cross

 

this early June morning. I cannot tell

which way you’ll go nor how far you’ll travel

nor am I sure about my choice.

The last time I came the signpost was clear

 

now places and distances have blurred with the years

letters are heavier and what is beneath

begins to break through. But thanks to the sign

I still know where I am, here at Chawleigh Week Cross.

 

 

 

The years roll by since James died. I find myself counting... how many?

Then just counting…

The numbers pile up – one becoming the next, like digits on the microwave screen, the taxi’s meter or my bedside clock.

These numbers on the signpost are all quite modest, though 18¼ is a lot more than the only 1¼ to Chulmleigh.  Still, Barnstaple is important round here – you need to know how far away that is.

Odd numbers, even numbers… even uneven numbers. Round they all rumble.

Round numbers – those that end like ten, with a 0.  But also perhaps particular numbers invested with special associations and significance.

Ten’s obviously the first, with its growing-up marked by it being the first double number.  The next might be 25 – perhaps because it’s half-way to the magic fifty. Somehow, fifty really is a Round Number. 

Be that as it may, this is where I come in, for this is my fiftieth blog.

Of course, there’s nothing special about that.  In fact, there’s a certain inconsequentiality in numbers. No one, including me, would ever have known, had I not been counting. So, it’s a So What?

But there it is, like Chulmleigh, Chawleigh, Eggesford Station and the rest, a counted number –  invested or not, as the case may be, with significance. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying thinking about those quarters and halves of the signpost and the variety of places and their names; and find myself happy to move on from this particular round number, with a wide set of choices before me.

 Like the traveller who arrives at a signpost – even, or especially, an old one showing a bit wearily its signs of ageing – whose four arms (still) offer a great range of choices, in every direction…

 

 

 


 

 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead. I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse. Behind their cage, yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting as they cropped up tone of mush and grass to gouge their underworld garage. It took a little while for me to realise why. Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow. The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur. Here's my second verse: At first it was the one-armed monsters, set free within their caged arena to trundle round, and gently paw the ground, then pile up mounds of earth accompanied by Lego men. I was pleased

My blog this month isn't a poem – nor even several...

  My blog this month isn't a poem – nor even several. No, this time it's a set of little films of poems. After sharing them with several of you, I apologise straight away if you've already seen them, but you might be interested to hear some thoughts on the matter. And if you don't want to hear me thinking about making films of poems, just ignore what follows and go straight to the YouTube link.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbwJYkDeGIs&list=PLbC1BOoALpN-xyuGJCIAqJjImAi1aAfrY   I hope you enjoy the films. And please tell me what you think! You may remember a couple of the poems appearing in past blogs, with me writing about the possible presentation of poetry in this way. Time was when poetry existed solely as the spoken or sung word – it took some time for it to be written down.  Now, for the most part, it exists and flourishes in both these forms. Recently, and refreshingly, it seems to have been recovering more of its original orality. Now we liv