Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Last weekend we stayed in a cottage at Madron, an ancient granite village in west Cornwall. A church has stood at Madron since 500 AD and there is a holy well nearby. More recently Madron and the surrounding landscape was commemorated in the poems of W.S. Graham (1918-86), who spent the latter half of his life there.

By an odd coincidence I'd brought with me a poetry anthology, snatched in haste at random from a shelf, called 100 Poems by 100 Poets, edited by Harold Pinter and others, and we were surprised to find one of Graham's poems, 'I leave this at your ear', included. And then we were even more surprised to read in the introduction that the anthology was conceived by Pinter and friends on a journey from London to Madron to attend Graham's funeral. I'd taken the poetry anthology in case of emergencies only. I hadn't expected to be doing much reading over the weekend, nor did I. But now that I am a non-smoker again, Mr Pinter's choices, taken at random, were useful as a substitute for the post-coital cigarette. We took this coincidence of my accidentally bringing a poetry anthology dedicated to a Madron poet as a sign that we were already being inveigled, and perhaps welcomed, whether we liked it or not, into that primordial and mysterious other dimension that underpins so much of the high-street shopping experience in that rugged corner of west Cornwall.

We stayed at the cottage on a bed-andbreakfast basis. The lady owner of the cottage enforced one house rule only, which she impressed on us anxiously at every opportunity and throughout the weekend, both verbally and in capital letters on purple and pink post-it notes: on no account were we to leave the front door open for more than a second in case the cats escaped.

There were two of these cats. One was invisible throughout our stay. We only heard about it. The other was a cat of the vilest type:

a grossly obese ball of grey fluff with buttocks as large as a small child's. The bored expression on its flat and peevish face suggested that to be worshipped and adored by human beings was nothing less than its due. Fine grey hairs coated the surfaces of the cushions of its most comfortable thrones like a mould. Its daily bowel movements were conducted indoors, on litter trays, of which it had a choice of three. …

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