In “Tea on the Lawn,” I mentioned the poet Charles Causley, who lived in North Cornwall. It was an aside, but R. emailed to say that she was involved in Causley’s care toward the end of his life and that he was a lovely man.
I never know what part of a post is going to activate someone, and that’s one of the things I’ve come to love about blogging.
Causley “wrote one of the first poems that ever really struck a chord with me,” she emailed, “’The Ballad of the Bread Man’. It was a reworking of the Christmas story. I was eleven or twelve when it was read out at the Christmas assembly at my school. I didn’t know who’d written it, and though it always stayed with me, I didn’t actually come across it in print until after he’d died.”
As a result, she never got to tell him what it had meant to her. But that didn’t stop her from talking about literature with him.
“We used to have some wonderful conversations about Laurie Lee, and Ted Hughes and the like. And I remember a Fortnum and Mason hamper arrived at Christmas for him; a gift from his publisher. I was so impressed, and all he said was: ‘Well they do get money from selling my books, you know.’
“He was made Companion of Literature. It was 2001 and he got it at the same time as Doris Lessing. It’s held by a maximum of ten people at any one time, and it’s for life. He said they’d only given it to him because he wouldn’t be keeping it for long.
“He’s extremely well loved in Cornwall.”
She added the following memory to give “an impression of his ready wit, even at eighty-four: I was helping him walk down a corridor and the call bell went off.”
Making a reference to the poet John Betjeman’s blank verse autobiography, “he said: ‘Oh you poor girls – summoned by bells, as my friend John would say.’ “
(I’m not sure how important it is to know this, but Cornwall inspired many of Betjeman’s poems.)
“There was a campaign to have Causley made poet laureate when Betjemen died.”