Raising The Roof. An evening of Poetry and Music at St Martin's Church Dorking, 2003.

This very roof Rosemary Wagner
INTRUSION Sylvia Herbert
TORRE DEL MANGIA (The Watchman's Tower) Alison Jesson
WHO GOES HOME? Michael Lane
Oxford Circus - Underground Station Helen Overell
Dreaming Of Angels. M. Jivani
DUTCH GABLES Nikki Hopkins
INSULATION Nikki Hopkins
Raising the Roof Nikki Hopkins
The Kitchen Fire Michael Lane
THE SEARCH Alison Jesson
Over the northern roofs Rosemary Wagner
After Rosemary Wagner
REVELATION Sylvia Herbert
Roofs Helen Overell
CHANTICLERE (The Dorking Cockerel) Sylvia Herbert
May Evening at St Paul's, Dorking Helen M Overell
The spire of St Martin's Rosemary Wagner


We need a brand new roof
'cause it's full of great holes
and the buckets and bowls
keep filling right up.

We need a brand new roof
and a thousand pounds
to get a workman round
with his full tea cup.

We need a job lot of thatch,
not a bitumen patch
that's barely waterproof;
we need a brand new roof.

We need a brand new roof,
for the whole thing's crumbling,
the slates keep tumbling
and letting in rain.

We need a brand new roof,
meaning lots of lolly
for a brand new brolly
that'lI take the strain.

We need a king's high ransom
to make it look handsome
and to tell the truth,
we need a brand new roof.

We need a brand new roof
that's fit for the weather,
watertight forever,
not a hole in sight.

We need a brand new roof,
not a new Lyceum,
open air museum
letting in sunlight.

We need some swabs and mops
for the organ stops,
so if you want proof,
we need a brand new roof!

John Clachan


Forgive me vicar, if I shout, oh what the hell!
I don't intend to make the audience blush
but I'm struggling with this dreadful villanelle.

And look! Your lovely jazz has made the organ swell.
And produced among the crowd, a mellow hush.
Forgive me vicar, if I shout, oh what the hell!

For such a worthy cause I'd hoped to sell
this poetry (I don't expect a rush)
as I'm struggling with this dreadful villanelle.

Some say a church without a roof is just a shell
then this poem's without a soul, and only mush.
Forgive me vicar, if I shout, oh what the hell!

I prayed to God that I might do this well
with dignity and a minimum of fuss.
Oh Lord! I'm struggling, with this dreadful villanelle.

Don't rely on me, to raise your roof, or ring your bell.
I admit defeat (I'm full of self disgust.)
Forgive me vicar, if I shout, oh what the hell!
For I'm struggling with this dreadful villanelle.

M. Jivani


I've built a brand-new bungalow
In hacienda style,
With floodlights on the patio
You'll see for half a mile.

And round about the garden I
Have put a six foot wall.
You'll have to use the entry-phone
If you should come to call.

Remote controls will operate
The automatic doors,
And safely on the brick-paved drive
We park our four-by-fours.

The plastic windows, double glazed,
Have Tudor leaded-lights,
And cameras for security
Will help us sleep at nights.

I have a field or two besides,
Where Cindy keeps her horse,
And makes sure no-one else can build
Too close to us, of course!

For though we live in rural peace
The Government dictates
A lot more building all round here
Of nasty cheap estates.

I'm standing for the Council just
To stop the rising tide;
For uncontrolled development
Will wreck the countryside.

Michael Lane

This very roof

You found the survey document
in your attic, you said,
you who also slept in our bedroom,
under this very roof.

So who was this Florence,
who nearly sold it to Fred?
Fred who in the end did not live
under this roof

but bought the one down the road
with space for his caravan,
or that's what he said. Who were the spirits
locked under this roof?

Was it after her the Quakers came
who made the lovely garden you let overgrow,
and wrote poems too
under this very roof?

Who came between them and you
with your children, rabbits and chickens,
and toy animals we turn up everywhere,
under this very roof?

If it needed repair and we raised it,
would decades of traumas and secrets
buzz out in an angry swarm
from under this very roof?

Or would the spirits simply soar
and disappear with a happy sigh
lazily into the summer clouds
over this very roof?

Rosemary Wagner


The steep climb's done.
Now comes the reward.
In solitude upon this grassy hill
Where thyme scents linger
Warm as home-baked bread,
I feel the sensual joy of the long summer day.

I watch a kestrel rise,
Hover above, defying gravity,
Then swoop and plummet,
Like a stone, to earth,
Knowing exactly
Where he glimpsed his prey.

Down there the river winds
Somewhere among the willows,
A new-tiled barn glares harshly up at me,
Angry and red.

Sylvia Herbert

TORRE DEL MANGIA (The Watchman's Tower)

Pausing halfway up the five hundred steps
I peer from the dark and take a slice

of the baked city; a geometry of roofs
stretches out to Tuscany, ruckled rows

of terracotta, furrowed by angled streets,
enclosing Il Campo which trickles with tourists

drifting towards awnings of burnt sienna shade.
The guidebook records each dome and pinnacle

rising from the sprawl of these shimmering tiles;
but only a sentence describes the Black Death.

The city is time locked. No rectangles of concrete
or sheets of mirrored glass, no aerials or antennae,

no yellow taxis, or wailing sirens,
no hum of traffic. There is no sound.

If I were to lift the lid of one of these toy houses
I would find a man mending a chair leg,

a woman setting bread dough to rise,
while she makes soup for her sick child.

Alison Jesson


"My mum's new boyfriend came and clipped
me round the ear.
We had a row, they threw me out,
that's why I'm here.
I've done a bit of drugs and that
since I've been on the street
but if I had a place, I'd get
back on my feet."
"My father was a tight-arsed clerk,
we'd a small house.
Just keeping up the payments was
his constant grouse.
But though he never took us out
or read to us in bed
I knew I'd always have a roof over my head."
The moral here's not clear. Some folk
have problem lives.
Elsewhere in town the middle class
drudges but survives.
But some of us have warm bright homes
in places where we please
while others walk the streets and in
the winter freeze.

Michael Lane

Oxford Circus - Underground Station

people hurry up the stairway,
muffled in silence, shoulders hunched,
feet marking time on the stone treads;
we are almost there; daylight spills
down the stairwell, spatters the walls,
splashes onto coats, hats, gloved hands,
pale as the block of ashen sky
that looms ahead; we slow right down,
tangle to a knot of shuffled
footsteps, funnel into single
file, ease past a dull brown limbless
huddle of tattered sleeping bags,
a pair of chrysalids with bowed
heads - one dark haired, the other fair
with a bright floss of long crimped curls -
tucked up on the top few steps close
to the wall, still as a tableau
in the swirling updraught of stale
warm air that washes over us;
their eyes are closed; everyone gives
them a sidelong glance, rushes by
on the other side for who knows,
a metamorphosis of wings
might yet begin and give their world
the means to undermine our own

Helen Overell

Dreaming Of Angels.

Permission withheld

M. Jivani


is a neat
in like
beds with mitred corners
sheets turned under so tight
lying down your feet are pointed

drainage dykes
have tucked-in grass
under polythene to keep
the edges in. Even the new bulbs
flower under billowing sheets of plastic
wrap in rigid parallels that march in ranks.

are neat
and small
for, after all
there's not much
land despite their
reclamation efforts.

canals conform
in straight line grids.
Amsterdam canalside
housing vertically aligns
squeezes into tight parking
spaces packed like line-end cars
in Dagenham, Halewood or Bridgend.

It's roofs
that shape
between each narrow
house, striding beside
man-made water-ways:
bell shaped, neck and raised neck
gables, funnel shaped and stepped,
hide the steep saddle roofs' triangle
that exposed would be the opposite of neat
gives architects the liberty to flaunt cornice
crolls and frontons, strapwork and pilasters.

Nikki Hopkins


Seventy-six trombones on the radio,
Musical bumps from the kids down below,
A thousand-and-one other noises,
Whatever someone's choice is -
My battered ears don't want to know !

Just give me a cottage out in an acre field
Wherever a tractor and cutter can mow,
And songs from a lively dawn chorus,
Plus cockerels to wake us.
How soon can we sell up and go ?

Carolyn Dunnett


It's when it snows you notice roofs;
days follow with no thaw in sight,
though tiles drip, one roof stays white;
by lagging, flaunts a lofty reproof.

Nikki Hopkins

Raising the Roof

The day we raised the roof
we had a party in the field.
The men left farming for the day,
allowed the crops to go unheeded,
and animals to graze unwatched
except for leery children's eyes.

The trees we'd felled last year;
they'd spent the winter seasoning.
The sawyer and his bottom lad
had cut the trunks some weeks before.
We waited only on one man,
the carpenter, to raise first beams.

You should have heard the cheer
went up when those two trees were pitched,
tenoned and mortised where they joined;
the dolly knocked in pride of place
high on the apex of the roof,
to bring us fortune through the year.

Scrambling agile to the top,
perched dicey on the corner posts,
men locked the side beams front and rear
raising steep the rafters for the thatch
we little knew would let in wind
and rain in fierce New England storms.

By eventide the job was done;
with walls infilled, and reeds in place.
The ninety men had worked all day.
Tired arms bowed dances for the young.
Wives brought heaped platters they had cooked.
We broached the rum, then raised some hell.

Nikki Hopkins

The Kitchen Fire

Aromatic notes of soot and smoke
Mingled with the smell of age-old damp.
Candle on the wash-stand, water in the pail.
Looking for the lavatory? Take the lamp -
Out in the dark by the backyard hens.
(Nineteen-forties; village in the fens.)

Underneath the pantiled catslide roof
The kitchen fire burned all year through.
Hot water baled from its left-hand boiler,
Down-draught smoky when the east wind blew.
Toast on a toasting-fork held to the embers -
Sights and smells that a child remembers.

Out of the square blackleaded oven
(No thermostat to be adjusted).
Sacrament of summer Sunday dinner -
Chicken, plum-pie and baked egg custard.
Cooked to an effortless perfection
Tasted today in recollection.

Michael Lane

First I'd count the women in hats
and then the ones with glasses
while I waited to sing the final hymn
and be dismissed into Sunday sunshine.

God was one of my hobbies, good
for rainy days, kneeling by my bedroom stool,
adorned with freshly embroidered altar cloth,
copying out prayers, to please you.

On Good Friday I'd kneel by your side
hoping to feel holy and penitent,
hungry for the day when you'd smile again
and my tongue would melt with chocolate.

I willingly went to confirmation class,
confessed sins I'd not committed,
walked proudly in white with the others
and longed for my own mystical experience.

Only at Midnight Mass, the candlelit church
warmed by the bodies of winter-coated villagers,
when we sang all your favourite carols,
did you manage to look glad.

Now in the snow-flurried graveyard,
clipped yews topped with white line my path,
as I search for your name.
Chrysanthemum petals wither

between the frosted tombs of the women
in hats who lie in frozen rows,
their stories crumbling beneath brave words
inscribed above their dates.

Alison Jesson


I find photographs of her in a corner of your attic,
kept all these years, locked in an old Revelation suitcase,
the kind that you can cram full, and then must squash to shut;
you've kept her letters too.

I pause for a moment uncertain about the lock,
before I force it open with a knife
and rifle through your private things;
things you have left, not knowing the moment of your passing.

In neat bundles tied with string are other letters
from other women, all confessing love for you;
and I feel the heat in my cheeks as I trespass on
your early romances.

I'd like to think you've left them there as trophies,
to be found after you were gone, but perhaps
you were reluctant to start putting your affairs in order -
I long to pull you back.

I have my own locked suitcase in the corner of my attic,
full of rescued pieces from my past, and sometimes
I sit amongst the cobwebs, sift through the pages,
and very nearly throw them away.

Alison Jesson

Over the northern roofs

Over the northern roofs
a cold breath

Under the Oxford eaves
light feathers


Rosemary Wagner


Glowing and warm
from an evening of love
I look at the browns
of the log-roof above
and rivet my gaze;
you a minute gone

and the shock not come;
now night-cool the air
wafts easily through
the window-crack; and bare
as a goose-fleshed ghost
it creeps in your shape.

Rosemary Wagner


Pantiles on the barn below the rickyard,
Mellow in sun and vivid red in rain,
Have lain in quiet rows through all the seasons
Protecting carts and tools and bags of grain.

And underneath the eaves there live the martins,
Their sculptured nests secrete a hungry brood,
Jostling for space, with gaping beaks all ready,
Trusting, awaiting parents with their food.

Cool in the rafters' dark and secret places
Spiders, bats, mice stay silent, undisturbed,
Only at night, when owls patrol the rooftop,
Can haunting cries and skittering feet be heard.

Sylvia Herbert


That sketch I did from my bolt-hole attic room
that looked out over half the roofs of Redland -
all chimney pots, tiled ridges, slated slopes.

Those firm strokes of graphite on fine grained paper
showing dormer windows, steep pitched gable ends
of tall town houses, the distant steeple.

The way the roofscape underpins the sky's bulk,
shields the solid citizens who go about
unseen beneath the eaves, their terraced lives.

Helen Overell

CHANTICLERE (The Dorking Cockerel)

He keeps his vigil,
Twists and turns to gain a better view.
Not a mist-wraith, not an evening star escapes him,
He glitters in the sun against the blue.

People move
Along the High street
Talking, laughing, mainly unaware;
Some may wander through the wide church door beneath him
To rest awhile or say a silent prayer.

Out beyond
The summer meadows
Where the dark woods climb the chalky hill,
There upon the warm, dry turf the skylark's nesting
Free to hold to earth or soar at will.

He stands in envy,
Looking down upon the grey church roof
Weather-worn, the dark ridge-tiles support the starlings,
Slipped slates below are less than waterproof.

He asks the question
"How much longer will this church remain
Which ages-long withstood the wildest wind and weather?
Will it and I survive, flourish again?"

The bird regards us
Twists and turns to fasten in his gaze
All who pass or enter for a quiet moment
Look up, be thankful, make a gift of praise.

Sylvia Herbert

May Evening at St Paul's, Dorking

something about the skyline made me look
again - ladders formed from the bones of trees
lay end to end along the roof's incline
until they reached the foot of the steeple
where they stood almost upright, rung after
rung leading upwards to the topmost point

someone had climbed them, no doubt to tidy
up for the moon hung bold as a pared nail
and perhaps had thought to use for stepping
stones, the stars, tentative at first maybe
then leaping in some hopscotch burst of joy,
no lightweight though, for all the stars had sunk

somewhere out of view leaving the deep blue
sky suffused with silver, probably just
right for swimming backstroke, trailing ripples,
splashing phosphorescent droplets, gazing
at the roof tops to find the best route back,
leaving damp footprints and dripping puddles

somehow soft as wind ruffled cornflowers,
warm as feathers, fading to faint shadows
with outlines grittier than sand, shiny
as mica, that shift and drift down into
the gutters where the ladders rooted way
above my head beckon towards the sky

Helen M Overell


One. Grow limbs longer
then a giraffe's neck.
Bend your knees. Stretch.
Watch your back my love
and push.

Two. Employ those cute Amish boys.

Three. Get drunk down the pub.
Hijacking the karaoke
sing, Me and Bobby McGee.

Four. Let the shrill vowels
of your infant's cries rise
and rise. Until the neighbours

Five. In the dentist's chair
tilt your head well back.
Drop your lower jaw. Prepare
and scream.

Six. Give money to the homeless
at Waterloo.
(With the strict proviso
that they don't spend it
on alcohol
or drugs.)

Seven. Attend all fund raising events
held. by the vicar. And buy raffle ticket
(1st prize a bottle of Jamesons
or two hundred Silk Cut)

M. Jivani

The spire of St Martin's

Next time you go walking
on Box Hill or Ranmore
Rose Hill or the Nower,
let the pencil-sharp point
in its rising
draw your eyes
down to the cuddled-up roofs
of the cluster of Dorking,
and inspire

contemplation. Watch
the dark woods hold the town
in their arms,
the red houses rock the church
at their heart
and the cockerel flash gold
on the spire.

Rosemary Wagner