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Donkin's World: Theft Of A Garden Path

Author and journalist Richard Donkin tells of the theft of stone and history.

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Many years ago, before moving down south, we lived in a lovely old stone cottage near Huddersfield. It must have been about 300 years old. There was something right about the house. It was a happy home. It had a stone roof, sash windows, Bakelite switches for the lights and a real front garden with a York stone path embedded in the lawn and worn in all the right places.

Not long after we moved the path was stolen. A lorry turned up in the middle of the day and the men who came with it, lifted all the old stone flags plus some coping stones on the wall and drove away with them. I suppose the slabs ended up in an architectural salvage yard destined for someone else's property. But they belonged with our old house as much as anything belongs anywhere. Not our loss, you may say. We had moved. But I still felt a sense of loss, an anger that something so right had been destroyed. No insurance payout, no new path could replace the old one. It really was irreplaceable.

Some people say change happens - get used to it. It seems to me that paths are a record of change. When you take away that record, what's left?

Theft of a garden path

Splash puddles formed in
Hollows worn by centuries of
Foot scrape. The postmanís
Boots, a soldier home
On leave, trench mud,
Powdered, dusting the
Wiped coconut matting,
Before the telegram,
And the bearerís
Funeral face, lace
Curtains hiding grief,
Etched episodes of
News, hope, sadness,
Love and celebration in
Layered fermentation.
Smooth surfaced,
Grass-edged slabs,
Masonís serrations,
Chiseled through
Sedimentary time, fine
Jurassic bed,
Kilned in the oven earth,
Abandoned in an
Unrecorded time,
Ignored in the chaos of
Manís irrelevance,
Quarried, shaped, settled,
Respected and admired,
Even, envied in their evenness
Envied, coveted, wanted and
Removed, reclaimed in a
Builderís morning, all
Shovels, picks and hard hats,
Whistling, donkey-jacket
Innocence, concealing
Base intentions,
Hauled to another place, face
Flaked, grimed
Forgotten stories stripped in
Mute acceptance,
Cold, silent, unremarked,
Prisoned indifference and
Careless of ages.


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