Tribute to Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire
A poem by Alan Franks

DISTANTLY
 
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire,
Doesn’t dwell, and never did, in Devon
But Derbyshire, while the Duke of Gloucester lives
In Kensington and seldom sees the Severn.
 
Edinburgh, as we know, resides in Buckingham
Palace, and, from my limited line of knowledge,
The Duke of Norfolk has lived for several centuries
In Arundel, West Sussex, rather than Norwich.
 
Which probably goes to show a lot of things
About the nature of the English toff,
But mainly, when you think you’ve got them placed,
You’re actually a very long way off.
Alan Franks wrote this poem about Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire, published here today to mark her passing.


DISTANTLY
 
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire,
Doesn’t dwell, and never did, in Devon
But Derbyshire, while the Duke of Gloucester lives
In Kensington and seldom sees the Severn.
 
Edinburgh, as we know, resides in Buckingham
Palace, and, from my limited line of knowledge,
The Duke of Norfolk has lived for several centuries
In Arundel, West Sussex, rather than Norwich.
 
Which probably goes to show a lot of things
About the nature of the English toff,
But mainly, when you think you’ve got them placed,
You’re actually a very long way off.






Alan Franks won the 2014 
Wilfred Owen Association WW1 poetry competition. Here is his winning poem.


The Manor



It’s said the old manor was tinder-dry that summer,
With heat holding the corners of the air
So hard above the overgrown parterre
And tangled banks, it skewed the view with simmering.
Through the long, prone afternoons the clicking
Of expanding pans and pails was heard.
The silence, through exhaustion, of the birds
Amplified the timbers’ death-watch ticking.
Down the long perspectives of the passages
High-born souls nursed half-remembered grievances,
Strained to scan the lie of old allegiances
Forged in the fierce madness of intermarriage.
By the har-har, past the kitchen garden,
A single pistol shot, the day destroyed.
Fired by some strange disaffected boy
Through the heart of the unsuspecting warden.
The echo cracked the ceiling of the sky,
Which set a-shiver the chambered air indoors
And sent a draught down to the service corridors
Where restless household staff were standing by.
The Dowager, having dreamed herself to royalty,
Was authorising death-writs by the dozen,
Signing off some dim and distant cousins
Whose in-laws allegedly faltered in their loyalty.
Students of the subsequent disaster –
Themselves at odds through public vanity –
Unite in this belief; a vast insanity
Must have underlain such wanton slaughter.
Some pinned the blame on homo aristocratus,
That classy villain known for his receding
Chin worn down by centuries of inbreeding
To make him look deceptively innocuous.
This much is known; the building blazed and blazed
Until the walls were air and air was flame
And only the foundation shapes remained
As groundplan templates when successors raised
Their fresh construction. In the briefly binding
Calm that came, the estate’s refurbished sky
Grew great with chastened migrant birds so high
You couldn’t see them dropping their fresh kindling.




The Notes of Doctor Newgate
By Alan Franks
Muswell Press

Coming across these, we soon find they are not medical notes about Dr. Newgate’s patients, but writing of an even more private sort. This is the chronicle of a middle-aged suburban GP whose life is undergoing a series of crises. The youthful ideology he brought to the profession has been replaced by despair at the reality of his work with an ageing but seemingly immortal caseload.

 

His home life is a set of estrangements from his troubled wife Imogen, his angry student son Ricky and the aupair Inez, whose presence in the house he can’t quite explain.

 

William Newgate is himself recovering from the serious condition of alcoholism and noticing that his peers in Alcoholics Anonymous have a better grasp of it than his medical colleagues. Though a non-believer, he finds himself immersed in a programme of spiritual renewal, whether he likes it or not.

 

His life is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a young patient called Serena, who is convinced he has the answers to her confused and abused life. In unspairing detail he records the development of their relationship – a dangerous and reckless liason which will almost certainly spell the end of his career, and more, if it comes to light – as it surely will.

 

The Notes of Dr. Newgate is a richly comic but profound study of  addiction in its myriad forms – not just drink and drugs but also the lethal lures of gambling, power, lust, even love and faith themselves.

 

It is a subject that the author Alan Franksknows from the inside, having recovered from alcoholism and working with other sufferers over the past twenty five years.

 

 

His previous fiction includes the classic newspaper comedy Boychester’s Bugle, which the novelist Tom Sharpe found “brilliantly comic,” the Sixties family sagaThe Sins of the Sons and the award-winning Going Over. Among his many plays are The Mother Tongue, which starred Prunella Scales, Previous Convictions and The Edge of the Land, set in the great East Coast floods of 1953.

 

He wrote for The Times for more than thirty years, covering a wide variety of arts subjects and social issues. He interviewed such major music stars as Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie; world-famous authors including James Baldwin, Arthur Miller and Muriel Spark; leading actors and directors including Ian McKellen, Peter Hall, Judi Dench and Woody Allen.

 

In the 1980s he wrote a regular column for the paper, Alan Franks’s Diary, which became a book and then a Radio 4 series, which he read himself. He has twice been nominated for a British Press Award.

 

His poems have won several awards, including the Wigtown Prize, Scotland’s largest. Jo Shapcott, former president of the Poetry Society, has described his work as “intensely musical.” With the singer Patty Vetta he has recorded five albums of his own songs and given hundreds of performances at clubs and festivals throughout Britain. One of the songs, The Wishfulness Waltz, became the title track of a CD by the veteran English band Fairport Convention. The late Jake Thackray called his compositions “lovely, true, complex and addictive things.”






Read more here about Going Over.

Alan Franks

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