Anthony J. M. Brady CELEBRATNG BLAISDON
review by Norman Warwick
(Anthony J.M) Tony Brady (left) is a poet and author, and occasional writer of articles and short stories for both Sidetracks And Detours and our Sunday companion PASS IT ON. We have published several articles about him, and a few written by him. In March 2023 we told how he was ´Reading The Forest´ and now in 2024, whilst still only in January we have included one of his short stories and a brief interview with him in PASS IT ON 34 on 7th January, and now a review of his new poetry anthology Celebrating Blaisdon.
Blaisdon is a village and civil parish in the Forest of Dean of Gloucestershire, England, about ten miles west of Gloucester. Its population in 2005 was estimated by Gloucestershire County Council to be 249. An estimate in 2012 placed the population at 420. The local church is dedicated to St Michael.
John Dowding of Tanhouse Farm, Blaisdon developed the popular jam-making plum “Blaisdon Red” in the late 19th century.
Blaisdon Hall sits on a hill overlooking the village. It was built in 1874. It was used as a seminary and school by the Salesians of Don Bosco from 1935 to 1995. It was an agricultural college Hartpury from 1995 to 1999. It has since become a private residence.
WE´RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER BOOKSHELF
I most recently met up with Tony Brady, author of the poetry anthology of Celebrating Blasidon, earlier this month when he arrived on Lanzarote for a weekend promotional tour to announce the publication of Celebrating Blaisdon, a place close to his heart since being a schoolboy there.
He regaled our mutual friend, Lanzarote based poet, Rita Schmidt, and I with a multi-angled story about Blaisdon´s royal connections. As I bit into my Tortilla Baguette and picked at my chips and sipped my beer and as Rita tasted her special cup of tea, Tony played all the other parts of host, historian and tour guide.
He told us about a couple of Blasidon´s 20th century connections with Royalty. He told us that Queen Mary, great-grandmother of King Charles III, passed through Bailsdon shortly after Her Majesty had officially opened a new annex to the Forest Of Dean Dike Hospital in the nineteen fifties.
Furthermore, Tony´s family photo archives contain evidence of a subsequent Royal connection with his family. A black and white photograph first published in The Kentish Times and more recently included in one of our Sidetracks And Detours features on Tony, shows the then HM Prince Charles being accompanied by the author of this proud little anthology, who was also the founder member of Emmaus*. The photograph was taken at the official opening of the first, London based housing / resettlement / work / residential project. The project was situated on what was at the time of 1997 the challenging sharp-end of inner city deprivation, on the Glyndon Estate, Woolwich in the Borough of Greenwich.
Now a third Royal connection with Blaisdon has been forged in the 21st century by the presentation of a copy of this booklet, Celebrating Blaisdon, to King Charles III will confirm to His Majesty that the project he launched all those years ago still provides a successful and effective service for formerly homeless people on their greatly improved social-housing estate.
It also says much about my friend Tony Brady that he still spends one day a week (although now in his eighties) working in the Gloucester Emmaus Project where he is engaged with other volunteers as a second hand book valuer.
*Emmaus International has always been involved in fighting for rights and access to decent housing and it continues to pursue the fight led by Abbé Pierre by supporting a number of housing projects run by Emmaus groups around the world. Since 2015, Emmaus International has counted on the support of the Abbé Pierre Foundation to finance this housing programme. It allocates 10% of its annual funds to international projects (which, in turn, represents 10% of its entire budget).
Every year, the Abbé Pierre Foundation and Emmaus International work together to identify projects to improve Emmaus organisations’ housing conditions in Africa, the Americas, and in Asia and Europe. In practice, the projects are first submitted to the Emmaus International Board, which decides whether or not to forward them to the Foundation’s International Committee, which issues an advisory opinion. The final decision on funding is then made by the Abbé Pierre Foundation Bureau.
Since this programme was launched, over thirty projects have benefitted from funding under this partnership.
The strap-line of this new beautifully produced anthology is ´poetry fit for a King´. It is a fair epithet, too, because Tony Brady set out to create pages to convey words and images of Blaisdon to mark and celebrate this historic village in the year of the coronation of HM King Charles III.
Another purpose was to let the book become a fundraiser, with much of the proceeds handed over to complement the already significantly improved community amenities, and to pay tribute to those who made it all possible.
Tony also sensibly and affectionately says Celebrating Blaisdon is also dedicated to the Blaisdon diaspora. This, of course, includes those who have, or even may not have, lived in the village at one time, but who moved away and yet still retain familial or social connection with the village.
What an interesting link all this makes with that told in our Sidetracks And Detours feature about the forever intertwined histories of San Antonio de Texas and Lanzarote ever since 1731. Check out our archives.
Strip away such pomp and ceremony, though, and Tony´s poetry and selection of appropriate photography is a perfect way of Celebratng Blaisdon. His words are straightforward yet strong enough to carry what is essentially a biography and further history into the modern and make it relevant. His gentle lyricism matches the region´s gentle green slopes and agricultural landscape. Tony´s poems are both enhanced by and an enhancement of the photographs that accompany them.
Life wasn´t all fun and games for the teenage Tony, and there were some real or imagined demons and dangers around the region at the time. Allusions to some of this can be detected in the texts of his poems, but for the vast majority of the time the tone is a bucolic reflection of a place where nothing and everything happened as one.
There are echoes of the days of Cider With Rosie, and even All Creatures Great And Small,. though Tony is far too humble to place himself in proximity with Laurie Lee and James Herriott. Nevertheless, he has a wonderful turn of phrase such as
Now autumn´s kiss is winter´s bite.
I watch the whirring mass of birds flee
to distant safety of bush and tree
Not only does Tony Brady adorn his poetry with complementary photographs taken by friends and volunteers but he also selects a few appropriate and beautiful phrases and aphorisms from Shakespeare and other writers..
Anthony J.M. Brady lived and worked in Blaisdon from 1952 until 1960. Until 2020 he undertook civil and voluntary service in Belgium, France, Northern Ireland and Germany.
In 2020 he returned to live in Blaisdon but still satisfies both his love of the village and his own wanderlust by travelling in Europe and The Canary Islands.