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The Villages of East Anglia

6th May 2021

Shakespeare has had a row with his jester Will Kemp who has left the acting company The king's Men in a fit of pique and, for a bet, decided to dance across East Anglia in nine days. We find him in Chelmsford dining alone...

The clown needs sustenance and finds a bar
that's selling fish and chips. The Chinese sales
assistant asks 'sore finger?' and he laughs
at this attempt at salt and vinegar -
a better joke than Shakespeare ever wrote,
he thinks with just a little bitterness.

Kemp must now turn north from the A12.
He seeks advice from passers-by who say,
'the best way is go back and get a bus'.
Ignoring this unhelpful tip, he finds the way.
He skips to Broomfield with its round tower church
denoting Anglo-Saxon origins
so it was not surprising when a hoard 
of jewels, coins and weapons were unearthed 
in eighteen eighty eight which go unnoticed
next to Sutton Hoo's ship burial. 

Kemp passes too the Broomfield Hospital 
built in the nineteen thirties for TB
with lengthy wings to catch the salubrious sun,
a revolutionary architecture
then which still looks modernist today.
Three hundred beds were filled with only men
who took the outdoor air in winter too
and ate the food grown on the Broomfield farm.

At Little Waltham Kemp stops to refuel
and buys a coffee in a wayside pub, 
the White Hart, which is serving Sunday lunch.
'I've got to ask...' a customer begins.
Kemp tells them he is dancing to Norwich.
's you do!' the customer concludes.
The village has a carwash which is staffed
by several hoody-clad Albanians,
who let Kemp wield a jet-spray for a snap.
A vision of Till Eulenspiegel coms to mind,
the German merry prankster of old time. 

The villages come by like strung out pearls.
And here's Great Leighs whose willow tree hangs low 
inviting Kemp to sing the Willow Song 
from Shakespeare's play Othello. It is sung
by Desdemona, wife of Othello,
whom he mid-song for jealousy dispatches.
There is a part for clown but Kemp had died 
before the premiere in sixteen o three.
Perhaps his tabor player Thomas Sly was cast.
He knew the ropes and had accompanied 
thus far the jester like an unsung Sherpa. 

Two youths  tagged on as well and had been with
Will Kemp from Chelmsford, but the rain had made 
mud baths along the route and detained
the boys so inextricably that Kemp
had left them ere they freed themselves. 

And now Kemp trips to Braintree and the streets
half-timbered housing and the church all speak
of centuries of history. Kemp cartwheels 
into Bradford Street, the oldest street 
in Essex and third oldest in the country. 

The White Hart welcomes him and has a room.
The landlord says it's likely Kemp stayed here 
four hundred years ago although there's been
a rebuild obviously since Tudor times. 
The tiles above the entrance with the deer
are twentieth century but the name goes back
to King Richard the Second as we know. 
The town became a centre of the wool
trade in East Anglia and in the plague 
in sixteen sixty five a third of Braintree
residents succumbed. The landlord says
it's possible that Kemp stayed at the Swan
because it is as old, but where the White
Hart has gone upmarket over time,
The Swan has done the opposite and now
is just a rough and ready boozer in the town.

Kemp can't decide between the Chinese pizza,
Turkish fish and chips or Thai takeout
and in the end he picks a pint of Doom Bar 
and a bag of crisps down at The Swan.
The landlord doesn't know if kemp was in,
but he's got some ancient photos which he shows.
They're all Victorian and caption-less
but someone at the bar remembers that
the Braintree church is where Dick Turpin wed.