The Suitcase

I seem, at present, to be stuck on the theme of Family Memories. Why this should be so, I do not know, but it is certainly connected with my sense of age and of time passing. However…

There is a group called The Green Room Gals of which I am an honorary member.  (How it got its name is another story.) Each month or so – for the meetings are erratic – we gather at someone’s house to share a meal, ideas, our latest writing adventures, gossip and poems – these being composed on a title proposed by one of the members. The most recent title was The Suitcase, hence the following poem.

It is an evocative title and those of you reading this, may have felt a slight shock of recognition, for ‘A Suitcase’ evokes complex memories: of travel, of change, of moving on, of leaving, of selection and perhaps of holiday.

I certainly felt some of this and it just so happens that in my study there is a suitcase tucked under the book case. I had not looked at it for years.. It is small and belongs to a by-gone age. It is what I think was once called a ‘lady’s case’ being light, and small and clothbound. It is the kind of case that was designed to fit on the luggage racks made of woven cord that used to be fitted in railway carriages. We are here talking about the age of steam, of windows that opened with a leather strap, of smoke that blew and clattering rails. I had even forgotten what the suitcase contained, until…



I was not ready for this.

But dutiful… for t’was my request –

“A title to give shape to thought” –

And Robyn, kindly’ had obliged….

Her topic sounded in my heart,

dredging up thoughts without a name,

memories I could not frame.


The suitcase was still waiting there,

hidden within my book-filled room,

un-touched, un-locked, un-opened,

yet, biding the time, it would reveal

the coiled, blue snake of Memory,

at rest within, but poised to strike.


I was not ready for this –

One never is – seventy years swept away!

And the boy sees the case

In his grandmother’s hands

Containing the things that a smart woman needs

Departing for York on the train.


He sees too his mother –

this , some years on – packing

his vests and his best Sunday pants.

Pressing a pound under his socks.

Then a kiss and a wink and a walk

to the bus, the future a blank.


And now…

Too fragile for travel, battered and worn

the lock rusted over, the canvas torn.

placed on my table, I open it wide

As I did on the day my mother died.


Remembering how I gathered her things –

Her hand written notes, her blue earings.

Some postcards of Scarbro, a picture of me,

Decorations she kept for the Christmas tree,

Tortoise-shell clips to hold back her hair,

The glasses she lost down the back of a chair,

Poems writ on glass, an old piece of lace –

I’d bundled them all in my grandma’s suit-case.


No, I was not ready for this,

this bite of memory.

But yet I am glad,

glad to see these treasures again…

and my tears…

my tears are not of sadness,

but for a life, well spent,

for a mother I loved,

who was also my friend.

The Leaf

A short poem in memory of my grandmother, Elsie Brown.

I do not know if this has ever happened to you, but there are moments in life it seems, when suddenly events come together and create a new awareness. It can be something one reads, someone you meet, a chance remark, a forgotten letter discovered at the back of a shelf…. Whatever.

The following poem is inspired by one such moment and, like a coin cast into a still lake, the ripples spread wider and wider.



I open the book with care.

It is old, the binding loose.

It has stood, unregarded,

On my shelf for years.


Revealed is a single leaf,

Still green despite the years,

Pressed tight, its shape flat,

Stamped upon the page.


It was my gardma’s book, I know

unopended, I guess,

Since the moment she,

Placed the leaf within.


And what was that moment?

What made her pause?

And with the love that marked her life

Chose a leaf to mark her place.


Had the bread risen?

Or washing dried on the line?

Or had the postman knocked twice

Bearing a letter from overseas,


News from a man,

Somewhere in France,

Trapped in the trenches,

Knee deep in water,

Sending a message,

Home from the front.

“Be home for Christmas.

This war can’t last long.”


And survive, he did,

my Grandfather,

Though talk he did not,

Of the ‘holiday,’

Of the Passchendael flowers

Or the smell of the Somme.


Or so I was told…

For I came much later, on the scene,

In the midst of another war

Another story.




I replaced the leaf

Where it had rested

For many years,

And closed the book,


Unprepared for the sudden…

The stab of grief

At the memory of a woman I loved,

Who died when I was far from home

And left too small a legacy.


Sweet memories. Yes, and this…

A leaf,


between pages



Phillip Mann

Dec 5th 2015



For Hazel

I am a turning point in a new novel called The Head Man. If a turning point can be likened to a bend in the road, it means that I can not clearly see the ending yet. I expect surprises, for this novel has had many surprises for me, not least the following short poem.

I was writing about the death of a character called Hazel. She was the beloved of Sir Gawayn – yes, him of the Green Knight story – and he, faithful but faithless too, returned too late to save her. Standing at her grave side, Gawayn saw the following short poem which, in its own way, is a summary of the entire book… to which I must now return.



Spare a thought for Hazel,

Who lies beneath this stone,

Who loved a man, who rode away,

And n’er came riding home.


She loved too well, not wisely,

And love can be a thief.

The golden coin it steals is joy,

The change it leaves is grief.


But yet, if Hazel woke up now,

With smiling lips she’d say,

“Not to love is not to live,

No matter the price we pay.

No act of love is ever lost.

We count the joy, not the cost,

For lovers do what lovers must,’


These are the words she’d say.

She’d say, “Not to love is not to live,

No matter the price we pay.”

In June 2015 I heard the sad news of the death of my old friend Jean-Philippe Jugand. He had been ill for some time but still, the reality of death always catches you unaware. And, of course, death always brings back memories.

Jean-Philippe wanted to change the world, not by politics – he rather detested and distrusted the kind of Politics with which we are familiar – but he sought change on a more primal and visceral level. He wanted to improve the status of mankind, though he might not have put it that way. At the same time, he wanted something vital and anarchic; something which can live as a dream, but which is hard to realize in writing or reality given the social structures we have. This desire for change explains his love of the theatre and the works of writers as varied as Alfred Jarry, Ionesco and Molière.

Jean-Philippe was a pioneer and an organizer. He dreamt up Le Théâtre des Iles, and drummed up the financial support which meant that for some years a small company of actors could travel from Wellington in New Zealand to some of the French speaking islands of the Pacific – New Caledonia, Vanuatu (New Hebrides as it was then) and Tahiti. Often our performances took place in isolated settlements, and to audiences who had never seen live theatre. The story of these adventures is yet to be written.

I composed the following poem to be read at J-P’s funeral. It celebrates some of the memories of those times.

And I remember… 

for Jean-Philippe Jugand.

And I remember that young man coming,

Treading the long shady path down to Drama,

His walk, I observed, almost a running.

Urgent! A man with a mission, I thought

I did not know him, but that meant nothing

for I was new to Victoria too.

Perhaps, like me, he was a new teacher.

Perhaps, like me, he was just a bit lost.

But no. It was Monsieur. Mann he was seeking,

His accent French and his manner quite droll.

He had a an idea… would like my assistance…

Using Drama to make his students speak French.


I remember…

Claire making Bouillabaisse, down by the sea

And J-P’s great vision, Le Theatre des Iles,

Ionesco and Molière, Jim, Jarry and me,

to name but a few of the students and friends

caught up by the dream.

I remember…

Il Suffit d’un Baton. The laughter of children

Du Pétard à Ditchwater Creek.

The sun and the surf, the stars and the spiders,

Adventures and laughter to last us all week.


Remember too…

A long-distance friendship,

Embracing time

and two continents.

Bridging a turbulent sea

to settle at last

in a place called Choussy.


Alas! La recherche du temps perdu!

But remembering the good times.

Now, by the clear lens of memory,

Beyond dispute or descant

or the corrosive power of time and ailment….

I say,

Bon Voyage. Maestro.

Mon ami,


                                                            Phillip Mann 26th June 2015

A Christmas Story.

In the spring of 1892, my grandfather, William Southerly Brown of Nottingham in England, completed his apprenticeship as a glass engraver and maker of stained-glass windows. For his trade certificate he created a large oval widow in the centre of which he set the head of Shakespeare, seen in profile. Surrounding this he engraved twelve scenes from Hamlet on alternating circles of red and blue glass: the whole design held together by an open filigree of entwined lilies.

This exhibit, still extant at Odd Fellows Hall in Bramble Lane, Sheffield won first prize at an exhibition in London, judged by no less a celebrity than the aged but still sharply perceptive, William Morris. It was the lilies which captured his attention, methinks, and perhaps a sense that in Southerly Brown he had found a kindred, creative spirit.

Thus, at the age of 22, Southerly, seemed destined for an illustrious and lucrative career as a master glazier to the wealthy, creating christening bowls, wedding cups, funeral urns and such. But Southerly’s mind was set on other horizons. Growing up in Nottingham, Southerly was a child of the Working Class. He had known poverty: had heard the hacking cough of his father who was a coal miner and died spitting blood; had seen his mother age prematurely her arms mottled from immersion in washing water and her knees arthritic from kneeling to scrub. Southerly wanted to create a better world.

I have read his diaries – have them before me now – and know that he saw himself as a man of the new era: a socialist, inspired by a vision of a world where,- and here I quote, “Poverty and hunger can be eradicated and human dignity assured; where men and women can unite in equality; a world in which lowly or impoverished birth need be no impediment.”

He wrote those words in 1893, the year he set sail for New Zealand.

New Zealand was booming when Southerly stepped ashore in Wellington. Everywhere there was building – banks, warehouses, hotels, churches.

Southerly quickly found employment engraving monograms on the windows of the Puketai Import and Export Company of Dunedin.  Within Two years, as a result of hard work and thrifty living, he has amassed enough capital to set up his own small company, which he called simply Southerly Ornamental and Stained Glass. In the shop window he displayed example of his work including a picture of his celebrated Shakespeare sequence.

Even so… his beginnings in business were shaky, but the turning point came when he secured a large contract in Wellington, designing and installing glass panels in the doors of Government buildings. This gave him important contacts which led to other opportunities. Southerly Glass prospered.

But while he discussed business and worked as a craftsman by day, Southerly studied by night. He pored over the works of J. S. Mill and the anarchist Kropotkin. He read Tolstoy, Shaw and Ibsen. He worked his way through a battered and much thumbed copy of Karl Marx writings.

Avid for conversation, he joined a political reading group called the Freedom Through Literacy Society and, at their monthly gatherings, he encountered men and women, who, like himself, wanted to see New Zealand become a society based on equality and justice – a Brave New World.  It was at one of these meetings that he met Dominique Volet, the daughter of one of the leaders of the Paris Commune of 1871 who had escaped to New Zealand with her mother in the 1880s.

Dominique was guest speaker and her topic was “Women and the Future”. She and Southerly spent the whole night talking and two months later, after a whirlwind romance, they were married. Through Dominique, Southerly came to know some of the French poets, painters and radical thinkers of that age. Diverse in their life-style they might have been, nevertheless they all agreed upon one fundamental principle: that Art, in whatever manifestation, if it were to be at the forefront of social change, needed to speak with the common tongue.

1904 was an important year for Southerly Brown. In January my father Sebastian Brown was born. And in that same month the firm, Southerly O and S Glass, won the valuable contract to design, make and install all the stained glass windows for the new church of St Corinthian being built in Wellington. The subject of the windows was the responsibility of the church but the designs were left to Southerly.

The ink on the contract was scarcely dry before Southerly set to work. While not a religious man, he knew he could pour his turbulent feelings about life and society into whatever moments from the Bible the church wanted illustrating. Equally, the contract was big enough to allow him to establish the kind of workshop he had always dreamed of.

He took on new workers: a woman to help with the draughting and several apprentices including two Maori brothers. From the beginning he encouraged his workers to think of themselves as artist-craftsmen. He shared his skills lavishly, explained his designs and encouraged discussion and debate. In his enthusiasm he even organized evening lectures for his workers on literature, philosophy, art and politics. Dominique attended, and sat at his side, suckling her baby.

By and large, the church council liked Southerly’s designs. They chuckled over the sequence illustrating “Miracles from the Gospels”, appreciating the  look of astonishment on the disciples’ faces as the corpse of Lazarus opened its eyes and reached up. They nodded in appreciation at the way Jesus, broad shouldered and muscular as befits the son of a carpenter, strode over the waves of the sea of Galilee to join the small boat where the disciples were bucked and tossed. But their favourite by far was the large Nativity window, which blended into one brilliant image the cosmic star, the human birth, the Wise Men, the Shepherds and the whole world of Nature, from a thoughtful donkey, yea right down to a humble spider spinning its web in the eaves of the cattle shed. “We are one family,” commented Southerly, winking to the apprentices behind the retreating backs of the church committee. And if he had been speaking some ten years later he might have added the word “Comrades”.

Meanwhile, the building of the church of St Corinthian was proceeding apace, and all might have been well except for the arrival of Dr Montague Pollitt. This worthy had been brought out from England to oversee the artistic work – the candelabra, vestments etc. – associated with the church.

A former member of the British Academy, a specialist in Renaissance art, with, as he never failed to mention, a doctorate in Classics and Theology from Magdalen College at Oxford University, Dr Pollitt soon made his critical presence felt. For whatever reason – a clash of artistic vision perhaps, or just simple snobbery – Dr Pollitt detested Southerly’s work. And Pollitt was a formidable enemy with his erudition, sarcastic manner and high domed forehead.

At the meeting called to give final approval to the designs before the engraving of the glass, Dr Pollitt casually observed that he thought the image of the Virgin in the Nativity was a bit “fleshy”.

Southerly knew to which part of the Virgin Dr Pollitt was referring. “The woman is lactating like any young mother,” he said.

“But this is not any young mother. This is the mother of God,” answered Pollitt.

Later he complained that the disciples gathered around Jesus at Gethsemene looked “like common working men – not the elect of Our Saviour.”

“They were common working men” retorted my grandfather. “Plain men, with calloused hands.” He paused and then added with relish “Men who smelled of fish and goats.”

“But the church should ennoble, not demean, else how shall we better ourselves?’ Dr Pollitt answered smoothly. “I don’t know much about modem art’s pre-occupation with sordid scenes, but I suggest you take a look at the works of Giotto.”

My grandfather’s diary does not record his reply. At the end of the evening, the church fathers voted on the designs and Southerly’s work was approved – but only by a narrow margin.

Thereafter, antagonism between Southerly and Dr Pollitt grew. Not content with sniping at the artistic work, Pollitt involved himself with the accounts and even claimed that there were discrepancies between the materials ordered and those used. Once he arrived at the workshop unannounced with members of the church council to make a spot check. Nothing incriminating was found of course, but the working atmosphere was irredeemably poisoned, and this led my grandfather to commit a singular act of folly.

One night, shortly before the finished windows were due to be transported to the church, he engraved the face of Dr Pollitt into one of the windows. The window showed Herod ordering the slaughter of the innocents. Dr Pollitt’s face was undeniably the model for the angry king.

The likeness was noticed only when the windows were unveiled. Some men might have taken this as a backhanded compliment. Others might have laughed. But Dr Pollitt was enraged. He insisted that the offending pane of glass be removed immediately. He accused my grandfather of bringing him and the church into disrepute, of making a mockery of a most serious occasion. Then, in a series of articles in the newspapers, he launched a full-scale attack on all the windows, claiming they were poorly executed and even that some of the images bordered on blasphemy. “Jesus evicting the moneylenders from the Temple could in Mr Southerly Brown’s rendering be mistaken for a country lout fighting in a tavern,” said Pollitt, and he called for the windows to be removed.

The church fathers, embarrassed by the publicity, ordered Southerly to redesign some of the windows. He refused and told them that if there were any faults in the windows they were in the eye of the beholder. This, of course, angered the church council who promptly had all the windows removed and replaced them with panes of frosted glass.

As a final insult, Dr Pollitt secretly arranged for all the windows to be sold at auction. Which done, he returned to England.

The windows were sold before my grandfather found out. They disappeared to places as varied as a sheep station in Canterbury and a lampshade maker in Timaru.  The effect on my grandfather was devastating. It broke his spirit. For a while he tried to repurchase some of the windows. But it was impossible. Gradually he changed from a man of good humour to what now might be called an “angry radical” One who saw the Establishment, in all its manifestations, as the enemy. In 1914, on the eve of war, he sold Southerly’s Glass and bought a large comfortable house in Mt Victoria for Dominique and young Sebastian: it this house where I now live and have my architect’s studio. Then he departed for Europe. He traveled to Russia and, so the story goes, was killed in the fighting at St Petersburg.

But, to return to the stained glass windows. Just a few years ago the magnificent Nativity window which had disappeared without trace, turned up at an auction in Wellington and I was able to buy it – for an exorbitant sum, let me say. I have it now, installed in my studio overlooking Wellington harbour. The evening sun makes the colours glow exactly as old  Southerly Brown intended. It is magnificent.

I have had ample opportunity to study the window and believe that I have discovered things which Dr Pollitt missed, things which would have enraged him further, but which undoubtedly my grandfather intended. They make the work unique and priceless.

The realism of the faces is remarkable. Am I wrong in seeing among the swarthy skinned shepherds gathered at the back of the stable, a likeness to a Maori chief – a Hone Heke perhaps with just the hint of a moko and a taiaha for a crook? And those splendid wise men, surely the expansive one offering gold is William Morris, and the one behind him with the shining eyes could well be Percy Shelley, my grandfather’s favourite poet.  And consider Joseph with his mane of hair and tangled beard. An excited, vital man this – not the dotard of tradition. Karl Marx methinks.

And the Virgin? What of her? For a while I thought she was my grandmother Dominique. But a recent publication has made me believe that Southerly was actually depicting Dominique’s friend, Kate Sheppard. Yes!

And finally, what was Southerly trying to tell us in the figure of the Christ child, looking straight at us, laughing in friendship and holding his unblemished hand, open-palmed towards us with such joyous confidence? Surely he is saying, “Come on, you people. Workers of the world. Rouse yourselves! – We have a world to win and nothing to lose but our chains.”


And a Merry Christmas to you all.

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My good friend Malcolm B. made a video during the launch of The Disestablishment of Paradise at Unity Books in Wellington. During the short video, I am seen reading some bits from the book and I talk about the experience of writing it.

I am delighted by the video – though it makes my voice sound higher than I expected, (the result of nerves possibly) – and it is a  timely corrective to the 48 years old image of myself that is used on the banner for this website. When I first saw the video, I was struck by  the difference between the image of the older man reading, and the more youthful inner-self I feel when I am writing. Both realities are true in their own way.

You can view the video be going to www.youtube.com/embed/lcrF1-C8r54 I shall be interested to know what you think of it.

And now, while I am still delighted at the reception that the D of P has received, and I have replied to many questions and comments sent to me regarding the ideas in the book, I am now into writing a new work: one which seems to be quite different both from the D of P and all my previous novels. For one thing it is quite comic in a dark sort of way, and that I find encouraging.

In the new year, Gollancz will be publishing a collection of my short stories and a book for children called The Paradise Mission.  This latter, as you may have guessed, uses some of the strange creatures we meet in The Disestablishment of Paradise but in a narrative more suitable for younger readers. Both these will be available in E format only.

I would love to re-publish my earlier titles in book format, but publishing seems to be going through a strange evolution at present, and no one can predict the outcome. Still, we live in hope.

Christmas will be upon us in two weeks, and so I wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and New Year, accompanied by Peace on Earth.