I have been on holiday and I did nothing but go to beaches, lie on beaches, scramble across beaches, be aghast at the beauty of beaches and then eat sandwiches on beaches. I went to the Gower peninsula in Wales and it was incredible and even when it was in the midst of Welsh rain that feels like a sprinkler, it was still stunning. I also tried to fill myself with the spirit of Dylan Thomas, reading him aloud at the top of Rhossili bay and drinking whisky in pubs after a 10 mile hike.
Anyway back to the beach that is the Lido, there was an unveiling of a new weather vane at the beginning of the season and it depicts the Unicorn like legend that was Walter Cornelius and he really was a myth of a man, that decided to live his life differently and in a way that was about helping others and he used his epic frame and determination to raise thousands of pounds for charity. Walter was a lifeguard at the Lido for many years and I remembered him as a child and I would often catch myself staring at him in awe, whilst licking a funny feet lolly. If you are from Peterborough then please do some research on him as we honestly were blessed to have him live here. And the following poem is about him and his feats and its by my wonderful friend, Toby Wood or Woody.
When it came to commissioning other poets to work with me, I simply had to have a certain Toby Wood join me, not only is he an exceptional person and poet but he has an aptitude to capture real humour and those little things that really make life tick. Toby was the first ever poet laureate of Peterborough and he has always been so supportive to the others who have followed him and I nicknamed him ‘Woody’ after deciding on a night at the pub that all laureates should have a nickname and here are some of the other nick names so there is ‘Toddy’ for Chris Todd, ‘Coxy’ for Pete Cox and ‘Whole lot of Joy’ for Joy Harris. Toby with his usual wit, managed to out poet me and for ever more, I am ‘dark satanic mills’. Thanks Toby, not only for the cleverest nickname I have ever had but for this clever poem about an incredible man.
Walter Cornelius I’ll tell you a story about a man Who lived without frippery or fuss; A man with the heart of a lion And the frame of a double-decker bus. He was originally a son of Latvia Then later one of us. I speak of course of a character Called Walter Cornelius. He was famous for being eccentric Unkind citizens called him a fool; He spent a great deal of time living in a Ford Transit Behind the Lido swimming pool. A place where he gained employment Teaching children to swim and dive And he even appeared on Blue Peter In the year after 1975. He bent coins, metal posts and steel railings And reputedly appeared in a song And on telly (who remembers Opportunity Knocks?) All for being strong! He held various world records Pushing peas or even a bus; Skipped for 90 minutes with a 48 pound chain All for the amusement of us. Devouring three and a half pounds of onions in two minutes; Huge numbers of sausages he would eat Not for gluttony but for charity, These masticating gastronomic feats. His attempt to fly across the Nene Fascinated the nation. Had the Birdman of Peterborough stunt succeeded He’d have been frazzled in the electricity sub-station. But in September 1983 This king of oddity and quirk Sadly departed this mortal coil So he did not turn up for work. A heart attack had taken him; Perhaps one too many sausages I fear And his death caused many a Peterborian To shed a private tear. We now live in a time of austerity Of blandness and minimum fuss But our lives were made cheerful and colourful By Walter Cornelius. But he is not forgotten There’s now a plaque and a weather vane To commemorate our Walter Latvia’s loss, Peterborough’s gain. Toby Wood