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John Clare and the X-Man factor

X-Men star honours 'peasant poet'

Actor Patrick Stewart has unveiled a new weather station at the John Clare Centre in Helpston.

The station will provide educational and environmental learning facilities for local schools and the community.

Poet John Clare was fascinated by nature and the countryside, and the new meteorological resource is part of the centre's commitment to the environment.

Stewart shares the 19th century poet's love of the English landscape calling him "a sensitive soul".

Stewart examines the weather station
Not quite as hi-tech as The Enterprise, but it's still good!

As an actor, finding your niche must sometimes feel like navigating a black hole without the benefit of the warp drive.

But, Patrick Stewart seems to move effortlessly from classical theatre, to sorting out Star Trek's Federation, to leading and moulding a mismatched bunch of mutants in the X-Men films.

And to crown that career, he's been in the village of Helpston, near Peterborough, opening a weather monitoring facility at the restored cottage of poet, John Clare.

Unique community resource

The Clare Cottage site, which opened in July 2009 was partly funded by a Heritage Lottery award of £1.5m.

The poet's former home was bought by the John Clare Trust and transformed into a museum, writers' retreat and environmental learning centre.

In line with Clare's love and concern for the English countryside, the Clare Trust concentrates on looking after the natural environment. The weather-monitoring station will enable school children and interested organisations to help further this work.

Barry Sheerman MP, is chair of the John Clare Trust and a friend of Hollywood actor, Stewart. It was at his request that Stewart came to open the station.

Sheerman said: "We are delighted to be welcoming Patrick Stewart to the John Clare Centre.

"The opening of this weather station will highlight a significant step forward for the centre's technological advancement. John Clare's love for nature is something that we endeavour to preserve and protect and I am proud to see the centre offer such a unique community resource."

He continued: "Global warming and climate change are some of the biggest threats to our civilisation and children have got to learn not only to understand that but to understand the science of it."

Patrick Stewart with Clare's memorial
Clare's poetry and memory are honoured in his village of Helpston

Deeply moving

Where does one of the stage and screen's most prolific actors get his love of humble English peasant poetry from? Well, not only does Stewart share a birth date with Clare, but his first on-screen role was in a docu-drama about the life of the poet.

Unfortunately, he played the part of the warden in the asylum where Clare was incarcerated for three decades! However, the programme served as an introduction to Clare and so began a lifelong love of the poet's work.

Stewart told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: "I knew very little if anything about John Clare. I was a secondary-modern school boy and we didn't do a lot of poetry at my school. Quite of lot of Shakespeare, but not much poetry.

"So, I discovered John Clare in my late twenties and was deeply moved by his poetry - particularly of the landscape and nature. He loved the English landscape and particularly that of his birthplace.

"And he writes about it in terms that are as lovely as anything that Wordsworth, or Shelley or Keats wrote."

A weather station's a little bit Star Trekkie, isn't it?
Barry Sheerman, Chair of the Clare Trust

Stewart explained that it wasn't until he moved to California that he realised how much he really missed the English countryside.

Once, while driving to Paramount Studios and listening to Elgar on the radio, he said that he had to pull over to the kerb: "I was crying so much I couldn't see to drive."

And, with tongue firmly in cheek he added: "A sensitive poetic soul such as Clare would obviously find a reflection in the same sensitivity and poetics as myself."

Museum celebrates poet John Clare
14 Jul 09 |  England



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