A Common Culture

Rather than wake this post-referendum morning to a nightmare, I chose to imagine we British had embarked on a marvellous adventure. Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over your head. Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes and she’s gone … gone … gone … gone … and then I woke up!

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou.

This familiar moment of waking confusion illustrates the phenomenon of human empathy, our extraordinary ability to imagine what it is like to be others. Written well over 2000 years ago in China, it also shows an awareness of animal consciousness that predates modern science. And after months of bruising debate, we Brits have to stop treating the other side as less than human and rediscover our fellow-feeling. This could take a bit of humour to achieve.

Humour is another word for perspective and we might take a lesson from the French philosopher and writer Michel de Montaigne, writing a mere 500 years ago on his love of viewing things from different perspectives:

When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her?

Who awakes and who dreams here? Is the cat or the writer the prime mover? Or are they cooperating in a shared reality that neither can grasp without the other?

Where do I end and you begin? It’s a question no easier to answer than the famous Zen teaser – what is the sound of one hand clapping? For all our airs and graces, I’ve heard it said that complicated creatures like ourselves exist only as taxi services for billions of bacteria. Bill Hicks called homo sapiens ‘a virus in shoes’, though he probably wasn’t thinking about our function as high-rise housing for germs. Can we make a larger claim for ourselves, I wonder?

Some people don’t like being called animals. Some people think the earth was created in seven days four thousand years ago, along with all the pretty sky lanterns. Me, I’m just happy to host four billion years of evolution and love my slow-cooked triple brain with its reptile instinct for survival, mammal feeling for emotion, human capacity for … er, well, for … hmm, jury is still out on that one!

Some people even argue we’ve devolved. They could be right, given we all descend from the limited gene-pool of a few thousand individuals interbreeding to keep warm between ice ages. Brrr … thank goodness we invented global warming!

Whoops, back to the drawing board! Proving our worth turns out to be an act of creativity, if not downright invention. At least Wordsworth got it right: the child is father to the man. Paradox is the only truth, it seems, unless it isn’t. When we were kids, two little words could thrill like no others: let’s pretend. This was an invitation to suspend disbelief and conspire to create an alternative reality. No worries about who we were back then – it was all about who we could become. And love was all you’d need.

Egged on by masters of children’s literature like Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Grahame, AA Milne and Spike Milligan (click his name for my fan letter!) there was nothing I loved more than to create serialised stories and puppet plays and strip cartoons for the entertainment of my friends and siblings. I was never into solo gratification – my biggest kick was always experiencing other people’s pleasure. Above all, I tried to make them laugh. My humour would later take a satirical turn with Monty Python and Pete & Dud and Joe Orton, but let’s stick with 1963  when I discovered the magical surrealism of Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury.

Suddenly Let’s Pretend became What If? The coldest winter for years found me on the back doorstep with a new library book. I’d returned from school and my parents were late home. I didn’t have a key so I sat down in the ice and snow and started reading. The book was Bradbury’s Silver Locusts, later renamed The Martian Chronicles. When they arrived a couple of hours later, I’d finished it without even noticing the cold. I’d been somewhere else.

13 is an impressionable age. A few months later I first saw the Beatles on children’s television – my post A Life in Music describes this and other unforgettable cultural encounters. The girls made lots of noise but we boys were just as astonished. Nobody could have predicted the Moptops – the patronising nickname the British press gave them – nor guessed the effect they were soon to have on a USA still stunned from the death of their inspirational young president.

The world needed a miracle and the Beatles were it. Their story resembles a new myth: four heroes go on a quest to Hamburg and return with the holy grail, the keys to a kingdom, only they turned out to be musical ones. Suddenly, Tin-Pan Alley’s manufactured stars with feet of clay had to make way for a scruffy bunch of ordinary blokes with their feet on the ground and the attitude of a playground gang out to conquer the world. They watched each other’s backs.

John was leader of his own band but he let Paul in because he recognised his own limitations. That selfless act set the pattern for collaboration. In the early days they wrote ‘playing into each other’s noses’. Paul came up with She was just seventeen, never been a beauty queen, a naff line which John changed to You know what I mean – at once vague and packed with sexual innuendo. This photo, taken by Paul’s brother Mike, actually shows them composing the song in Paul’s living room!

When John sang ‘You Gotta Hide Your Love Away’ to Paul, two foot tall became two foot small by mistake but Paul liked it and it stayed. Paul suggested I can give you golden rings, I can give you anything, Baby I love you. John laughed and they came up with the much tougher, raunchier Drive my car.

The examples multiply. Paul suggested John develop a story in ‘Norwegian Wood’. John provided Paul’s ‘Michelle’ with the bluesy edge of a repeated I love you. ‘Eleanor Rigby’, whose grave was later discovered yards from where John and Paul first met, contains lines from all four Beatles and one ex-member.

They held their ears to the tracks. ‘Here, There & Everywhere’ took its shimmering quality from ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys. The Lovin Spoonful’s ‘Daydream’ inspired ‘Good Day Sunshine’ – fitting, perhaps, after founders Sebastian and Yanovsky met at Mama Cass’s house to see the Beatles TV debut which gave them the idea of forming a band that wrote songs. The same show kickstarted the Byrds.

And like the Byrds, influenced by Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney moved away from their early ‘Moon in June’ lyrics to autobiography and social comment. ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ were the results of a pact between John and Paul to write about their childhoods. ‘A Day In The Life’ combined contrasting but complementary songs from John and Paul, a trick they’d first pulled in ‘We Can Work It Out’. John suggested the Question and Answer pattern of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, intended as a singalong for Ringo. And in 1995 the surviving Beatles worked on a demo from John to produce ‘Free As A Bird’. Paul said, ‘We came up with this holiday scenario. I rang up Ringo and said let’s pretend John’s gone on holiday and he’s sent us a cassette and said finish it up for me.’

Yeah, let’s pretend 

… no good, my imaginative powers are not what they were! I wish these words were still worth something this morning but the light is harsh and the voice of the young has gone unheard …



Images:   http://www.youtube.com   tumblr.austinkleon.com    thesipadvisor.com






Last Laugh?

Tomorrow Britain votes on whether to leave or remain in the EU. The campaign hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs and – whatever the outcome – our battle scars will last for some time.

Here’s a wonderful spoof of the What have the Romans ever done for us? sketch in the Monty Python film Life of Brian to lighten the mood a little and remind everyone of one thing we Brits do supremely quite well – ironic humour!



My True Nature

I looked inside myself again today
To see if I could find the real me.
Perhaps he never ventures out to play
But stops indoors, afraid of enmity.
I listened for his voice but only heard
My breathing and the beating of my heart
While somewhere up above a singing bird
Made music far beyond the reach of art
To capture. Lost in nature, I was young
Again and back to early days when we
Would wake at dawn to hear the self-same song
From throats since stilled: ancestral amity
To stir an ancient blood within my veins
And urge this captive heart to break its chains.

I wrote this sonnet in response to June 14 Challenge issued by Suzanne Bowditch on her excellent site, well worth checking out.


Here’s the finished poem. The first three and last five lines are mine, all others are credited. Their sites are well worth a visit.

See the clouds as they
Keep trying to catch the moon,
Yet still she breaks free

To sail so gently across
The sea of infinity

As stars blink sightless
With light long dead and worlds sore lost
In the murk of time.                                    Opher

She jumps to oblivion to
Surface in the cosmic stream,

The light that binds us
Mesmerising our souls' joy -
Cosmic lovers flying                                    Sam1128

To meet the morning.
Will the sun bless their union
Or tear it apart,

Retreat to shadows holding
Transitions of time                                      memadtwo

Grown long in dusk sun?
Watch as all evaporates,
Melting breath of cloud and wind              christine valentor

To nothing. Whole galaxies 
Fade to blue before the dawn.
Time returns and we
Wear morning on our faces 
To mask moonlit dreams.

Image: aplanetruth.info


Please Continue

Contributions are invited for a new renga. Our previous efforts can be viewed on Rengarama and Haikumania (The Results)

A renga is a shared poem which begins with a haiku (an unrhymed 3 line poem of 5-7-5 syllables) to which are added 2 more lines (each of 7 syllables) to form a tanka (an unrhymed 5 line poem of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables). Another haiku then starts the process again.

So each new contributor converts the previous haiku to a tanka and then writes a new haiku for someone else to convert. This continues until I decide to bring the poem to a close by completing the final tanka and adding a concluding haiku. The finished poem will then be published with co-authors credited.

Anyone can participate more than once if they wish, the only bar being don’t add to your own haiku. Please use the Leave A Reply box because hitting Reply may jumble things up.

There should be some connection, however slight,  with the contribution immediately preceding yours – a tanka should hang together and a haiku have some link with the previous tanka. But half the fun is watching the poem shift emphasis and I relish the challenge of pulling disparate elements together at the end!

Here is the poem so far, but please check the reply boxes for any new additions. Verse 6 changes the stanza pattern but, hey, who minds? Feel free to do your own thing, it’s not an exact science!

See the clouds as they
Keep trying to catch the moon,
Yet still she breaks free

To sail so gently across
The sea of infinity,

As stars blink sightless
With light long dead and worlds sore lost
In the murk of time.

She jumps to oblivion to
Surface in the cosmic stream,

The light that binds us
Mesmerising our souls joy –
Cosmic lovers flying

To meet the morning.
Will the sun bless their union
Or tear it apart,

Retreat to shadows holding
Transitions of time

Grown long in dusk sun.
Watch as all evaporates
Melting breath of cloud and wind                    

COMPLETED POEM ON  https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/renga-2/

Only Yesterday

Before I bring the curtain down on my week of writing acrostics, here’s a final flourish based on today’s Daily Prompt from WordPress: Childhood

We are all experts when it comes to this topic. Happy or sad, or else the more common mix of both, what did or didn’t happen then has made us who we are today. It is our inner child who feels empathy for today’s youngsters unless we have contrived to repress that part of ourselves and can only feel jealousy or resentment. It takes a whole heart to recognise that we are all the same under the skin.

Come back with me to where we used to
Hide: homes made of deckchairs, secret clubs
In musty sheds, mystery dens in hollow bushes and
Leafy look-out posts in high and mighty trees. Ah,
Did we really care what grown-ups thought or said or did in their
Houses when we had our own grand epics
Of eager exploration and wild adventure to enact
Outside their petty rules and endless puzzles – beyond the
Dull routine we knew would come too soon, too soon.


Image: ask.extension.org


Drinking Culture

Today’s acrostic is based on the WordPress Prompt Sky

Three lines, I mused, why that has to be a haiku! Piece of cake, I thought, until I tried to think of words beginning with K and Y … er, KY Jelly?

The Writer’s Block beckoned. There was a brilliant blues-rock trio down there. They were called Loaded Dice. They even let me get up and play harmonica for a couple of songs, which was fun. The missus and me drank beer and composed haikus. Here are some of them:

Somebody tolls the
Knell of the dear departed.
Yonder is wide blue.

Southbound whales scoop
Krill way below a becalmed
Yacht, which waits for wind.

Soaring overhead
Kites wheel slowly, reminding
You limits are yours.

See the clouds as they
Keep trying to catch the moon,
Yet still she breaks free.

Surfing the waves, your
Keel airborne, you can’t resist
Yelling at the stars.

So high said the child,
Kicking his ball in the air.
You laugh as he falls.






So folks, give up driving and watching TV and you too can sit in pubs listening to good music and writing bad poetry! But it’s not all wine and roses. We were pretty off-message by the end of this evening:

Suck pork scratchings to
Kill the unpleasant taste of
Yet more stale old ale.

My missus reckons this is the winner. What do you think?