Tag: relationships

To A Granddaughter, Aged Four

Here’s another stab at a poem I posted a while ago. I think it’s sufficiently different to warrant a fresh outing. Click this link to see the original version – Beached

 

So you – sights set upon horizons – ask
For tales of bygone days when I was young
And just set sail myself. What spring to mind
Are moments when, for me, an unknown world
Emerged in truth from sugar-coated sham –
Awakenings in sudden storms, high seas.

The shore you leave with newly-opened eyes
Is where I ended up once time and tide
Grew tired of play and cast me skin and bone
Above the last-gasp breaker. Don’t confuse
These stray salt-streaks upon my face for tears
Nor think me thoughtless when I let fine sand
Fall soft through slackened fingers, so to speak,
For childhood’s visions are as hard to grasp
As specks of gold to sift from sediment
Or meanings to distil from mists of time.

And who can truly claim that he recalls?
So much is lost in transit – fire burned down
To faintly-glowing embers – vivid frames,
From floors of cutting-rooms, rough-spliced at random.

Take your pick. I’d sooner sit before
The fire and dream aloud than watch some movie
Made of smoke and mirrors. Photographs,
Those barefaced little fibbers, capture skin
But hardly give a hint of what’s within.

I’d show you glossy albums packed with stills
Or reels and reels of camera-conscious motion
Should any trace remain of who I was
And what it felt like out upon on the ocean.

No slideshow, then – nor sideshow, come to that,
When all you want is just the Main Event!
So ask me, as you do, what it was like
When I was five – or six or seven – or eight.

I’ll close my eyes and wait for anecdotes
To wander into view – old vinyl plucked
From deep within my whirring jukebox brain –
Epiphanies that sing again, their joys
Released and any sadness alchemised
By healing time and telling into mirth.

So at the death we journey towards birth.

 

Image result for boat on tropical beach

 

Image: Pinterest

Out in the Open

Confession time … oh, nothing you might read about in the newspapers, no shameful lapse into avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake nor zealotry.

That’s the A-Z of stuff-in-the-news from my previous post, by the way, published a week ago. All that ugly stuff out there – nothing to do with me!

Well, I might confess to a touch of hopelessness – a modicum of quiescence – a degree of woe. It’s all that other stuff, see? 3 letters of the alphabet, you might say, at the mercy of the other 23. The clue is in the phrase ‘published a week ago’. The truth is – and here’s the confession – I’m finding it hard to think up posts and even harder to complete them.

It’s not for want of trying. My back catalogue contains 129 drafts, each one more half-baked than the last. For all I know, this is #130.

So far, the signs aren’t good. Who the hell wants to read about somebody else’s reasons for not doing something? You’ve probably got enough feeble excuses of your own. Perhaps you tried some of them out on your teachers. The dog ate your homework. You’re wearing the wrong trousers. The doctor has diagnosed amnesia.

My crummy alibi is that I’m too nice. I gave that idea a dummy-run in the previous post. Weaned in the liberal 1960s, you see, I love everybody. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! Whenever I hear that track where Jimi Hendrix says It’s all freedom my fingers still make an involuntary peace sign.

I know, what a paradox! No way is freedom to wage war on my wish-list. Freedom from war, maybe. The conundrum is only solved by remembering that freedom is just one of the essential human rights. The other two, equality and solidarity, are no less important. How to get the balance between them is the $64,000 question – more like $64bn after inflation! And I’m no philosopher so it’s time to enlist the help of one.

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The other day I watched a remarkable film about intolerance. It was Rupert Everett’s tour-de-force about the final years of Oscar Wilde. Its title – The Happy Prince – comes from one of Wilde’s radiant, life-affirming fables. Somehow Everett manages the triple feat of writing, directing and starring – his passion shining through to make it a movie like few others I’ve seen. OK, no others.

Another confession – several times I was surprised to find tears rolling down my cheeks. Wilde’s suffering becomes symbolic and the film achieves that rare thing in these days of CGI insincerity – catharsis. For once you can believe the reviews. I cannot recommend this film too highly.

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Two scenes stand out – two emotional poles which couldn’t provide a more powerful  contrast – one where he has to endure the abuse of a crowd, the other where he finally stands up to his tormenters. At risk of running on empty, I can only repeat what I wrote in my previous post:

There comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Tolerance can’t be infinite, as Karl Popper says, any more than freedom. But what made growing up in the 1960s such a gas was watching one after another side-lined social group achieve – or begin to achieve – parity. Once the Beatles had made it groovy to be young and northern and working class – and in the USA to be white and into blues and soul music – other glass ceilings beckoned. Race, gender and – with Oscar Wilde now a counter-cultural hero – sexual orientation. As a white heterosexual male whose mum taught him to look beneath superficial differences to the person beneath, I always knew that what mattered was character – not characteristics.

The movement was international in outlook and, for many of us, its substantial gains remain firm red lines against any retrenchment. Public displays of intolerance should always be challenged. A phrase variously attributed to Jefferson, Paine and Lincoln runs: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Well, I don’t suppose I’m the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about that. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a whole lot better than being woken by a sudden knock on the door.

Hmm … if confessing stuff isn’t good for the soul, at least it helps write posts. May try it more often.

Command and Control


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Two days ago my wife and I met up with two old college friends – now married and living abroad – whose chartered canal narrowboat had finally reached our town. After many years we had a lot to catch up on and conversation naturally focussed on children and grandchildren. Delights and disappointments were celebrated and lamented – achievements, anecdotes, adversities shared.

Their concerns about one of their grandchildren, born with congenital health problems, put our own woes – about the great distances we must travel to visit two of our grandchildren – into firm perspective. And we were glad to hear that the daughter of a mutual college friend, who developed anorexia when her dad died prematurely, is now much better and starting a college course herself.

Swings and roundabouts. Growing older seems to generate interlocking circles like these which bind us ever-closer to life as it approaches its end. Ripeness is all, as the Bard so succinctly put it. The sweetest is always yet to come.

At least, that’s the theory. Eager to revisit our youth, we embarked on a lengthy pub crawl – hilarity ensued, just like back in the day!

Well, there was one difference. Waking up next morning, I discovered my brave attempt to replicate the drinking capacity of former times had been, er, a little unwise. Hearing moans and groans, my wife – who with superior foresight had managed to put her hand over her glass quite a few times – was a tad unsympathetic. No fool like an old fool was one of her kinder comments. So I turned to the previous day’s unread newspaper for solace.

Another mistake. My ‘morning-after’ despondency was compounded by pretty well everything I read. I won’t go into all the gory details here. Unless you live in a cave … on Mars … you’ll know about most of them anyway – but suffice it to say I found avarice, bullying, callousness, demagoguery, envy, folly, gullibility, hopelessness, idiocy, jiggery-pokery, know-nothings, lip-service, myopia, nastiness, ostracism, prejudice, quiescence, robbery, stupidity, terror, unfairness, viciousness, woe, xenophobia, youth-quake and zealotry.

See what I did there? Yeah, A-Z, but behind that I’m treading water. Can’t blame the hangover, that’s gone! Think I’m fighting shy of specifics here. As usual. Maybe that’s a liberal thing. Live and let live, each to their own, horses for courses, whatever floats your boat … yeah, do your own thing, man! I still believe in all that stuff, of course, but there comes a time when the worm has to turn and fight. Or a mouse, when there’s an elephant in the room.

Anyway, it was no hardship to be dragged from the noosepaper by a Skype call – our other grandchild, my little twice-weekly playmate, just now away on holiday and wanting to chat. I had to be Baby and ask her about her adventures. It’s a thing we do where she’s the adult and I’m the junior know-nothing, eager for explanations. Sounds crazy, but it works for us. Helps make sense of a funny old world …

I turned back reluctantly to the real world and read this, in an article by Jonathan Freedland entitled Trump and his allies are taking the world back to the 1930s:

The parents ripped from those 2,300 children on the Mexican border were not led off to be murdered. But there are grounds to believe they may never again see their sons or daughters, some of whom were sent thousands of miles away. There is no system in place to reunite them. The children were not properly registered. How can a two-year-old who speaks no English explain who she is? Eighty years from now, perhaps, old men and women will sob as they recall the mother taken from them by uniformed agents of the US government, never to be seen again.

But the echoes don’t end there. The wire cages. The guards telling weeping children they are forbidden from hugging each other. And then this chilling detail, reported by Texas Monthly. It turns out that US border guards don’t always tell parents they’re taking their children away. “Instead, the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ The child goes off, and in a half-hour, 20 minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And [the officer says], ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’” It’s not the same as telling Jews about to die they are merely taking a shower, but in the use of deception the echo is loud.

To read the whole article, click the link above it.

I read it all, eventually, but – no doubt through a combination of physical tiredness and my heightened emotions just at that moment these two paragraphs moved me close to despair. No more words, I thought, nothing else will do but music – and music of a certain kind where performers play off one another to produce something intricate, rich, strange and beautiful far beyond anything an individual could achieve.

The old ideal of teamwork, I suppose, where two (or more) heads are better than one. I associate this music with a time when you could sit up talking all night and, no matter how much divided you, by the light of morning you’d found something to agree on.

The lyrics, when they come, elevate rather than depress. And yesterday it worked for me where nothing else would. A spiritual purification, you could say, which I offer here as a still-efficacious balm in a suffering world.

 

Image: advancedbatterysupplies.co.uk/narrowboat-batteries/

Digging Deeper

So, no more WordPress Daily Prompts!

Like any addict with supply problems, a week in and I’m still wrestling with a cold turkey – feathers everywhere – if you see what I mean. It’s been hell. Sweats, cramps, fevers, insomnia, the works …


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Actually, it’s not been that bad. In fact, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. It feels like the school holidays have started and I’m climbing trees, having escaped that old bossy-boots of a teacher who kept giving me random things to write about.

Oh yes, the ball’s well and truly in my court! All I have to do is pull back my racquet and let fly … but where to place the shot?

Aarrrggh … decisions! I hear that ball thump into the wire behind me, the derisive laughter of my opponent … curiously familiar, wonder who it is … and now I’ll never know because I’ve just woken up to the sounds of birds and bees, the scents of garden flowers and an unsipped gin-and-tonic in the arm of my reclining chair.

Hmm, reckon I should stop stressing about style and just scramble the ball over the net any old how. As our bewildering world unravels ever faster, it’s too easy to convince yourself nothing you say will make any difference and – the curse of every passionate perfectionist and thwarted idealist – you don’t bother to say anything. Nothing’s your fault, anyway, though Philip Larkin is as perceptive as usual on the subject of luck:

Bad As A Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

I think back three years to when the apple of blogging was still unbitten. Here are my first two posts:

My voyage of exploration begins. I want to recapture the spirit of childhood, when we would set out from home with the deliberate aim of getting hopelessly lost. No point in going over old ground, after all …

freerange

wall-kids-no-rites

I find it sad that children today don’t occupy the streets and open spaces like we did when I was young. There have always been risks in such freedom but we made a habit of going around with our friends, rarely if ever alone. We knew the dangers and were able to avoid them. So many kids were out and about, there was safety in numbers. With more adults around, too, we behaved ourselves most of the time because we didn’t want to get into trouble. In this way, we learned how to take responsibility for ourselves.

Sitting alone in your bedroom is not a healthy substitute, especially when you factor in the online risks and bad cyberspace influences that would shock many parents. It’s a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, I’m afraid. Let’s make the open air a place for children again, providing proper facilities and a sensible but not stifling adult presence. It would be quite a challenge but I can’t think of a better way to create the communities of the future …

Back to 2018, I’m struck by the campaigning tone and buoyant optimism above. Plug in to your inner child, I seem to be saying, and everything becomes possible.

Yet here I am, three years on, myself a pitiable victim of those same online risks and bad cyberspace influences … well, aren’t we all, after the surreal horrors of 2016 and their unfolding fake-news consequences? And as for guiding the young, fat chance when the adults appear to lack all direction!

Enough reality already! Or perhaps, less unreality masquerading as reality …

So the other day I was telling my little granddaughter this joke:

There was a vicar who used to visit his parishioners’ homes where they often asked him to stay for tea. They would sometimes serve him baked beans on toast, which he hated but was too polite to refuse. So anxious was he not to cause offence that he always pretended to enjoy them. People would tell each other how much he enjoyed baked beans with the result that he was rarely given anything else.

One day he was given a double helping, so he asked for a glass of water and when his host went into the kitchen he frantically spooned baked beans into the top pocket of his jacket. When the host brought the water, the vicar was licking his lips and polishing his plate with the toast.

On his way out he thanked his host from the bottom of his heart, patting his chest and spurting baked beans everywhere. He ran out in acute embarrassment but his host couldn’t wait to tell the next-door neighbour. ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘the vicar likes baked beans so much he keeps a big stash of them in his pocket wherever he goes!’

Squeaky clean and yet silly enough to please any four-year-old, I’d say!

It was one of three jokes my dad insisted on telling at every family gathering. I won’t trouble you with the other two. We’d heard it lots and would always groan, of course, but my granddaughter asked for it again … and again!

It suddenly occurred to me that I was telling it just like my dad did – same intonations, same actions, same everything. Our relationship was always a little uneasy – common, I think, between us post-war kids and our pre-war parents – but this  was one of those moments where the present links up to the past in a flash. Gratitude for my old man welled up in me for the first time in … well, ever, really.

Sad but true.

Tell me about when you were little, she says, a frequent request. This time I tell her about my dad and some of his funny ways. All of a sudden, he’s still here.

There’s an African saying, I believe, that it takes a village to bring up a child. And if there’s one thing that should bring us all together, it’s the welfare of children. There is a very real sense in which nothing else matters.

Here is a positive little film that makes the point better than I can. The apple is always unbitten.

 

 

100 word story – Role Swap

A man of his times, Zebadiah Crossing was surrounded by women who had a way of smiling sweetly and deferring to their menfolk. But something drew him to the spirited Nora Double who liked to go her own sweet way, no shrinking violet.

She would only accept his marriage proposal on condition she kept her maiden name. Hyphenation was the obvious compromise although he put his foot down to insist his surname precede hers on grounds of gender and alphabetical precedence. Being illiterate, however, Zebadiah commanded Nora to go register their joint title.

It was the first of many reversals.

 

Image result for Donald McGill Postcard Seaside

 

Image: funny-pictures.picphotos.net