After a lengthy period when my blog simply refused to function – along with the blogs of a number of other people in my geographical area – it now seems that the problem may have been fixed. Sadly, this did not happen before I began another, new blog at Mad Rabbit http://abigailelizabethwyatt.blogspot.co.uk/. However, if all goes well, I propose to keep both blogs running, using ‘Mad Rabbit’ for most of my writing-based posts and this one for the stuff which is more random: meanderings, rants and the like. I am sure you know the kind of thing I mean.
We need more the power of magic now
since we turned our gaze away,
since we closed up our ears
to the earth’s sweet hum
and heard only the great
rasping of our greed;
though we wear our science artfully
still it catches us
and snares us in;
our little learning is lost
to us in this scrabbling
and lusting after wealth.
The ways of magic woo us
now that we are cast adrift.
(It was long ago we broke
our faith when we made
our wants our creed.)
If the great oak cracks
and bows his back
and the green girl tears at her veil,
we will bare our bones
and feed its fires
while the great wheel
hurtles and burns.
For the chorus of the magi calls:
though we shrivel and we shrink,
the dragon rises up to roar
and we must feel its breath;
and we may be heroes, all of us
that grapple with the moon
and brave the flames
to find again our vision
and our strength.
Recently, while catching up on what the BBC is pleased to call its News Channel – although it is, in fact, increasingly dominated by topics which are not actually news – I witnessed a shameful display of gerontophobia from the three presenters who were involved in ‘The Papers’, a nightly discussion of the stories appearing in the next day’s press.
In the course of this item, all three of the presenters laughed and joked about the suggestion that elderly people were being passed over for medical treatment on the grounds that they were old and, therefore, in terms of economics not ‘worth’ saving. The ‘problem’ of pensions was mentioned and it was pointed out, still amidst much laughter, that it would be a good thing if some elderly people died because their demise would help solve that problem. My partner and I sat open-mouthed and this display of mindless cruelty on the part of three people in a position of privilege and what should have been responsibility. I was extremely upset by the incident. ‘Coming Soon’ is my response.
(with apologies to Mr Orwell)
Let’s keep politics out of this.
It’s only entertainment, after all.
There are many Truths and Beauty, as you know,
is always in the eye of the beholder.
As for narratives, be they ever so grand,
they really are so very last year.
Let us, as professionals, polish our skills;
let us make a whetstone of perfection.
Poets, though, do it mostly for love,
there being piss poor profit in verse.
So when is a poem not a poem at all?
When it’s song that breaks the rules.
And when does the song-bird forget to sing
if not when she’s hobbled and tied?
The smart set would strive for anonymity now
but how will they know when they arrive there?
Perhaps, after all, we have waited too long
to find we all have a story to sell.
‘They’re angry because they’re frightened. They don’t know what else to do.’
The silver-haired man in the patched and faded jeans is speaking up close to Sarah’s ear. He is careful not to look at her face but instead stares over her shoulder so that his gaze skims over the frail old lady who is restlessly waving stick. It comes to rest, finally, on the face of her companion, slightly younger and vaguely androgynous. Every so often, she bends over her friend, smoothing the confusion of her hair.
There are no young people here. The mean age is probably seventy. But most of those who appear to be younger bear the outward signs of illness or handicap. Some people are confined to wheelchairs, others are partially-sighted; there are those who can barely breathe and some who are crippled and wasted. The effects of osteoporosis and vitamin deficiency are also much in evidence. People do not eat like they used to now the cost of foodstuffs has soared.
Fuel, too, has gone up and up so people have to make choices. It is better to be hungry than to perish from the cold.
The unvarnished truth is that, like it or not, there are just too many people. All of them are uncomfortable and some of them are utterly bemused. Probably, they would be mill about if they only had the space to do so. One can tell from their faces that they are both frightened and confused. As it is, they are pressed back to back and fragile shoulder to shoulder, crammed together in this tiny space for hours at a time.
It is impossible to guess whose turn will come next. There is no discernible system. There is nothing for it but to watch and wait and hope for the best.
First thing every morning, the noise is oppressive. Everyone is talking very loudly. There is pushing and shoving; sometimes screaming. People fall over in the crush. Eventually, however, the hubbub subsides and settles down to a kind of hum. Occasionally, someone coughs or farts or, worse, somebody weeps.
The air is thick with the stink of fear, rank BO, and urine. Sarah tries not to think about this. She knows she will need to go soon. How long, she wonders, can she cross her legs before the strain of it is just too much for her? The last time she wet herself she was eleven years old. It was half-way through evensong in the church of St Michael and St Andrew. It was winter time and the unheated church was unbelievably cold. She should have gone before she left home. Her mother was always reminding her. Such was her anguish and humiliation she hid behind a grave stone. Later, she sat in a shallow bath and sobbed till she thought her chest would burst.
Sarah doesn’t know the man at her side but his voice is reassuring. Once or twice, he has reached out his hand on her arm and laid it down lightly on her arm. It is an odd feeling, a man’s hand, those pale, slender fingers. Connor’s hands were big and strong. It seems to her a long time ago.
‘I know,’ she whispers, ‘and they’re all so young. Part of me wants to feel sorry for them.’
She does not turn towards the man but stares steadily ahead. ‘Look at that one over there by the fence. She can’t be more than twenty. What makes a pretty girl like that get involved in something like this?’
The man smiles a quick, tight smile and raises one overgrown eyebrow. Why does the fact that the girl is so pretty somehow make it worse? Sarah doesn’t know but it does make it worse – and then she is suddenly exhausted. She wants nothing so much as to rest her cheek against this stranger’s chest.
‘What is your name? ’ she asks him softly.
She turns her face towards him. His grey eyes seem to glow with kindness and the smallest hint of a smile. This, she thinks, may be the last time, the very last time she does this. But, just as she thinks it, the barricade lifts and she hears the tell-tale click.
‘You, you, you and you.’
The words come spitting like bullets. The speaker is blond with the kind of beard a young man grows because he can. Sarah feels the bolt-t nuzzle her ribs, persuading her nearer her comforter. It seems that, after all, the time has passed for the giving and receiving of names.
Too late, she thinks. It is always too late.But she takes the trembling hand he offers. The years fall away like flesh from the bone as she follows him into the light.
(First published by Word Gumbo in October, 2011
On TV today, ‘The Repo Man’,
a look at life lived on the edge
that comforts and scares in equal measure,
we who have so much still to lose.
Though we are not there yet,
on the grim edge of the abyss
we may, at any moment, miss our footing;
and to think of this man, like a broad side of beef,
with his hand as big as shovels on a digger,
reminds us of the way we may go
and causes us to tremble in our boots.
Our schedulers are kind, though: they offer us shows
that help us to see our silver linings:
our prime-time viewing is composed
of the lives of those who must struggle to eat;
then there are those who, by disease or misfortune,
have been robbed of their chance for simple happiness:
freaks and midgets and paraplegics,
those who are marooned by their own appetites,
those who are paraded to cavort like grotesques
and caper like hunch-backs and fools.
It is we who are the fools, though, for we are taken in,
dumb in the face of so much outrage:
by our dull consent, we bring to our own homes
the stink and clamour of the booth;
and, by its execution, this ‘entertainment’,
makes a fairground and a circus of humanity.
Who profits by it? Who oils the wheels?
What is the hand that cracks the whip?
I planned it, of course I did, and the devil was always in the detail. Doing such things on the spur of the moment must is the province of the young. Not that that the elderly can’t be impulsive but, let’s face it, the odds are against it. Most of us, hidebound by caution, grow old before our time. Not that there are many that would make it a choice to be staid and predictable: the sad truth is that, little by little, we lose the strength to resist.
Anyway, speaking for myself, I do like to do things properly. And something like this, well, I’d mapped it all out – let me see – oh, a long time ago.
A state funeral, in case you’ve never seen one, is ever so much more than a spectacle. Though, of course, it is spectacular, there’s no getting away from that. How could it not be with so much history behind it, all that pomp and ceremony, all the trappings of wealth and power? There are your bright-eyed sailor boys, smart as new paint and proud to be doing their duty. I do like to see their well-scrubbed faces shining in the sun. Then there are the horses, sleek and strong, but always so patient and so gentle; and the stern faced policemen who loiter on corners, keeping an eye on the crowds.
But a state funeral is also a very solemn occasion. The whole nation seems to march to the beat of a single muffled drum. You might argue, I suppose, that it isn’t about grief, especially if you’re watching on television. Believe me, though, if you’re there in the flesh, it’s a very different thing. Standing by the roadside as part of the crowd, you can’t help but feel the atmosphere. Oh, you can feel it alright, right down in your boots.
I was in the crowd in 1965, on the morning of 30th January. Everything about that day is sharp and crystal clear. I was eighteen years old and, the evening before, we went up on a Green-line bus. We got off at Aldgate East and walked the rest of the way. I remember I went with Ma, her sister, and a friend of mine from the factory. We all slept on the floor that night downstairs at Grandpa Clive’s. But, before it was light, we were up and dressed and sitting down to our breakfast. There was ice on the inside of the windows, it was that bloody cold.
Anyway, we filled a flask and Ma made a whole loaf of sandwiches. Cheese and pickle, egg and tomato, and corned beef with sauce. I remember those sandwiches. We waited for hours so, without them, we wouldn’t have made it. We laced our flask with a good nip of brandy and that was all the food we had.
Ma had been worried we’d get there too late to be able to see what was happening. Somehow, though, we were lucky enough to find ourselves right at the front. We found a place outside the Tower, a stone’s throw from the entrance. If we’d been been camped on the pavement all night we couldn’t have got a better view.
Everywhere you looked, on both sides, there were hundreds of people just waiting, huddled together in patient rows that mostly went four or five deep. Despite the weather, there were more than a few children and one daft cow had brought her poodle. It sat in her shopping bag wrapped in a shawl and I remember it made Ma laugh.
I remember the soldiers that lined the whole route, very smart and handsome. They stood stock still, like statues, with their rifles turned upside down. They kept their heads bowed down so low, and no one moved even a muscle, except that one boy seemed about to faint and had to be helped back to his feet. Then there was a silver band whose drums were draped in black fabric. It gave the beat a muffled note that sounded very solemn and sad. I remember how, when the coffin passed by, there was suddenly no more music. The cortege went on its way to the rhythm of a single slow drum.
It was eerie then how the silence grew. You could have heard a pin drop. Where the guns had been booming all the way from St Paul’s, now there was the silence of the grave. Then they dipped all the cranes right along Hayes Wharf, and the sight of that just hammered it home. It was as if, when those monsters bowed their long necks, they somehow spoke for all of us. Ma turned to me and her eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks were wet with her tears.
The Havengore was just setting off on its voyage up the Thames. Ma squared her shoulders and bowed her head and hissed to us to do the same.
‘That man saved our hides.’ she said. ‘He was the saviour of this country. When the rest of them would have given up, it’s because of him we’re free.’
I’m sorry. I’m rambling on. That’s not what you’re here for, is it? You want me to tell you what’s going on today. But memory is a funny thing and it’s odd how these details come back to you. How can the world be so much the same and yet so very much changed? Mr Churchill now, say what you like, he was a proper national hero. Someone who deserved a bit of a send-off. You don’t begrudge it for a man like him.
A cup of tea? That’s kind of you, dear. I am a bit shaky. No, no, honestly, I’ll be alright. I just need to catch my breath. Do you know, duckie, when I come to think of it, you have a look of our Ryan about you. He’s going to be a fireman, you know. We’re all very proud.
I like a man in uniform. I expect your wife does too.
Of course, I’m not sorry, not in the least. I meant all those nasty things I shouted. I would have said a good deal more but I’m afraid your young policemen shut me up. The balloons were a good idea, though, all those beautiful colours. It took me all night but I wrote on every one:
Remember the Belgrano Dead?
The Chorus Speaks
Nothing worth having comes easy;
competition’s the spur to success;
it’s all about effort and purpose and will –
and the need to save more and spend less.
But some of us now have grown lazy and soft
and the truth is they don’t want a job.
We’ve created a culture where welfare’s the way
to sit back and relax and live high off the hog.
So it’s three rousing cheers for the great and the good,
and the ‘strivers’ who toil nine to five;
to the idle, though, go a curse and a blow:
why should those who graft support those who skive?
The case, after all, is transparent;
it’s logic can’t fail to impress:
if it wasn’t for them and their scrounging,
we wouldn’t be in this mess.
And it makes my blood boil, if I’m honest.
You see it emblazoned all over the press:
the work-shy and shiftless who won’t pull their weight:
well, aren’t they a drain on the rest?
If it wasn’t for them we’d be laughing,
There’d be jam every day of the week.
We have to work so why shouldn’t they? I say:
Let’s CRACK DOWN on the benefit cheats.
It’s high time they got up off their arses:
all this something for nothing won’t wash.
The country needs strivers, not skivers
who live on their wits – and our dosh.
That said – and it’s hard to admit this –
it’s troubled me lately to see
how the bankers get bail-outs and beanos
and the rest of us – AUSTERITY –
and we’re told that we’re in this together;
but it doesn’t seem like that to me.
It’s cuts in this, and taxes on that;
and the old and the dying are told they must ‘strive’
while the young and the hale and the hearty
have no other choice but to ‘skive’.
They are jobless and hopeless, and full of despair,
and we offer them not much they need.
Is it possible we are mere pawns in a game
dictated and mastered by corporate greed?
And might it not be that we’re all being conned
into thinking that ‘they’ are to blame:
the shiftless, the work-shy, the chronically sick,
the old and the weak, the mad and the lame?
And the men in grey suits, what’s in it for them?
They say that the cost of compassion’s too great
but is it the logic of profit that drives
this shameful undoing of the Welfare State?
There’s no heart in a culture that grows smug and fat
on the backs of the weak and the poor;
how can it be true that we can’t afford love
when, always, there’s money for war?
‘Murder of Krows’ is an anthology of work by poets living and working in Cornwall, many of them closely connected with the Camborne, Pool and Redruth areas. The anthology is a not-for-profit venture and is the first major project of the Red River Poetry Collective. The collection has been edited and produced by fellow Red River Poet, Duncan Yeates, in conjunction with myself and it will shortly be available for just £1 per copy.
The launch evening for ‘Murder of Krows’ has been arranged for Wednesday, 20th March at The Melting Pot Cafe, Krowji. Our special guests will be Dr Alan Kent and Les Merton, both of whom have been gracious enough to show their support for this project by agreeing to read from their own works. In addition, there will be readings from some of the contributors to the pamphlet, Duncan and I included, a display of work from CMR artist, Janet McEwan who is among the contributors, and music from local singer/songwriters, David Rowland and Aston Drees.
The aim of this anthology – and of the Red River Poetry Collective generally – is, firstly, to encourage and support local poets and, secondly, to raise the profile of poetry in the Redruth and Camborne areas. We hope that lots of people will support us in this and there are a number of ways in which you can do this. The most obvious way is by coming along to the launch evening and buying a copy of the anthology. (The Melting Pot Cafe serves excellent coffee and a range of beers, wine and spirits.) There is no entry fee for this event and there will also be a free raffle. Alternatively, however, and if you can’t come along, you could do one of the following: order a copy of the anthology through me (which can be posted if necessary for an additional charge of 50p); contribute a prize for the free raffle (literary or artistic prizes are welcome);put up a poster in your place of work or study (contact me if you are able to do this); or simply share the link for this post and encourage your friends to do the same.
If this event is a BIG success we will be able to produce another anthology later in the year. Many thanks for reading and in anticipation of your support.