Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Thursday, 25 August 2016

MERMAIDS

During the recent heatwave, we've been sea-bathing, Jane and I, and although we each have a different definition of what that entails, it's been fun.
While Jane has been teaching herself to swim and totally immersing herself, I, on the other hand, have been venturing little further than knee-deep into the water.
My earliest experiences of sea-bathing were on Northern Ireland's Atlantic coast, where the water temperatures were, and doubtless still are, little short of Arctic and my earliest memories are of wading out, shivering, into the icy breakers before shakily returning to shore, my woolen bathing trunks waterlogged and saggy, to tremble uncontrollably despite quantities of hot tea and gritty sandwiches.
 

You can imagine then, how much I admire Claire Thorburn, an acquaintance of Jane's, who is about to attempt to swim the positively frightening sea channel between the Farne Islands and Northumberland.  
Claire's fundraising for The Alzheimer's Society and also The British Divers Marine Life Rescue charities. You'll find details here: http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/claire-combats-a-sea-of-phobias-for-charity-1-8063729
 And now to the poem.
As a child I loved to receive seaside postcards and, back then, before affordable air travel whisked us away to the Costas, holiday greetings tended to be sent from popular Northern Irish coastal resorts like Portrush, located on a peninsula extending into the chilly Atlantic Ocean.
This poem was inspired by the reminiscences of my elderly Aunt Marion, who, as a young girl, spent an idyllic holiday there with her best friend.
I've used a simple abcabc rhyme scheme and octosyllabic lines in an attempt to recreate the animation that I recall hearing in my Aunt's voice as she told me about those far-off, joyous days.  























FREEZE FRAME

We leapt like mermaids, screamed and froze,
while breakers splashed our thighs with spray.
As the Box Brownie camera snapped,
we vainly tried to hold a pose.
Behind us, the Atlantic lay,
endless, eternal, arctic-capped.

And afterwards, we wrapped ourselves
in rugs to shelter from the wind.
We hugged each other, laughing, there
beneath black, jagged coastal shelves
where sea-pinks grew. Thus, we were twinned
in friendship: an aquatic pair.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

THE GRAND (DIS) ILLUSION

My poem, Rope Trick, first appeared in Reach Magazine but, sadly, the published version contained a misprint which dealt it a death blow. 
Misprints in short stories can usually be overcome by context and an astute reader, but in a poem, where every word has a carefully selected role, one print error is enough to sink it. This then is the error-free version, the Director’s Cut, so to speak, written back when we discovered that our friends in 'the finance industry' really weren’t our friends at all.


 
  ROPE TRICK

Upward, upward, upward he goes
on the taut rope in dusty heat 
defying gravity, belief.
One rope end lies, sweat-oiled, coiled, neat,
on a soiled, cheesecloth handkerchief.
From his father’s pipe, music flows.

The other end climbs vertically,
upward and attached to nothing
and up that swaying ladder, there,
a small brown boy, with gold ear-ring,
shins, this red morning, while we stare
with breathless incredulity.

We western tourists: Brits, fat Yanks,
believe mostly in disbelief.
Dull cynicism is our way:
debunking magic is our brief.
It’s just a bloody trick! we say, 
who trust in pension plans and banks. 





R.I.P. SIR ANTONY JAY


The joint creator of the classic television series, Yes Minister, and its equally funny sequel, Yes Prime Minister, died earlier this week, aged 86.
Here’s a clip from one of my favourite episodes of Yes Prime Minister, which cleverly sums up the reading habits of the British people:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGscoaUWW2M

Sunday, 21 August 2016

KNIFE EDGE

I suppose that at one time or other we've all wondered what the future holds in store for us: fame, wealth, love, or even heartbreak. 
There are Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, Horoscopes and clairvoyants whose palms you'll doubtless have to cross with silver, along with a seemingly endless number of other less well-known methods, but in my view, something as simple as a kitchen knife, spun on a table top, has the edge over them all.

















DIVINATION

spin the knife  
on a table top
 
watch it imitate  
time accelerated
clock hands flying   

watch life rush
away    


its sure escape  
mesmerizing  

ask a question  

knife rotates  

somewhere out there
something waits

Friday, 19 August 2016

STRIKING IT LUCKY

Here's a piece of verse from the Noir sequence that a wrote a couple of years ago, partly as a homage to the 'B-Movies' of my youth and partly to help dispel a bout of writers' block which was making any creative work challenging.
It's one of a couple of dozen rhyming poems, on the theme of gangsters, dames, cigarettes and whiskey, that I wrote quickly over a period of a few weeks.
By switching style and subject matter from what I was accustomed to, I had enormous fun and rediscovered my hunger for writing.



LUCKY STRIKE

I get in, swallowing my pride.
Where to? I ask her and she smiles.
Be cool, Cool Guy: gimme a light.
She inhales deep then off we glide.
The dame’s in charge, somehow it riles:
gals driving guys just ain’t polite,

but she’s like no dame that I’ve met:
drives like a guy, acts smart and tough.
I talk, she drives; she talks, I smoke
a Lucky Strike: great cigarette.
I’ve struck it lucky, sure enough:
the gal, the money, at a stroke.




Monday, 15 August 2016

STRAP LINE

Back in the days when corporal punishment was deemed the correct way to discipline wayward children, the threat of a father's anger was enough to make the most recalcitrant lad shiver.






















THE STRAP

Black as a conger eel,
it hung from a hook on the bathroom door,
slid through my dreams like hunger,

lay beneath bridges of sleep, leathery, malign,
purposeful in dark water.

Awareness was always there.
                          If you don’t stop that and behave
you’ll get strapped when your father comes home.

And the threat worked, most of the time.

But when wildness outran caution,
we waited, heads bowed,
eyes on the latch;

the strap laid out
on a bare table;

hands of the clock
hardly moving at all.

Friday, 12 August 2016

INTERIOR WORLDS

Many of our earliest terrors become embedded in our psyche. They are never entirely forgotten. I wonder whether some of them emerge again, in our final hours, from an imagined wardrobe's dark interior or, stealthily, from beneath the bed. 














BOGEYMAN

The thing that woke you nightly as a child,
that squatted in a corner and exhaled
foul promises,
returns in these last moments,
as your older self sinks down,
to mar the room’s sterility
with nauseating breath,
to whisper those familiar
obscenities again.



A WHALE OF A TIME (For Writers)

If you were born in August you share your birth month with a number of famous writers. 


Along with Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, the list includes James Baldwin, Isabel Allende, Rupert Brooke, P D James, Leon Uris, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Guy de Maupassant, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sara Teasdale, Izaak Walton, John Dryden, Philip Larkin, Jonathan Kellerman, Lawrence Binyon, Hugh MacDiarmid, Enid Blyton, Robert Southey, William Goldman, John Galsworthy, Sir Walter Scott, T E Lawrence, Stieg Larsson, Georgette Heyer, Ted Hughes, Ogden Nash, Jacqueline Susann, Robert Stone, E. Annie Proulx, Colm Tóibín, William Ernest Henley, Willy Russell, Robert Herrick, Jean Rhys, A.S. Byatt, Brian Moore, Sir John Buchan, Guillaume Apollinaire, Christopher Isherwood, Confucius, Theodore Dreiser, C.S. Forester, Ira Levin, Antonia Fraser, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Leo Tolstoy, Sir John Betjeman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Preston Sturges, Thom Gunn, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and William Saroyan.
The list is not exhaustive by any means, tht's only the ones that write in, or have been translated into, English, but it gives you some idea of the wealth of literary talent born this month.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

PHOENIX RISES

I began writing poetry and short stories while in my early twenties and by the time I reached thirty had realised the limitations of my talent. 
Around that time I gathered together everything I had written, hundreds of typewritten pages, and burned them.
I didn't write again for twenty years.
One or two of the early poems survived (those that had already been published in one magazine or another) and rose from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix.
The poem below, At Grandfather's, is one of them.
It gained favour with, what was then a fairly new literary magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, which I believe still exists under its modern title, HU.
I discovered a copy of the magazine a few years ago, made some amendments to the original, and included it in Strange Journey, my second collection of poems, published in 2012. 
My paternal grandfather lived in Hillman Street, in north Belfast, and was an inveterate gambler, drinker and all-round wild man. 
Both he and his wife, my grandmother, lived into their nineties and, whilst I doubt that hers was a particularly happy life, I never heard her complain.
This poem below is autobiographical and refers to an occasion my brother and I stayed overnight with them.



















AT GRANDFATHER’S

Along the entry he would come caterwauling,
striking bin-lids with his stick,
through the backyard knocking over milk bottles.
Up the wooden stair, rolling like a tar,
to lifeboat-bed and disapproval:
his salty, mermaid wife growling like an ocean.
On Sunday mornings there,
we children crouched, like mice,
digesting toast and catechisms,
as grandma stepped, stiff-backed, around him.
He would be still as stone, his bowl of porridge cooling.