Bordeaux Bay

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

Monday, 29 September 2014

THE HOUNDS OF LOVE

I appreciate that there are those who love dogs and those who don't. The latter group should look away now.
Over the last forty years, with one short break, I've owned dogs, and my childhood was populated by those belonging to neighbours and friends. Back then it wasn't unusual for a friendly canine to wander through your open door looking for scraps or companionship. 
Dogs accompanied us on picnics, adventures or to the local shops and most family snapshots included a dog alongside the stiffly-posed human figures.


Our little Border terrier, Holly, is a sixteen-year-old full of character and quirks. She's a constant source of joy to us and a gentle and loving companion. 
One of the walks we take together is on a lane close to Bordeaux bay where this poem is set.


A CHORD

On the lane we walk together
in some small semblance of order:
not regimented, hardly that.
She’s spontaneous, this small Border,
stubborn, freethinking, like a cat
fleet-footed, floats like a feather. 

Between us, a retracting lead
adapts to our differing pace:
she walks to heel then stops to sniff.
The lead holds us in its embrace,
one moment close and then as if
estranged again. So we proceed.

How similar to love, this cord
in its extending to and fro.
Though distant, we are not apart
like tides, our passions come and go
One heart linked to another’s heart
in perfect harmony: a chord.


I wrote this as a rhyming poem (abcbca) to emphasise the harmony that can exist between a human and a faithful dog.  I was also interested in the interplay between the words cord, chord and accord.   


Friday, 26 September 2014

BRANCHING OUT


I promised the occasional guest writer but fear that the poem by the late Sir John Betjeman (15/9/14) hardly counts, the great man being more ghost than guest. Peter Kenny, on the other hand, is a living, breathing writer in his prime: a good friend whose work I discovered several years before I met the man himself.



Peter’s a freelance writer and something of a Renaissance man whose portfolio includes poetry, children’s fiction, non-fiction, plays, music collaboration and performance verse.

He has a lifelong connection with the island of Guernsey and returns on a regular basis to recharge his creative batteries. 

Peter’s currently engaged in a series of readings to promote his latest collection of poems entitled The Nightwork, recently published by The Telltale Press

You can find Peter Kenny online at http://anothersun.blogspot.com and read below his poem on the German occupation of the island during World War Two.

ROOT AND BRANCH

There’s marching in the Guernsey lane, 
my table’s bare, the pattern’s clear:
they will starve us after curfew;
they will break us at the table.

Refugee on the willow road,
I scrape aside my hedgerow scraps,
and escape to bomb-pocked safety  
in a burning northern city   

where my children stay with strangers
and – forgetting all their patois – 
they turn in skies of fractured glaze 
and trill their songs with English tongues.

Each night my doves return as crows
and I am harrowed root and branch  
as they perch on empty places
and I – their mother – am accused.

For I tore them from their garden
and I knotted them with labels,
like a cherry shedding blossom 
I shook them from my stupid limbs.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

PS ..

I’ve just finished reading An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, an enthralling and well-researched tale based on the nineteenth-century Dreyfus case and am now about to begin reading the first of the six novels short-listed for this year’s Man Booker Prize. 

Meanwhile, my wife Jane is reading aloud to me from Nina Stibbe’s hilarious first novel Man at the HelmI seldom laugh aloud at books but, when we encountered the scene in Fenwick’s, I laughed till I cried. 

With a background in education, Jane reads wonderfully well, and Man at the Helm is deliciously funny. If you haven't stumbled across it already or are in need of the tonic of laughter, I suggest you buy it now.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

... AND RECYCLE


There’s something seductive about charity shops: a teasing suggestion that there, among the ugly vases, speckled mirrors and lumpy sofas, is hidden some priceless treasure whose eventual sale at Sotheby’s will make us rich beyond measure. 



 THE DRESS

Marion wasn’t planning to buy a dress when she stepped into Oxfam that morning.  She enjoyed browsing in charity shops but not for clothes. No, it was the little nicknacks that appealed to her: useless trinkets with quirky appeal that she collected and that Mark swore were tasteless junk.

She spotted the dress by chance and couldn’t believe her eyes. A Paola Visconti original in pristine condition. Paola Visconti, fashion icon, here in her local Oxfam shop and, astonishingly, in Marion’s own dress size. 

You’re really lucky,” the assistant told her as she wrapped the dress up.  “This just came in yesterday and it’s been dry-cleaned too.” Perfect, thought Marion, I’ll wear it to the Morgan’s tonight.         

Marion and Mark were invited to dine at the home of Mark’s boss, Clive Morgan, and she was determined to make a good first impression. Many a good career had floundered because ‘the wife’ didn’t fit in.

They arrived at The Orchard promptly at seven and were ushered in by Clive, who served cocktails then left Marion with Sonja, his wife, while he gave Mark a tour of the extensive gardens. Sonja was perhaps ten years older than Marion: mid-forties, lively, attractive. About Marion’s height though slightly overweight. Sipping her cocktail, she showed Marion the downstairs rooms, while Marion admired the numerous art works that had clearly cost a fortune. “We’ve collected most of these on our travels,” Sonja remarked. “I do so love beautiful things!

That dress you’re wearing, for example; it’s a Paola Visconti isn’t it?  I used to have one just like it but I put on so much weight I simply couldn’t wear it any more. It broke my heart to part with it. Where did you buy yours, my dear?”

Sunday, 21 September 2014

CYCLE OF LIFE

While staying in Italy earlier this year, I watched a young man cycling in our village with a child strapped into a seat behind him. It brought to mind excursions with my daughter many years ago when we lived in Scotland. I went about on an old junk-shop bicycle with my tiny daughter perched precariously behind me in a rickety contraption that wobbled alarmingly when we went over bumps. Ah, the recklessness of youth!

CYCLE

The living world sails by, complete:
strange images engulf her; sounds
pour into her; she is caressed
by air, safe in the old bike seat
behind her father, the firm mounds
of his buttocks against her chest.

A young child, perched like a nestling,
in the metal-framed basket-seat:
his firstborn.  A small miracle,
the proud father thinks his offspring,
and to him, in the noisy street,
she clings, tight as a barnacle.

He pedals hard, pursued by time:
like roulette wheels, the bike-wheels whirl.
A breeze, around her soft hair, sings
with lyrical, unreasoned rhyme.
Euphoria engulfs the girl:
her arms reach out like stubby wings.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

FIRE AND BRIMSTONE


Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, is reputed to have remarked: Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man, and it’s certainly true that early influences leave their mark for better or worse. The writer, Philip Larkin, was more succinct in his much-quoted poem, This Be The Verse, when he wrote: They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do. 
Back in the nineteen forties and early fifties, when I was growing up in Presbyterian East Belfast, the power of the church was absolute and God-fearing parents, with the best of intentions, indoctrinated their hapless offspring into the concept of guilt and of Heaven and Hell: the latter with its unquenchable flames in which sinners would burn for eternity. 
You don’t get over that easily.  

ORIGINAL SIN

Catechism came with porridge
on Sunday mornings, then. 
Question
and Answer. 

What is man’s chief end?

A lifetime later, adult, grown,
I have the forthright answer still:

To glorify our God, amen.

How those morning pictures linger.

With hair slicked down and parting straight,
scrubbed knees, nails free of grime, clean hands,
in Sunday Best, clean underpants
and vest, black brogues with Bible shine,
I went with hymn-book to the church,

then into Sunday School we trooped like little soldiers off to war,
while parents stayed for Hell-Fire words and promises of Satan’s wrath
that they, in turn, would promise us.

Grey were the Sundays of my youth: shut shops, shut faces, shuttered hearts.
A football kicked would damn to Hell. 
A comic read, a careless laugh, would be recorded in God’s book.
Guilt was instilled and mortal fear.
I haven’t yet got off the hook.


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

SEA FEVER


I read this one on BBC radio some months ago and it seemed to strike a chord with a number of listeners. I suppose that many of us fall short of our earliest hopes and dreams and discover, often too late, that time takes no prisoners. 




SHIP IN A BOTTLE

He dreamed of oceans as a child;
would run away to sea when grown;
might sail the chill Atlantic, wild,
or broad Pacific, tempest blown,

but grown to adulthood, he failed  
in everything. There was no prow
or spreading wake: he never sailed.
He seeks his ships in bottles now.

Monday, 15 September 2014

ROLL OVER BEN HOGAN


Many years ago I worked with four guys in a small section of a large office. Three were golfers and spent much of their time talking about their tedious recreation. My colleague Martin and I, both stubborn non-golfers, struggled unsuccessfully to ignore these endless hole-by-hole homilies.  
Time has passed as have the three golfers, but Martin and I remain in touch. Today I received a letter from him in which he boldly informed me that he has taken up ... golf. 

Golf. The very word makes me shudder. 
Martin seduced by golf! 
Could I be next?

Here’s a delightful poem on the subject by Sir John Betjeman.
















SEASIDE GOLF 

How straight it flew, how long it flew,           
It clear'd the rutty track
And soaring, disappeared from view
Beyond the bunker's back -
A glorious, sailing, bounding drive
That made me glad I was alive.

And down the fairway, far along
It glowed a lonely white;
I played an iron sure and strong
And clipp'd it out of sight,
And spite of grassy banks between
I knew I'd find it on the green.

And so I did. It lay content
Two paces from the pin;
A steady putt and then it went
Oh, most surely in.
The very turf rejoiced to see
That quite unprecedented three.

Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves
And thyme and mist in whiffs,
In-coming tide, Atlantic waves
Slapping the sunny cliffs,
Lark song and sea sounds in the air
And splendour, splendour everywhere. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

MUST TRY HARDER ...


Puffed up with pride following my modest success in the Pennine Ink competition, I decided to revisit my early experiments in flash fiction and discovered that the old adage, Pride comes before a fall, is an accurate observation. 
The admonition that dogged me through my hapless schooldays, MUST TRY HARDER, came to mind again when I read some of these short, short stories. 
There are, however, one or two that retain a certain quirky charm. 
Here’s one that made me smile. 

                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                              KARMA
When he was born, Maurice’s worst fears were realised. Reincarnation wasn’t a myth after all. Maurice had been reincarnated. As a dog.
It wasn’t bad at first. Being a puppy was a heady tumble of warmth, fun and sweet milk. But all that was rudely whipped away.  An elderly woman bought him and started imposing RULES.  
Maurice had to pee on newspaper. He liked that. It was the Guardian not the Telegraph, which had been Maurice’s newspaper of choice in his former life. When he forgot and peed on rugs and carpets, the old woman shrieked like a banshee and chased Maurice, now renamed Bo-Bo, round the kitchen.
Servility was not to Bo-Bo’s liking. When he’d been Maurice, people had cowered at his feet. An alpha-male, he’d been a swaggering bully, intoxicated by power. He’d made enemies: men he’d destroyed; women he’d crushed. From youth until horny old age, Maurice had taken what he wanted and damn the consequences. He’d always had his way with women, whether they'd liked it or not.
He remembered young Jill Fowler, only sixteen yet annoyingly resistant. He’d had to force her but he was sure she’d liked it in the end. Better had, thought Maurice, she was, after all, the very last one. The next morning he’d strolled onto the golf course and Bang!  Massive bloody coronary. End of story.
Except it wasn’t. Here he was again: reborn as Bo-Bo and something odd was happening. 
His owner was handing him to a stranger in a white coat.
Don’t worry, Miss Fowler, the strange man said. Castration’s quite straightforward. 
Bo-Bo will be right as rain in a couple of hours.

Friday, 12 September 2014

A FLASH IN THE PAN?


Much to my surprise, I’ve learned that a piece of flash fiction, Briefcase Encounter, that I sent off on impulse some months ago, has found its way into the top three in the annual Pennine Ink short story competition. The news was even more encouraging because I don’t regard prose writing as my particular forte. I currently have a dozen or so stories gathering dust in a drawer and I submitted this one simply because its subject matched the competition theme. Maybe I should sharpen up my pencils and give prose fiction another go. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

CAN IT REALLY BE THIRTEEN YEARS?




I was drinking coffee at a pavement cafe in Auray, a small town in Brittany in northern France back in 2001, when I heard the news of the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers. 
Conditioned by many years of exposure to Irish Republican terrorism in Ulster, I was perhaps not as shocked as many of those around me. 
A terrorist’s advantage is the ability to think, and then perpetrate, the unthinkable. There’s no defence against this unless we begin to think like terrorists. 
It’s sad to reflect on how much the world has changed since that terrible day.

How good it would be to be able to rewind time.



REWIND

Wind Time back. Rewind Time.
     
Make the struck towers rise from dust,
reconstruct themselves: glass, concrete, girders, walls,
a huge jigsaw
interlocked, complete again.

Lights come on, phones chirp like crickets.

In reconstructed work-stations, fingers dance on keyboards again;
vending machines cough then spew out pungent brew; 
air-con sighs then resumes; elevators ascend, descend;
video conferences resume mid-sentence, emails beep, 
digital clocks flicker like quick, green lizards. 

Time restarts as though it had never ended.

Hopes, innocence, daydreams, boredom: 
all the mundane certainties of ordinary lives 
are reaffirmed.
Shoes, handbags, mobile phones, flesh, warped by intense heat:
these un-melt, re-form, 
resume their shapes.

The  terrible, unearthly screams subside.

Backwards 
the soft clouds drift; birds fly in reverse.
Those grim death-planes, stiletto-silver in the morning sun, 
withdraw, like daggers, from the shattered towers,
whose twin glass skins, pristine again,
shimmer
like smooth, un-rippled water.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

SNAPPING AT MY HEELS



My wife, Jane, is gifted with many talents, one of which is a creative eye where photography is concerned. 

No surprise then, when I decided I needed a photograph for my Biography page, that I enlisted her considerable skills. 

It’s quite a challenge to make an old geezer with a well-worn face look, if not handsome, then at least interesting. 

You can judge the results for yourself, both here and by clicking on the Biography button.

Monday, 8 September 2014

THE GRAND ILLUSION


My poem, Rope Trick, first appeared in Reach Magazine a few years ago but, sadly, the published version contained a misprint which dealt it a death blow. Misprints in short stories can usually be overcome by 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 the bankers 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. 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

POEMS ON THE BUSES

Prior to the Literary Festival in Guernsey each year, the local Arts Commission runs an international poetry competition where winner and runners-up have their poems displayed in the Guernsey bus fleet: a format similar to Poems on the Underground in London. My poem, The Exile, was one of the successful entries this year and is currently trundling round the island being read by visitors and residents alike. For various reasons many islanders find themselves working and living elsewhere but most return to their birthplace from time to time, drawn by a feeling of belonging. This poem is about one such exile.

THE EXILE

A taxi hurries through lanes
of green-banked-granite stillness,
its hunched driver taciturn, sullen, 
solidly steering a wheel that turns
right then left in a vibrancy of air.
Suitcase on knees cradled,
his exile eyes see-saw 
from London-grimed leather 
to primrose banks at every turn.
Falling in love again, he marvels,
at salt in the wind, small cottages,
a tortoiseshell cat by a blue post-box,
at the lost Lilliputian scale of things
that once appeared 
immense. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

SUNSET AT COBO


When I first visited Guernsey I stayed with friends in their apartment overlooking Cobo Bay on the west coast of the island. The bay was my own Paradise Found and the Ulster ‘Troubles’ seemed a million miles away. 

The beach at Cobo is beautiful and becomes more so at sunset. 

Let’s start with a poem I wrote long ago about a west coast sunset.
   





















SUNSET AT COBO

Out-of-body experiences 
are said to be like this: 
a bright corridor, whose infinity 
of light spreads across water 
in ripples of diminishing red 
towards a richness of setting sun.

Barefoot among rock-pools, 
I feel contentment here 
on this west-facing shore, watching
my summer skim away 
as, over waves, 
a thrown stone dances.