Bordeaux Bay

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

Thursday, 29 January 2015

GOSPEL TRUTH

Growing up a Presbyterian in dour, post-war Ulster, I became aware that many of my elders regarded life as something other than joyful, and that even the simplest of pleasures might be regarded with suspicion lest it be sinful.

Adherence to a stern set of Biblical rules was of paramount importance, and guilt, often unspecified, was never far away.


Protestantism in Ulster splits into three main strands: Church of Ireland, Presbyterianism and Methodism, whilst alongside these exist a host of offshoots, many of which worship in tiny Gospel Halls around the province.

Here’s a snapshot, in verse, of one of such hall.  













 



CONGREGATION

The preacher’s words would rise and fall
like arrows: God’s wrath raining down
on Sunday faces, dull with fear.

The hall was spartan and austere
as though his bat-like, flowing gown
cast a great shadow over all.

Joyousness was in short supply
within those walls. Austerity
was all they knew, that little flock.

Shipwrecked, they clung to the cold rock
of religion, despairingly
waving as life sailed blindly by.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

MA HAT, MA GUN, DAY

I've something of a fondness for those old black and white American B-movies: the kind that turn up now and again, late at night on BBC television. They're full of tough guys, sultry gals and wisecracks by the score. 
I've written poems galore based on the stereotypical characters whose lives play out in these films, and have even jotted down the occasional piece of prose. 
Most of my efforts are as artless and forgettable as the films themselves, but now and again one charms me enough to want to wave it like a tentative flag and hope that nobody takes a pot-shot at it. 
Here goes.

BRAND NEW HAT

I wander into Kevin’s Bar. Scotch-rocks, I ask for, then kick back. I drink there for about an hour, maybe a couple. I lose track. I wear my new Fedora hat. My watch-chain fob hangs on my vest. I fill that vest but I ain’t fat. I’m quite a swell, you might have guessed. I watch the game and drink some more. Those goddam Redskins sure have form. I get confused, forget the score. Kevin’s is cool but over-warm. Behind the barkeep, hangs a mirror. Reflected in it is the door. What happens next is just a blur. A guy bursts in, emits a roar. I know his face, a dame I see, sweet Macy, has his photograph. He’s Macy’s new husband-to-be. Guess he don’t want my autograph. 

I think it circumspect to split. That gal is one amazing chick, but I’m no hero I’ll admit. I gulp my Scotch and exit quick. Dart down the alley out at back. The goddam guy’s in hot pursuit. I got my gun. I always pack. He’s taking aim. He’s sure to shoot. Out in the alley, moving fast, I'm agile as an alley-cat.
A trashcan spins, I hear a blast. A bullet smacks my brand new hat. I run like crazy. Bullets fly. I guess this bozo’s mad at me. A sleeping drunk trips up the guy, who tumbles like a fallen tree. 
I make the corner, spot a cop who’s looking elsewhere, shoulders squared. I walk real slow. One thing’s for sure. Just gotta get this hat repaired.

Friday, 23 January 2015

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

Skimming through my workbook, I discover that I've written several 'bird poems' over the years. My wife, Jane, however, is the more accomplished writer of 'avian' verse. 
Writing under the name Jane Mosse, her track record is impressive and, indeed, we once enjoyed a wonderful trip together to Italy on the strength of it, when she was invited to read one of her successful competition entries at a major festival there. 
Birds have been the muse of numerous poets: Shelley, Keats, Tennyson and Blake, all penned immortal lines on the subject. 
Edgar Allen Poe's Gothic poem, The Raven, is a perennial favourite, and writers as diverse as W B Yeats, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Ogden Nash have all published poems about birds.
It seems, then, that Jane and I are part of a very prestigious flock. 























CROW



A hunchback crow, its plumage black,
sits, like a threat, in a bare tree.


I hurry past, avert my eye
from evil. Some things hardly change.


A childhood dread, perplexing, strange,
still numbs me. Old fears never die.


No harbinger, no grim banshee,
could raise such gooseflesh on my back.



Thursday, 22 January 2015

WOULD YOU ADAM 'N EVE IT?

Biblical stories were an integral part of my childhood, in an era when Old Testament religion influenced family life to a degree well nigh unimaginable today. 
Then, the traditional family unit would be unwaveringly patriarchal, with mother the gentle nurturer, father the stern disciplinarian and several subservient children who would, ideally, “be seen and not heard”.
It’s difficult, nowadays, to grasp how very different our lives were then, in a world without television, where only the wealthy would own a car and where behaviour, of adults and children alike, was judged against Biblical standards, so that Sundays, for example, would be days of lengthy silences, when the otherwise ever-present radio would be muted and comic books banished in favour of Bible study.

One positive, I gained from this period in my young life was an abiding enthusiasm for those wonderful stories which abound in the Old Testament: Cain and Abel, Samson and Delilah, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel and the Lions' Den and, of course, the story to trump them all, of Paradise and of Paradise lost: Adam, Eve, Eden, and the Forbidden Fruit. 
If you’re not familiar with the tale, you can read it here http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/246606/jewish/The-First-Human-Beings.htm or settle for the Short Version below.  

 


EDEN: THE SHORT VERSION

God gave Man
Paradise.
It all went
 pear shaped.


Monday, 19 January 2015

FISHY TALE

The inspiration for this poem was a family story of an historic drowning in the lake at Loughbrickland (Irish: Loch Bricleann) a small village in County Down. The original tale is, like many others handed down over the years, vague and contradictory, but nevertheless it has stayed in my memory since childhood and makes its appearance in fictionalised form below. I've written more than one version of the event and discovered that, because of its narrative form, it also works quite well as Flash fiction
Here, then, is the curious story of an incident at Loughbrickland.   





INCIDENT AT LOUGHBRICKLAND 

A young man in a rowing boat,
oars raised, resting on still water,
casts overboard a single line
then settles back to let the sun
warm his pale face. His eyes reflect
an unflawed sky, grown more blue yet
as his boat bobs on a broad pond,
itself reflecting the awesome,
hungering, endlessness above.
At the broad pond’s edge, wild geese rise
in a rasp of noise, from tall reeds.
He turns his face to meet the sound,
that spreads outwards like a spillage,
and sees something, perhaps nothing,
rise then dip beneath the surface:
a fish perhaps, no, not a fish,
out there, where only fish should be,
a shapelessness, a shapeless shape.
He rubs his eyes; the sky goes dark,
then, when he opens them again,
sunlight, like a shower of needles,
makes him blink and he sees a shape
rear like a horse in the water,
its head and neck, black as bog-oak,
its watery mane like tendrils
of some obscure, aquatic plant.
It dives again and vanishes
as he sits spellbound, oars at rest,
dumfounded in the rocking boat,
the witching woods and shingle shore
so distant now. A shiver hits
the hull, something unnatural
disturbs the balance of the craft:
it sways and tips, his fishing rod
slips overboard; the sky and sun
suddenly tilt and what he hears
is the wild geese, their raucous din,
as water thunders round his head.
Cold, it fills his ears to bursting,
stifles his cry, makes wild his hair.
His eyes stare into spreading green
as, down, he tumbles like a stone
into a net of water-weed,
that grips him, cleaves and interweaves,
and thus, ensures he never leaves.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

ILLUSTRIOUS ILLUSTRATOR

Raymond Briggs
If you aspire to be the author of successful children’s novels then it’s probably auspicious if you happen to have your birthday today, 18 January.
Three greatly admired authors share this date as their birthday. 
A A Milne (born 1882) the celebrated creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Arthur Ransome (1884) whose Swallows and Amazon stories are loved the world over and famed illustrator and story-teller, Raymond Briggs (1934) who created that perennial Christmas favourite, The Snowman.
I'm happy to record that Raymond Briggs, who turns eighty today, is still very much with us and his many books, which include When the Wind Blows, Fungus the Bogeyman, The Bear and, of course, The Snowman, are still selling well.
Some years ago, Raymond and his partner Liz stayed at a holiday cottage owned by my wife, and he proved to be something of a practical joker.
Jane never returned to the cottage following Raymond's tenure without finding a comical note from her tenant propped up on the mantlepiece.
On one occasion she discovered a mysterious, prickly plant growing in her rock garden. This turned out to be a deceased hedgehog with a small gardening label attached which read, Hedgeous Hoggeus Spiniculatum.
On this, your 80th Birthday, Many Happy Returns, Raymond Briggs: author, illustrator and HORTICULTURALIST.   



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu-LIjg_S7Y&noredirect=   





Wednesday, 14 January 2015

PIZZA TOPPING

An idea, or inspiration if you will, for poetry and short stories, can come from many sources, one of which is a tiny report in a national newspaper dealing with an off-beat or quirky event. One such news story triggered the writing of The Fall, which began life as a comic poem that I later reshaped to Flash fiction
It’s probably a measure of my sense of humour that I regard the following story as comic rather than tragic fiction. I wonder what you, the Reader will make of it?  





 


















THE FALL

      When Robert Frobisher hurled himself from his third-floor balcony, he wanted to die. He wasn’t seeking revenge but he got it, along with two broken legs and a dislocated pelvis.
      The day had started well for Robert. He’d kissed his lovely wife, Paula, slipped behind the wheel of his red Porche Boxter and roared away from his luxury ocean-front apartment to begin another day of financial shenanigans at Morton Whitworth, a leading firm of tax consultants. 

      One phone-call can change your life and the call Robert answered mid-morning changed his.
      Truly sorry, Bob; it’s been great, but, hey, ‘Corporate Downsizing’ and all that. C’mon, cheer up, man. Shit happens!
      Minutes later, Robert Frobisher was climbing back into the red Porche, which seemed suddenly less a status symbol, more a quagmire of exorbitant repayments.
      The drive home was a blur, as Robert replayed the conversation with Walt Whitworth, muttering the things he ought to have told the old bastard. Dread crushed him like a great fist as he thought of the gigantic mortgage he could no longer pay and wondered how he’d break the news to Paula. Paula, his heart’s desire: sexy, vivacious, but not, he reflected, tolerant of failure. What the Hell could he tell her?
      Arriving home, Robert took the elevator to his second-floor apartment and turned to stone. There was Paula, his perfect Paula, half-naked in the arms of a pizza delivery man.
      Uttering a howl of disbelief, Robert launched himself at the couple, who popped apart like two halves of a cracker, Pizza Man making a bee-line for the stairs.
      Robert, never a violent man, felt his body convulse. It was as though all the blood in his sixteen-stone frame had turned to ice. Job, car, mortgage and now this. What was the bloody point? Something in him snapped. The door to the balcony stood open: beyond it, endlessly, the wide blue sea. All at once, Death seemed his perfect friend. Charging the balcony rail, Robert Frobisher jumped.
      Pizza Man, exiting the apartment block, paused to fasten the zip on his jeans. Damn close call, he thought, as Robert landed on him like a meteor.   

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

LA DOLCE VITA

As winter closes in, I shiver and think longingly of our three-months sojourn in Italy last year. 
Jane, and I, with our little dog Holly, set off in springtime to drive to San Giovanni alla Vena, a small village in the province of Pisa. 
We rented in a small house with gardens, adjacent to the village square, and for three joyous months immersed ourselves in an Italian way of life.
We agreed from the outset that our stay would not be a holiday but instead simply a change of domestic scene and an opportunity to live day-to-day immersed in a different culture.
The experience was one we both treasure and we have many happy memories of the warmth of the people we encountered and the glorious sunshine, the colourful, bustling market days, the friendliness in shops, cafes and bars and, of course, the unforgettable food and wine.
Whilst living there I wrote a number of new poems. This is one of them.












  
LA FALENA

 A moth came in at the screen door
attracted by light as moths are.
It flickered like a small dark fan,
here and there: he could not ignore
its plight and trapped it in a jar,
released it outside. Foolish man:
moths will return, against the odds,
seeking out light as we do gods.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

SLIPPING INTO NIGHT ...

The terrible events in and around Paris over the last few days cannot fail to have saddened all but the most callous observer. We in the peaceful Channel Islands, with our proximity to and cultural links with France, were perhaps more shocked than others in Britain and Europe who have already been exposed to terrorist outrages in their cities. As someone with first-hand  experience of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, however, I am well aware of the inhumanity that man can visit on his fellow man but this knowledge has not desensitised me to it, in fact, rather the opposite. 
The following poem was written as a response to the horrors of the last few days.   









 LAMENT 
(Paris, January 2015)

Ice petals on the blackthorn bow,
in twilight, masquerade as white
but it will never blossom now.
The world is slipping into night.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

For generations to be born
into a world without birth-right,
for darkness, fast approaching, mourn.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

Grieve for the final, breaking wave
that slips away, the bird in flight
that falls to earth, the hungry grave.
The world is slipping into night.

Tears in the grey, relentless rain
resemble signatures we write
on farewell notes imbued with pain
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

Lament the sharpness of the blade,
the flesh, so vulnerable and slight,
the future plans so rashly made.
The world is slipping into night.

We must stand firm, repudiate
the bullet in its ghastly flight,
the torrent of extremist hate.
The world is slipping into night.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.




Thursday, 8 January 2015

HISTORY MAN

It's interesting, though somewhat disturbing, to note that Elvis Presley, that hugely significant cultural icon of the Twentieth Century, would have been EIGHTY years old today. 
Elvis was an enormous influence on teenage boys of my era and many of us spent hours ensconced in our bedrooms practicing the trademark curled lip and sultry stare. 
The music he brought from America to monochrome, post-war UK was like nothing we'd experienced before and kindled a fire that's been burning ever since.
People of my vintage tend to think of the emergence of Rock ‘n Roll as being a comparatively modern occurrence but it’s sobering to reflect that, historically, it’s closer in time to the Wright brothers’ first flight than to today.   
My taste in music is much changed since those youthful days but I still retain considerable affection for my one-time musical hero.
Every Elvis fan has a favourite song. You can hear mine at the link below.





ELVIS PRESLEY 
8 January 1935 - 16 August 1977



Click here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_axAHXht58

Sunday, 4 January 2015

SLOPING OFF

Winter in Guernsey tends to be a low-key affair. Seldom do we experience the climactic extremes of Britain or the European mainland. Over the past week, there have been blizzard conditions in some parts of the UK and, amazingly, heavy snowfall as far south as Sicily, an event unique in living memory.
On those rare occasions that we do experience snowfall on the island, life grinds to a halt, schools close and shops and offices operate with skeleton staff. In short, chaos reigns for a day or two. The odd snowman makes an appearance but the only adventurous activity that we can look forward to is a slippery shuffle to the nearest shop to discover whether the UK newspapers have arrived or, indeed, whether the shop is even open.
In Northern Ireland, one of the great joys of winter is the inevitable annual snowfall and the opportunity to slip away quietly with a toboggan and, ideally, some offspring to justify one's own childish glee. I have countless happy memories of adventures on the hills at Stormont when my daughter was a child. Nowadays her sons enjoy the same snowy thrills on those old familiar slopes. 




TOBOGGANING

The seat feels quite precarious
but once he’s down, that feeling goes.
So rare to be this close to snow,
chilling the fingertips, the nose:
icy sensations lost to those
in indoor places, various,

or barred, by age or lack of kids
from winter days on rowdy hills
where children’s voices, wild and shrill,
applaud this crazy vaudeville
of adults launched, against their will,
downhill at speed on icy skids.

This granddad hugs his grandson tight
then edges forward on his heels
on modern blades of stainless steel.
The child, as agile as an eel,
squeals for his mum: his granddad feels
earth fall away, their sleigh take flight.

A longing for a lifetime lost,
assails him in the rushing wind.
The grandson to his parka pinned,
as once his daughter, angel-skinned,
clung to him then, their bodies twinned,
rocketing downward through the frost. 



This poem appears in my second collection Strange Journey, available from this site.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

CASH AND HARRY

New Year is a fine opportunity for taking stock and sometimes, in a dark corner of the metaphorical stockroom, you find some dusty curio, hold it up to the light and smile nostalgically. Here's one such curiosity. My first venture into Flash Fiction, based very loosely on a tale that did the rounds many years ago in my native County Down. 




BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
 
The police said Old Harry’s death wasn’t suspicious: heart attack it seemed.  We knew they were wrong but couldn’t prove it.  That bastard, Rutter, had bullied the old boy unmercifully, using his status as Estate Manager like a bludgeon, once even threatening to have Harry’s beloved dogs put down. We all feared Rutter’s rages and felt sure that one such outburst had provoked Old Harry’s collapse.
The rumour that Harry’s life savings were hidden in his cottage sent Rutter there immediately, not caring that the poor man had only been dead a week. Using his master-key, Rutter entered the cottage and, to avoid interruption, bolted the door, then, for good measure, pushed a heavy cupboard across it and began his search. 
He only remembered the dogs when the first one lunged at him. The other two Dobermans, starved for a week, circled him hungrily.