Bordeaux Bay

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

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

It is my great good fortune to have a wife who passionately loves books and, as a result, I frequently receive the gift of a book for a birthday or Christmas present, or, more often than not, on some unspecified occasion when I least expect it.
Jane recently gave me a poetry anthology by the playwright, Alan Bennett, entitled Six Poets, Hardy to Larkin, which has proved an unqualified joy. I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Twentieth Century poetry.
The book features poems by six writers: Hardy, Housman, Betjeman, Auden, MacNeice and Larkin, and each poem is prefaced by Bennett’s personal thoughts about it, written in the deceptively simple style for which he is known. 


Here’s a short poem by Thomas Hardy, written when he was eighty-nine. Its title is Christmas 1924 but, sadly, it's equally relevant to our world today.




CHRISTMAS: 1924

‘Peace upon earth’ was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.

After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas. 


Sunday, 27 December 2015

HUNGER GAMES

It’s easy in this season of excess to forget that we, the fortunate ones, are a privileged minority in a world where hunger is more common than joy and where our domestic pets are often better fed than Third World children.


 CORDON BLUES

Carefully, she reads the menu,
every dish an inspiration,
poetry and passion blended
as the poet-chef intended:
every dish a demonstration
of the rightness of the venue.

Then a waiter, laden, comes
with plentiful, expensive food
on patterned platters, napkins, white,
but suddenly her appetite
recedes: she pictures fingers, crude,
that clutch at her and beg for crumbs.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

CHRISTMAS POST




SONG OF THE CHRISTMAS TURKEY 

We have grown fat, my friends and I,
and although some birdbrains say
these gifts of food Men bring us
must be treated with suspicion,
this I doubt.
I feed on corn aplenty and rejoice,
grow plumply satisfied and smugly stout.
My fellows fast become inflated too:
such fine birds with no work at all to do.  

I call the doubters paranoid and mock
their pessimistic attitudes and gloom.
Another feast arrives, I gulp it down
then gobble thankful sounds
and strut about.
We grow each day more pillowy and sleek.
Our future is assured, our species blessed.
This is the life, I think, no need to fear:
December is the season of Good Cheer.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

MAINSTREET MADELEINE MOMENT

In his monumental novel, Remembrance of Things Past, author Marcel Proust refers to an overwhelming wave of recollection that envelops him when he tastes a Madeleine (small sweet cake) whose flavour and texture he subconsciously associates with pleasurable moments in his childhood.

 
I first heard the unforgettable voice of Bob Seger drifting through the brightly-lit passageways of Ulster’s Springhill Shopping Centre, a complex of shops and supermarkets that we would probably nowadays refer to as a mall.
It was during the Nineteen-Seventies and the song was Mainstreet, from Seger’s Night Moves album, which featured an incredibly haunting lead guitar solo alongside Bob's distinctive voice.
The song struck me so forcibly that I hurriedly sought out the source of the music, a small record shop there in the complex.

Using my recently-acquired (and very first) credit card, I purchased the LP.
Over the next few years I acquired many other Bob Seger albums and was constantly amazed that he received so few airplays from UK radio stations, despite being a major artist in the USA.  
Seger has a classic raspy voice, vaguely reminiscent of Scots singer, Frankie Miller, or early Rod Stewart, and his self-penned songs deal with love, youth and freedom.
Night Moves, the title number from that 1976 breakthrough album is, arguably, even more powerful than Mainstreet, but for me, the latter, that first Seger song I ever heard, still produced a Madeleine moment when I rediscovered it recently on You Tube.
My musical tastes have changed markedly since the Seventies but Mainstreet instantly transports me back to my heady, if somewhat undisciplined, thirties, and to my tiny flat in battle-weary Belfast.
With a career spanning five decades, Bob Seger continues to perform and record today. His album Live Bullet, recorded with The Silver Bullet Band, remains one of the ten best-selling live albums of all time. 

His music features on numerous movie soundtracks including Forrest Gump, Armageddon and Mask. 
Bob Seger turned seventy this year but, despite the grey hair and expanding waistline, clearly hasn’t lost the fire inside 

Click here for a recent live performance by Bob Seger or click on any of the highlighted links above for album tracks.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

PALE RIDER

We live in uneasy times.
Wars, both great and small, dominate the news with alarming frequency.
Increasingly, it seems inevitable that the use of nuclear weapons will cease to be the exclusive prerogative of the so-called Super-Powers.
Warfare, by its very nature, escalates and mutates, and terrorism has removed the necessity to travel to a war-zone to become part of the conflict.
Be patient and war will come to you.   





FOURTH HORSEMAN
  
Summer in a sunlit garden:
cloudless sky, exquisite bird-song,
Earl Grey tea, young children playing
and a yellow hammock swaying.

Water cascades from a fountain:
half a million shining droplets
like the notes of gentle music
that caress us from French-windows.

An adagio by Mozart, you say,
and I trust your judgement.
There is not a man more trusting
than the one you call your husband.

All I wish is our contentment,
the well-being of our children
and a future spread before us
like an endless, flawless carpet.

There is nothing to concern us,
far from urban tribulation
in our haven of rich acres,
with security and fencing.

Why then suddenly, disquiet,
as, abruptly, bird-song ceases
and the sun appears to shimmer,
slipping fleetingly from focus ?

Why are bat and ball abandoned
as the children freeze like statues?
Why do you stand there, bewildered,
as your phone rings out unanswered?

Why no sound though you are screaming?
Why now do the saucers tremble
and the burning skies resemble
something that resembles nothing?
 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

HIGH FIVE

Today I’m celebrating a triumphant end to successful writing year.
Encouraged by three high placings in the 2015 Guernsey International Poetry Competition this spring, I submitted a number of poems and short stories for publication and for competitions in the UK.
I’m pleased to report that no less than five have met with varying degrees of success.
Three poems (Images, Invisible and Fifty Shades Of Dorian Grey) appear in this year’s edition of Pennine Ink, which nowadays boasts contributions from as far afield as Canada, USA, China, India and Sri Lanka, while my flash fiction, Mackey’s Sister and another poem, Revenge, gained second and third prizes in two separate competitions.
A version of Invisible, has already appeared here (17 August 2015) and I’ll feature the others over the next few weeks, starting today with Fifty Shades Of Dorian Grey, a comic take on Oscar Wilde's famous novel and the Fifty Shades of Grey movie that was very much in the news at the time I wrote the poem.




FIFTY SHADES OF DORIAN GRAY

I’ve told him time and time again,
it must be fifty times at least,
that portrait I produced and signed
is meant to age. He’s not resigned,
in fact, he thinks he has been fleeced
and threatens me with legal men.

I tell him: Listen, Mister Gray,
the portrait ages, but not you.
Look at your fine, unwrinkled face
and as for grey hair, not a trace.
So he cheers up and doesn’t sue.
He’ll keep it then. Might even pay.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

RETURN OF THE KING

Almost 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley has topped the UK album charts for a record twelfth time.
The album, If I Can Dream: Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, pairs one of the most recognizable voices of the past half-century with classical arrangements that enhance the much-loved original versions.
I wrote this little piece of nonsense for a Flash Fiction competition with the theme ‘Not Forgotten’ and the central conceit is to name-check as many Presley songs as possible within the specified word limit.
See how many you can spot.



 FOLLOW THAT DREAM 


Heartbreak Hotel’s busted sign looks all shook up. He steps out the door in baseball cap and shades; the devil in disguise, but I’d know him anywhere; sets off down Lonely Street. I follow him like a hound dog.
He goes this way most nights. Spends time in the ghetto with some hard-headed woman. I wish he’d notice me. I just can’t help believing he’d treat me nice and love me tender if he just knew me. 
The old Heartbreak’s where he’s been staying since he turned his back on fame and fortune. They said he died but that was just a lie. Fans like me have suspicious minds and he was always on my mind.
I wait in a doorway opposite the hotel: watch his light burning. It’s like the burning love I feel for him.
A fool such as I can’t help falling in love and he’s my latest flame. I wonder if he’s lonesome tonight. Somehow I gotta know.
Tonight I rub my good luck charm to summon up courage.
I long to burst in there one night and tell him:  

Hey Man, I’m stuck on you. I’ve spent my whole life through loving you. It’s now or never. Surrender. Love me tender. Don’t be cruel. I need your love tonight!   
Maybe he’d take me in his arms and murmur:  
A little less conversation, a little more action. I want you, I need you, I love you ...
But that’s just a dream: all a fan can hope for is a moment to tell him he’s not forgotten.
I’d say:
I live each day in the wonder of you and no way do those blue suede shoes hide feet of clay.  


Friday, 4 December 2015

NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

Walking with my little terrier, Holly, along the elm-lined avenue adjacent to what is now known as Cambridge Park, on the outskirts of St Peter Port, I paused to read an inscription on a granite commemorative stone erected in remembrance of the last duel fought in Guernsey in 1795. 
The inscription records the sad demise of one, Major Byng, who was killed near the spot.
It is reported that, on the morning of 13 February, prior to the duel, both protagonists carved their initials on a young elm tree adjacent to where the granite memorial now stands. That elm has since been cut down.
Very little information is available relating to the event, but I have been able to establish that the duel took place between two soldiers, Major William Byng and Army Surgeon, James Taylor, following an argument. 
The two had previously been on friendly terms. The confrontation began when Byng challenged Taylor for apparently disrespecting the National Anthem, an accusation that Taylor strongly refuted.
The encounter took place early on a chilly February morning. Pistols were the weapon of choice and, unusually, there were no Seconds present. 
The unfortunate Major was killed by a single shot to the head. 
I can find no record of what subsequently became of James Taylor.   
Cambridge Park, where many of the original elm trees still stand, was formerly known as L'Hyvreuse.






DUEL AT L’HYVREUSE 1795

The ancient elms were saplings then.
Two figures stand in morning mist with pistols raised aloft.
Picture them: straight-backed, as would become army men,
their jacket collars loose despite the cold.
With steady eyes, they bow, then muster back-to-back
like bookends with a library of insult held between them.
There are no Seconds here: no one to witness or to testify;
no one to pray, officiate or remonstrate.
With ornate pistols, slackly held, they pace away.
Each counts from one to twenty-one then turns.

A musket is a heavy brute: the heart a heavy heart that must destroy
one that, till yesterday, was friend.
A flintlock seems as fearsome as a blunderbuss
when faced at forty paces, little more:
it fascinates, the way an adder might when readying to strike.

Imagine it. You stare, a child again, into a well so deeply dark
it swallows, whole, your pounding heart,
and try to focus on the length of avenue that lies
between you and that other: the opponent with the awful eye.
Young elm trees stand like silent onlookers in swirling mist,
as startled starlings start up from the meadow’s edge.
You see a puff of smoke before you hear the crack,
a sound too frivolous, by far, to have the import that it does.
You see red earth exploding upwards towards your face.
Then there is silence.


 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

POET'S BLUES

Philip Larkin died thirty years ago today, on 2 December 1985. 
A gloomy man who wrote inspiring poetry, Larkin was offered, but declined, the post of Poet Laureate in 1984. 
Here is one of his many great poems, Aubade.
 



AUBADE

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel
, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.



au.bade
noun

a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.