Bordeaux Bay

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

Sunday, 31 January 2016

DESERT ISLAND DISCUSSION

Regular readers will be aware of my fondness for cinema, so it will come as no surprise that, were I to be cast away on BBC Radio Four’s famous Desert Island, I’d choose, in addition to my eight discs, a film as my luxury item.



If pressed, however, I’d find it difficult to select one film from the thousands I’ve seen in my lifetime.
For me, the perfect choice would be one that was a compilation of the greatest moments from a host of much-loved movies.
Sadly, no film producer has beaten a path to my door to enquire whether I might direct such a joyous project, so to date my perfect movie remains unmade.
Compilation movies do exist though, and a favourite is Aria, a production that appeals to both my love of cinema and of great music.
Aria is a 1987 British motion-picture made up of ten short films from a variety of directors, each featuring visual accompaniment to arias from different operas. 
One of the most touching segments, which you can view by clicking here, was directed by the late Derek Jarman, who was born this day (31 January) in 1942. 

It features the glorious music of Gustave Chapentier (Depuis Le Jour from his opera, Louise) and also the splendid British actress Tilda Swinton. 

Derek Jarman and Tilda Swinton

Friday, 22 January 2016

A DOG’S LIFE

This week has been a sad one when we had to say goodbye to Holly, our dear little Border terrier, who passed away peacefully at home, aged seventeen and a half: a veritable Methuselah in doggy-years.
Little Hols had a sweet and gentle nature and was much loved by all who encountered her. She will be greatly missed.
I wrote these verses a couple of years ago and publish them today as a tribute to her and in thanks for the joy she brought us.



Holly Fleming at Bordeaux Bay


 
















HOLLY

Waking, my hand falls on warm fur:
a small rib-cage rising, falling,
as breath goes on doing its work.

We are connected, she to me,
by synchronous breathing; by love,
on my part; on hers, obedience.

Now fifteen years, I hold her close,
gently as when she was a pup,
skin-and-bones, promising nothing.

A good dog, demanding only
a clean, warm bed; small kindnesses.
Fortune, grant her sleep, untroubled.



Holly with Jane in Tuscany 2014

Monday, 18 January 2016

A TURN-UP FOR THE BOOK

Whilst the new year is traditionally a time to embrace the future, it’s also an opportunity to look back at the steadily-accumulating past.
So much of our personal history is embodied in what we own, treasure or discard.  

Even abandoned things have a habit of turning up again, often in the most unlikely of places.
This poem appeared long ago in The Alderney Journal, which was a popular local magazine in the Bailiwick.  
I don't know whether The Alderney Journal still exists but my contributor's copy, from all those years ago, certainly does and it contains this poem, which also found its way into my second book of verse, Strange Journey. 




JUMBLE


At jumble sales and stalls of bric-a-brac,
these old things gather like tide-wrack
washed up out of a sea of years:
the shoehorn with the fox-head handle,
the candlestick without a candle,
the photograph of Brighton Pier,
those carved monkeys that can see or say or hear
no evil thing,
the ugly vase Aunt Lizzie sent us from Peking before the war,
the Coronation mugs and hairbrush sets
and bagatelle, where winner gets the highest score.

Like postcards, from a place called childhood,
that went astray
in some post-office pigeon-hole or tray,
they are delivered now, belatedly.
We turn them over in our ageing hands,
examining their surfaces,
weaving strands of antiquity
into some flawed pattern that we call the past.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

SCORES OF YEARS

Here's a nostalgia piece for anyone born in the Nineteen Forties or Fifties, before money transformed sport into the travesty it is now, and imagination was a wild unfettered thing that gave children access to other lives and other worlds without the aid of computers.
My brother and I often played football in our back-yard and accompanied our play with a breathless and inventive running commentary that was only silenced by the evening call to supper.  
Hard to believe that it's more than three score years ago.




















 

FOOTBALL

I was West Ham, claret and blue;
my brother, Manchester City:
simply arbitrary choices.
Just kids, we didn’t have a clue,
as we outdid Walter Mitty
in our dreaming.  We heard voices

of imaginary team-mates,
a ref’s shrill whistle, the crowd’s chant;
pictured a stream of cloth-capped men
filing through turnstiles, the broad gates
of Upton Park, ant after ant
in an anthill of sound. Often,

I’d let him win: I was older.
More often, I’d score the winner:
(Vic Keeble, with gunslinger eyes,
shoots the first goal!
). Few were bolder
than Keeble. When called for dinner
we’d comply with audible sighs.

and the pitch would become backyard
or patchy grass once more. Roy Paul
would sit with Vic to eat barmbrack
and jam, forgetting that they’d warred
for Cup or points. We loved football
back then, and football loved us back.

Friday, 8 January 2016

SNAP HAPPY

"What will survive of us is love."  Philip Larkin

Like most things, photography has changed beyond imagination during my lifetime and taking a photograph is no longer an event: nowadays it’s a commonplace activity, indulged in almost unthinkingly, like snacking or swearing.
The first camera I remember was my mother’s Box Brownie which, as the name suggests, was an oblong box that contained a spool of film. It had a small window on top where the operator could view the sitter's image. 

Photographs, ‘snaps’ as we called them, used to be monochrome and generally quite small. 
Street-photographers and professionals produced larger prints, but the amateur, recreational snapper, and my mother was one of these, was generally content with simply capturing a recognisable image of the sitter.
A completed spool of film would be taken to the local chemist to be developed and printed, then several days of excited anticipation would pass before the pictures could be collected, along with their negatives for additional prints if necessary. 
All this was all a far cry from the instant gratification provided by today's digital technology. 
Over the years, snaps accumulated and we children were photographed at various stages in our development: lounging plumply in prams, setting off on our first day to school.
Snaps were treasured and kept, occasionally in family albums, but more often than not in recycled biscuit tins, which were sufficiently capacious to accommodate the monochrome record of our early lives.
The image below, which prompted the following poem, is one of the few pictures I’ve managed to retain of my late parents when they were young. 

It's one of my, and my daughter's, favourites. 



SNAPSHOT

The photograph is monochrome
and although posed, they look at ease,
their hair untroubled by the breeze,
on black rocks by white, surging foam.

They look so young, their faces clear
of doubt, and confident they seem.
Of brighter worlds, perhaps, they dream
than their world, hostile and austere.

A Presbyterian world of grey:
old churches, elders, cold desires;
of tribal wars, anxious cease-fires,
and preachers urging fight or pray.

They sit there waiting to become
whatever life will let them be:
two lovers, young, beside the sea,
bashful, blushing, tongue-tied, dumb.

My parents, years before my birth,
in sensible street-clothes they sit,
their earnest eyes with bright hope lit
and, yes, perhaps a hint of mirth.

As I look back at them from here,
the future, many worlds away
from those young lovers, that fine day
the shutter blinked its unshed tear,

I marvel that, with love alone,
we brave the terrible unknown.



Monday, 4 January 2016

THE WEALTH OF HEALTH

In this age of entitlement, robust health is something many of us take for granted.
Only when confidence in our invulnerability is challenged do we appreciate that, in our hierarchy of needs, good health sits at the summit, and almost all other aspects of our lives fall into place beneath it. 
I wrote this poem last year with a particular outcome in mind for the protagonist. On rereading it, however, I see that outcome as open to an alternative interpretation.

Let the reader decide.





 



















ENLIGHTENMENT

Doctor speaks in euphemisms
and she only partly listens,
then she’s outside on the pavement
where the passersby ignore her.

Just another hapless patient,
numb beyond the point of weeping,
breathing stale air, never sweeter,
seeing beauty all about her.


Friday, 1 January 2016

LORDS OF THE DANCE

During the autumn of 2015 I completed a quartet of poems under the working title, Murchen, which is the Gaelic word for Hare, a creature that I find fascinating, both in the many myths that surround it and in its graceful reality.
All four of the Murchen poems were written so that they may be read individually or collectively as segments of a quartet.
The one below is the third quadrant and seems to me to strike a suitably optimistic note on which to begin this New Year.




NOW

They awake,
past erased, future
nonexistent.

The world begins afresh.

Only the extraordinary
now,
a collision of senses,
exists.

Music.

Blackbird’s flute,
grasshopper’s fiddle,
drumbeat scuttle of field-mice,
accordion-wind in high meadows.

Silence.

In crystalline pools
trout glide like ghosts.


Owls, tombed in dead trees,
imitate death.

Dreamlike,
in the magical moment,

hares dance.