Bordeaux Bay

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

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

ON THIS DEAFNESS

A consequence of advancing years is that, like any machine, the body starts to deteriorate.
One thing starts to go, then another, till we end up, as Shakespeare wrote, Sans everything.
I’ve been wearing reading glasses for a couple of decades but have only recently begun to wonder whether I need a hearing aid as well.
Conversations with others of my age have begun to take on a slightly surreal quality as we each misinterpret what the other has said.
It’s probably fair to assume that things will only get worse as I grow older.
My father became hearing-impaired as a young man and I grew up in a household where his deafness impacted hugely.
My memories of his dissatisfaction with the medical profession’s answers to his disability makes the concept of wearing a hearing aid a difficult one for me to embrace.
Hearing aids were primitive appliances back in the late Nineteen-Forties and my first recollection of my father’s was of a leather-bound box, worn on a strap, with a thin cable running up to an earpiece.
It seemed to offer limited assistance and, more often than not, this lead to frustration and anger.
In time, as hearing aids became more advanced, they became more discreet but seemed hardly more efficient.
Hearing loss isolated my father in a way that, as a child, I struggled to understand.
Only in recent years, as my own hearing has begun to deteriorate in group situations and public places, have I begun to experience that dreadful sense of isolation that my father must have had to endure every day of his life.
























DEAF

The battered leather box
hung, sinister, a weapon forged for war,
around his neck, square on the tweedy waistcoat
beside his broad watch-chain.
I had to stand on tiptoe, speak into it
slowly,
my childish words, enunciated clearly,
humming through cable, climbing, bindweed thin,
to my father’s distant ear.

A great oak, he seemed to me, solid
in his deafness,
and as I, year by year,
scaled his massive branches,
silence grew around us like a fog.
His deafness was a war zone:
preemptive strikes his way with conversation;
that strident voice, an armoured tank
crunching above
the dazed infantry of his family.

As he grew old and I grew up,
hearing-aids evolved as well:
small gadgets,
plasticised, discreet
replaced the ugly leather box,
more like the tools of spies than those
of men involved in all-out war.

There is no substitute, he said,
for nature’s gifts: the best to hope for
is some trick
to keep despair at bay.

 
In losing sound, we lost him as he lost himself,
where shrapnel-noise fragmented overhead,
in no man’s land,
beyond the bloody wire,
and I was never man enough
to venture there
or bring him, on my soldier’s back,
to safety

but crouched instead
within my fox-hole, deeply dark,
wherein went tumbling
the words we might have said,
the words we should have said.




This poem first appeared in my poetry collection, STRANGE JOURNEY (2010). 
Copies are available via the PUBLICATIONS page above.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP

The statement that "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" originated in a 1917 article in Good Health, said to be the oldest health magazine in the world. 



CONFESSION

I blame my parents. They made me what I am. A sick weirdo. Someone who kills without remorse.
Throughout my troubled childhood I was deprived. Deprived of breakfast.
Breakfast! Breakfast!  My brutal father used to snarl: I never had breakfast when I was a lad and it’s done me no harm!  
So every day I went to school without breakfast.
I grew up to be a loner.  Spent all my time in my room fantasizing about breakfasts: Full English, Continental ... 
but the thing excited me most was the thought of a huge bowl of Cornflakes awash with milk and sugar.
One day I heard voices in my head. The voices said: KillI couldn’t ignore them.
I hurried to Tesco, just before closing time, hung around the cereal aisle and then, when no one was about, I grabbed a packet of Cornflakes and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
After that it was like a compulsion. I’d hear the voices and think: I could murder a bowl of Rice Crispies.
On and on it went, one cereal after another: Rice Crispies, Sugar Smacks, Puffed Wheat, All Bran, Shreddies, it really didn’t matter.
The pattern was always the same. Hang about, choose the moment, then strike.
I tried to stop. God knows I tried. But it was a compulsion.
I had to face the dreadful truth. I was a cereal killer. 
It couldn’t last, of course. I got cocky, overconfident. They caught me in Waitrose, my hands around a packet of muesli. My killing spree was over. Judge and jury convicted me. Now I’m doing porridge.   



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

PARTY ANIMAL

Despite my preference for a quiet life, I've recently found myself plunged into an uncharacteristic round of parties and, as a consequence, encounters with new acquaintances.
The following poem, however, is entirely fictional. 


























HIDE AND SEEK

At Marty’s party, met a man:
a polymath, he seemed to be,
well-bred, well-read, artistically
gifted, well-dressed. 

At cocktails we
discussed his penchant for the arts,
his thoughts on how mankind began:
a rather interesting man,

a charming man 
of many parts. 
He had a most intriguing plan
to make a mint: he had contacts, 

he swore he did. 
I told him I was nearly skint
but he accepted fifty quid
to let me in on the ground floor:

said he was on a winning streak,
(a chance like that you can’t ignore)
swore he would call me in a week
but now we’re playing hide and seek.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A TALE OF TWO PUBLICATIONS

Two photographs from the archives prompted this post.

  

The first shows Brighton-based writer, Peter Kenny and myself, back in 2010, looking rather more lithe and youthful than we are today.
The picture was taken outside a bookshop in St Peter Port whose window display featured copies of our joint poetry collection, A Guernsey Double, a publication that was kindly supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission.
We both look immensely proud of ourselves.
I’m happy to report that, despite an optimistic print-run, the book sold astonishingly well and today only a few copies remain available.
You can read about the book launch at Anthology of Guernsey (posts dated 7 June and 13 July respectively).

If you’re interested in obtaining one of the last few copies then click on the Publications tab or click here.

 

The second photograph, taken in 2015, shows my wife, Jane, with Edward Chaney, (right) author of Genius Friend and his publisher, Steve Foote, whose company, Blue Ormer, launched the book.
They, too, look immensely proud of themselves, as well they might.
Genius Friend is a biography of reclusive Guernsey writer G B Edwards, whose posthumously-published Book of Ebenezer Le Page, is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the Twentieth Century.
Jane was closely involved in the extensive research that went into Professor Chaney’s impressive work.
Genius Friend may be obtained from Blue Ormer website www.blueormer.co.uk or from amazon.com

Thursday, 17 November 2016

HOT PURSUIT

This poem is not dissimilar to one that I wrote years ago entitled The Cottage which, in turn, bore similarities to a much-loved poem from my schooldays, The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare.
In common with both of these earlier poems The House Of The Famous Poet addresses a pilgrimage and a quest unfulfilled.
 
Photo by Jane Fleming

























HOUSE OF THE FAMOUS POET

Listen to the caged bird sing: 

such fine notes, yet oh so sad.
 

A finch’s soft throat spills,
like cut-flower blooms,
grace notes
in a narrow street,
where midday sun bleaches hung washing.


Old women’s pachydermal faces stare,
black-shawled, from beaded doorways.
Cats sleep in corners, tails like question marks.
Switchblade-quick,
a lizard darts into a crevice
as sandalled feet trudge
uphill
towards a white citadel.

His house stands nearby,
one among many,
its green door in need of painting,
a lion’s-head knocker,
tawny with rust.

I raise the iron ring,
rap twice
then wait and rap again.


The street is empty
but I feel observed.
Eyes watch beyond the beaded doors.

No one lives there

a voice calls out,
then silence gathers like fallen leaves.

I turn, retrace my steps.


Inside my head
a trapped bird
sings.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

CUTTING REMARKS

The inspiration for this whimsical little poem was a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s many sonnets: Sonnet 116, to be precise.  



























LOVE STORY

‘Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds’
W. SHAKESPEARE. Sonnet 116

 

I thought myself in love. I lay awake 
imagining your hair spread out like gold
and whilst asleep your hair shone as I dreamed:
such lustrous tresses, how I loved to touch.
All changed the day you had your hair restyled ...


you came home shorn and while I wept you smiled.
I yearned for love but that was my mistake: 
I never guessed love could turn quickly cold.
Love was a fantasy or so it seemed:
I loved you little, loved your hair too much.


I thought myself in love but I was wrong.
I loved you only when your hair was long.

Monday, 7 November 2016

TRUMP CARD

An election is about to take place in the United States (providing a cyber attack or a vote-rigging scandal doesn't derail it).
Two of the least popular candidates in American history are vying for the post of President and the outcome will surely be an interesting one.
We, in Guernsey, have our own form of government, separate from that of the United Kingdom. It's an arrangement that does not appear to benefit us greatly.
There are no political parties here: instead we have independent candidates often elected on the basis of their perceived personal qualities rather than any political beliefs or skills they might possess.
Sadly, this leads to the island being governed by, what is essentially, one party with only the names of the Deputies changing every few years. 
Much emphasis is placed on whether the candidate is locally born, as this is seen as something of an electoral trump card.



























LOCAL

I can recall him as a child:
a nasty boy, a wicked lad,
a vicious kid, thoroughly bad.
Though none of us were meek and mild
and followed him and let ourselves be bossed,
there was a line we never would have crossed ...

... but he crossed over every time:
those birds he killed, the tortured cat,
the dumb girl with the cricket bat.
I think he relished every crime
and abject terror just encouraged him:
yes, he would crush a weakling on a whim.

Yet now, grown up, he is the one
who seeks election to the post
of Deputy. You’ll hear him boast
and brag of what fine things he’s done ...
Vote, vote for me, I’m local, that’s enough ...
but, underneath, he doesn’t give a stuff.


Friday, 4 November 2016

ALL WASHED UP

This poem received a runners-up prize in a UK competition last week. I don’t tend to enter many competitions but I suspected that Flotsam had the sort of contemporary relevance that might get it noticed, so I sent it off and crossed my fingers.
Competition success or not, I think it’s a strong poem, carefully crafted, that deserves to be read.



















FLOTSAM
(Noun: wreckage, remains; debris, detritus, waste, dross, refuse, scrap, trash, garbage, rubbish.) 

The sea does not want her.
It takes the others:
her, it discards
half-dead on shingle-sand,
the reek of salty fear
on her brown skin.

Gulls shriek
and quarrel overhead.
She lies face down
barely breathing,
a human starfish,
one black asterisk
referencing nothing.

Cruciform
on wet shingle,
she counts her stations:
hunger, terror, flight,
abuse, exploitation,
a merciless sea
crossed.

Land
that does not want her
spins like a mirage:
a half-moon cove,
gaunt trees
aligned like bars,
European houses.

She claws wet gravel,
draws herself
to her knees,
kneels to vomit.
Along the beach,
relentlessly,
policemen come.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

GIMME SHELTER

I rarely visit London or any of Britain's major cities, but when do I notice that the numbers of visibly homeless people seem to be on the increase.
As one who's had the good fortune throughout his life to have enjoyed full-time employment and a safe roof over his head, I find it puzzling that a comparatively wealthy nation such as Great Britain can allow the issue of homelessness to remain unaddressed.
















SHE

I give her cash, for what it’s worth,
but know that her entreating eyes,
which follow me 

as I retreat,
long for acknowledgement instead.
I dare not, no I dare not,
for if I think of her

as mother’s child
or mother of some hungry child
or someone’s sister, cousin, niece,
then I can
surely not ignore
that she and I 

are not remote from one another, 
but alike: 
one tribe beneath the skin.
I cannot lie, nor can deny
that she, like me, 

deserves to seek,
to find, to dream,

to be unique.