written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Saturday, 18 January 2020

A Blues Blog...

...has to be primarily about music, doesn't it? You know, songs steeped in the pain of the human condition, wrenched from guitars and the suffering of the singer's soul - borne out of Africa on slave ships, honed by centuries of hardship on the plantations of the Americas, given back to the world in the 20th century from the crucible of the Mississippi Delta and the slums of Chicago courtesy of the Recording Angel. It's a complex subject and I must apologise upfront to any blues purists for the somewhat reductionist approach as I try and keep the appeal as broad as possible.

Of course the first impact of  'the blues' on us music-hungry teenagers in the UK in the mid-'60s came via the filter of white musicians (John Mayall, Rolling Stones, Fred Neil, Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, Steve Miller Band...not an exhaustive list by any means), players who championed and were influenced by the sounds of black America's bluesmen. From there, some of us reached back to the originals - Albert King, BB King, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Rev. Gary Davis, Robert Johnson, Son House and Muddy Waters.

I don't think many of us realised, or at least not for many years, that the blues music we were grooving to - whether it was played by white or black musicians, American or British - not only had its roots in West Africa but continues to be made there by a stellar bunch of Malians, Mauretanians, Moroccans, Senegalese, Sierra Leoneans: check out (if you're so inclined) the works of Baaba Maal, Boubacar Traore, Majid Bekkar, Mansour Seck, Tinariwen or the master of them all, Ali Farka Toure - king of the desert blues.

Ali Farka Toure - king of the desert blues
Yes, it all began in West Africa and strangely enough, the first musical instrument I ever possessed, aged four or five, was made for me by a kindly and ingenious Yoruba tribesman in the Nigerian village where I grew up as a boy. That instrument was fashioned out of a large sardine tin of which the partly-peeled lid had been cut into strips of varying lengths, so each strip could be twanged to produce different notes, the body of the tin serving as the sound chamber. I was delighted with it. My mother broke out her accordion and our 'house boy' would thump away on a goatskin drum while I played lead sardine tin - my first blues band!

Further down the line I learned to play piano (under duress - I was Grade II listed); and then I gravitated like so many others to guitar, first six-string and then bass - the latter in a band that also enjoyed playing the blues...

Woke up this morning...
I've just finished reading a biography of Fred Neil, one of my musical heroes (and coincidentally the man who wrote 'Everybody's Talkin'  which became a big hit for Harry Nilsson when it featured in the movie Midnight Cowboy ). Fred Neil was an accomplished 12-string guitar player with an ear for the blues and a wonderful baritone voice. He was a stalwart of the emerging post-war coffeehouse folk/blues scene in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, a hand-to-mouth existence that spawned the likes of Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin, John Sebastian (later of Lovin' Spoonful fame) and one Robert Zimmerman, who didn't do too badly for himself.

While I've been reading the book, I also listened to lots of those early albums by Karen Dalton, Tim Hardin and the mighty Fred Neil himself; and so as a musical bonus this week I've linked in a version of Karen Dalton playing and singing Fred Neil's 'Little Bit Of Rain'.  Dig it.

Before that though, a new poem-in-progress. Usually I only decide what to call a piece once I've written it - but in this case the title came first and the poetry has to evoke and live up to the billing. It's partly a reflection on that folk/blues music scene I've been reading about and partly an expression of concern at the current state of play down at Bloomfield Road where the Seasiders have recorded three draws, five defeats and no wins in their last eight games as they struggle to find their mojo - searching for that metaphorical sunshine state. I hope it works on both levels.

Green Tangerine Blues
With the long war won,
we reclaimed our own,
albeit run into the ground;
sang anthems in exuberance
at being home and in the zone.
At least the healing had begun.

Rejuvenation though,
that will take some time,
months one would imagine.
So much to put to rights.
Greedy though we are
to taste success
after those barren years,
it doesn't happen overnight,
not in the real world.

Frustrating as it is,
this halting progress
towards our dreams,
when schemes occasionally
go awry, it's vital
that we find the right way
to play together, build
a whole community afresh,
create momentum,
fashion a formidable group,
recoup the scene as was
before it all went horribly wrong.

Too much is new still, green,
unproven, far from ready;
a slightly sour
but not unpalatable truth.

What's required is patience,
a degree of latitude,
and our unwavering belief
this fruit will ripen
and find favour with us all;
a new season in the sun,
on song, a harvest to savour.
It will come to pass.
Just hold on.

To listen to Karen Dalton singing Fred Neil's song just click here >>> Little Bit Of Rain

After listening to that, put on your red shoes and dance the blues, S ;-)

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Blues - Don't Stop the Music

17:12:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2 comments

 
 
 
 
In my life, music soothes everything.  There’s a song for every occasion. Putting all the Christmas stuff away includes taking The Moody Blues ‘December’ album off the CD player. I will miss singing along to their version of In the Bleak Mid-Winter.  I got strange looks in church some years ago when it sounded like I’d made up my own descant.

Back to work, reasonably accepting that this is ‘my lot’ for a while longer, and hopefully just a little while.  I will do the best I can as we all do. We smile, we’re helpful, we care and not everyone appreciates us, but that’s life.  The other day was enough for me to remark that the season of goodwill was well and truly over and the chill of the waiting room was a result of the frostiness of the occupants. I’m speaking my mind, after all, being quiet hasn’t got me anywhere.

For those still carrying the winter blues, take a chill pill, put some music on and turn the volume up.

I’ve been listening to Tom Walker’s ‘What A Time To Be Alive’, a welcome Christmas gift. He’s more ‘indie pop/folk’ than ‘blues’, and younger than most musicians I listen to. My introduction to him was when he supported my favourite Moody Blues member, John Lodge on a solo tour a few years ago. You can be forgiven for thinking that I don’t move far from my favourite band, though my record and CD collection is eclectic.

It would seem that The Moody Blues have stopped touring as a band. No official announcement and so far, no farewell concerts, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the country to many concerts on umpteen UK tours and have lots of good memories, some which have been shared on here from time to time. It is decades since I watched and listened in awe to a schoolboy rock band practising ‘Nights In White Satin’ at youth club, or sang along to ‘Question’ on the juke box in our empty pub. It has been an eventful journey of wonderful music. Long may it continue with the soloists.

Aside from the Moody Blues, I like the Rolling Stones ‘Let It Bleed’ album for its great bluesy tracks. And just for the record, Tommy Steele’s ‘Singing the Blues’ is the best cover.

With a blog theme of ‘Blues’, how could I resist the Moodies? And if you know me, you’ll understand and possibly yawn. Sorry.

I wrote this poem after a night at the London O2. We were moved from ground floor seating to higher up, which I didn’t want but it turned out to be a good experience in watching the arena fill up and observing other fans having a great night.
 
 
The Concert.
 
The lights are lowered, silence fills the arena
As the minstrels move through darkness on to the stage.
This is the moment, breathless anticipation,
Travelling eternity road has been an age.
 
Then a flute’s haunting melody rises above
Twin guitar riffs to take lead of the symphony.
Slow, bass drum, and applause reaches a crescendo,
Orchestral rock and voices singing harmony.
 
On the threshold of ecstasy, keeping the faith,
We’ve made this pilgrimage so many times before,
To be rewarded with autographs and handshakes
After waiting patiently outside the stage door.
 

PMW


 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Optimism Rising!

I'm not given to making New Year resolutions as you know, when each and every day is already an opportunity to be and do better than the ones before. However, I'm conscious of the fact that some of what I've written in the last month or so has been a tad downbeat - albeit a true reflection of the state of the world and the time of the season, I'm sure you'll agree - and consequently I'm making a deliberate attempt to accentuate the positive for a while as we embrace not only a new year but a new decade. (Wish me luck!)

The week's given blog theme is  optimism  so we should be off to a flier...

I was discussing religious belief with a couple of friends at a party the other night. One of them is a devout Christian, the other like me would class herself as spiritual but not religious. I explained my background - father a Methodist missionary and then parish priest - and the fact I got an overload of religion at an early age, so that when I was in a position to choose I opted to step away from anything organised or denominational.

What I do concede quite readily is that historically religious belief has answered to that very real need we all have to feel optimistic about existence - whether by adopting a faith and a moral code that leads us to be kinder, more caring human beings, whether it's as an antidote to the fear that death is the end of us, whether it's a compensation for 'childhood's end' syndrome, the shock of realising that our parents are not omnipotent and cannot always protect us from the trials and tribulations of life.

It was stated by a very famous French philosopher that if God hadn't existed, it would have been necessary for mankind to invent him/her. Well, God doesn't exist and we have created him/her/them - be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Aztec, Sikh, Sun God, Moon God, and on and on; and the fact that there is this plethora of deities ought to be proof enough of the simple anthropological origin of the necessary fiction.

Religious 'myth' enshrines social ethics and symbolises human aspiration. Take as a case in point the annual Hindu festival of Dussehra (or Vijayadashami), essentially a celebration of the victory of Good over Evil, of Vishnu becoming incarnate as Rama, killing and ending the cruel reign of Ravana and establishing Dharma on Earth.

Rama, like a Swiss army knife incarnate, multiple-handedly ensuring the triumph of Good over Evil
My new year/new decade optimism springs from a hope that we, citizens of planet Earth, will prove to have enough of a collective conscience that we will step up to our responsibilities for ensuring the sustained survival not just our own species but of the entire fragile eco-system which is the extraordinary world we live in. Please let it be so - optimism rising!

As an extended appendix, typically in one of my around-year-end blogs I regale you with my critical best-ofs of the departed twelve months; take these plaudits as recommendations or ignore them as you see fit. Here goes for 2019...

In the wild domain of rock 'n' et cetera, what thrilled the house on the strand most was 'Further',  the latest waxing from Richard Hawley, with efforts from the Galileo 7 ('There Is Only Now' ) and newbie Emily Capell ('Combat Frock' ) making it a decent contest... though actually the golden biro for best lyric of the year goes to Fontaines D.C. for the infectious 'Big'  - "Dublin in the rain is mine/ A pregnant city with a catholic mind" and so forth. (Huge fans of the Beat poets are the Fontaines.)

In the cinematic stakes, 'Green Book'  and 'The Goldfinch'  shared the honours, though of course I enjoyed 'Yesterday',  that foolishness based on the premise that 'some global quirk wiped the Beatles from the collective consciousness of everybody except one young musician who then pretended to have written all these great songs'.

As far as new fiction goes, I was most taken with Sally Rooney's 'Normal People',  though credit must go to the brilliant John le Carre who, at 87, has still got what it takes as his 25th novel 'Agent Running In The Field'  amply demonstrates. As for my personal favourite Saturday Blog of the year, since a few of you have asked, I think I would have to nominate 'Love Among The Scatter Cushions'.

But that was then and this is now, optimistic January. I've begun two poems this week: an ode to optimism, The Bright Side, and a lament, All My Favourite Poets Are Dead. Neither of them is close to being ready, not even half-way so; and the latter wouldn't fit the theme anyway.

Therefore, prompted by my admiration for one of those dead poets, the recently departed Tony Hoagland (1953-2018), I offer for your enjoyment the following droll wisdom from his considerable oeuvre:

Self-Improvement
Just before she flew off like a swan
to her wealthy parents' summer home,
Bruce's college girlfriend asked him
to improve his expertise at oral sex,
an offered his some technical advice:

Use nothing but his tongue tip
to flick the light switch in his room
on and off a hundred times a day
until he grew fluent at the nuances
of force and latitude.

Imagine him at practice every evening,
more inspired than he ever was at algebra,
beads of sweat sprouting on his brow,
thinking, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,
seeing, in the tunnel vision of his mind's eye,
the quadratic equation of her climax
yield to the logic
of his simple math.

Maybe he unscrewed
the bulb from his apartment ceiling
so that passers-by would not believe
a giant firefly was pulsing
its electric abdomen in 13 B.

Maybe, as he stood
two inches from the wall,
in darkness, fogging the old plaster
with his breath, he visualized the future
as a mansion standing on the shore
that he was rowing to
with his tongue's exhausted oar.

Of course, the girlfriend dumped him:
met someone, apr├Ęs-ski, who,
using nothing but his nose
could identify the vintage of a Cabernet.

Sometimes we are asked
to get good at something we have
no talent for,
or we excel at something we will never
have the opportunity to prove.

Often we ask ourselves
to make absolute sense
out of what just happens,
and in this way, what we are practising

is suffering,
which everybody practises,
but strangely few of us
grow graceful in.

The climaxes of suffering are complex,
costly, beautiful, but secret.
Bruce never played the light switch again.

So the avenues we walk down,
full of bodies wearing faces,
are full of hidden talent:
enough to make pianos moan,
sidewalks split,
streetlights deliriously flicker.
                  
                                    Tony Hoagland, 1998

Thanks for reading. Stay cool, don't be fooled, make a positive difference, S ;-)

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

What A Wonderful World

07:00:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , 2 comments
Optimism: hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something

Glass half full or glass half empty? 
I’m not entirely sure how full or empty my glass is, I’m just glad there’s something in it.  On reflection, I think I’m probably a grateful optimist with pessimistic tendencies.  In other words, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I’m a terrible worrier.  Although my default setting probably leans towards optimism I can soon be blown off course by a random thought, usually a totally ridiculous one.  Sometimes optimism can set me off on a bit of a roller coaster.  

Optimism and pessimism start a conversation in my head. 

O: He’s out late but he’ll be back soon. 
P:  There’s been an accident two streets away, what if that was him, on his way home?
O: Why would he be on that street?  It’s not on his route.  Anyway, he’s always careful.  Won’t be long till he’s home.
P: Two people injured! Two males! Must be him.
O: Any minute now I’ll hear his key in the lock.
P: OMG one's got grey hair, it's him!

And so it goes on. 

When my uncle became seriously ill a couple of years ago his wife wrote emails to the family, detailing his condition and his future treatment. Reading between the lines it was obvious where the illness was heading. My mum, the eternal optimist, was convinced that her brother would bounce back to his previous healthy, funny, entertaining self.  I tried, gently, to warn her to expect the worst. I thought I had maybe got through and she would not be shocked at the final outcome.  We visited my uncle a few weeks before he died. I was extremely upset to see him so ill. My mum was still convinced he would recover.  When he finally passed away my mum couldn’t believe it.  We were all sad, but she was devastated at this unexpected loss.  She told me she thought she’d been naive.  I assured her that she’d remained optimistic throughout, and maybe that was her way of coping. 

My mum is now 91.  She’s a had a rough fourteen months, physically and emotionally, since my dad died.  On the whole, she’s remained optimistic about the future, if not always her own, certainly that of the rest of the family.  Desperately wanting to alleviate my mum’s grief, I realised, for the first time in my life, that this was something totally outside my control.  I remained optimistic that things would eventually - very gradually - get better, but I had to accept that grief couldn’t be ‘cured’ or hurried or ‘solved’.  We sat with it, talking, crying, laughing, hugging and let time pass.  And then let it pass some more.  



Although my optimism has sometimes taken a battering, I don’t think it’s a bad trait to have (even mine, with pessimistic tendencies).  Having suffered from severe depression in the past, I know that optimism is the first thing to go.  It just doesn't exist in a depressed state. Pessimism fills that void perfectly. However, in my normal state of mind, like my mum, I have an unswerving belief that I can sort out any problem - totally unfounded, I hasten to add - although we are both pretty practical people.  Give us a roll of sellotape, a needle and thread, a couple of inches of velcro, a spanner and a screwdriver and all will be solved.  Throw in a cup of tea and 'job’s a good’n.'  

I apologise for so many references to sadness and death in a blog about optimism, but I must finish with these lyrics, beautifully sung by Louis Armstrong, as played at my dad's funeral.  Family was everything to dad, and I like to think he chose this as an optimistic look towards the future of all those left behind.

                           What A Wonderful World by Douglas George  

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom
For me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
Of people going by
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, "How do you do?"
They're really saying
"I love you"

I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Than I'll never know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Oh yeah


Thanks for reading........Jill 




Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Optimism - 2020 Vision


It was New Year’s Eve. We expected a quiet evening in, just the two of us, but the best things can happen on the spur of the moment, so on our daughter’s suggestion, we walked round the corner to her house.

 My husband and I, with our daughter and son-in-law-to-be settled into their cosy front room for a late evening game of Monopoly before the arrival of the year 2020. We were all full of optimism as we set out the board, nominated my husband as banker and anticipated our individual winning strategies. We had great fun, sprawled on the floor, asking each other to move our counters when they were out of reach. I always end up straggling behind everyone else, regardless of what properties I buy, or not. First I needed to land on something but my trips round the board took me to Chance, Community Chess, Visiting Jail then on two occasions I was sent to Jail. The others were negotiating the purchase of houses before I’d completed my first (my only) set of matching properties. None of that mattered. I was loving the family time and enjoying the carefree banter between us. Upstairs, three infants continued to sleep soundly, undisturbed by our laughter or the New Year fireworks. We took a break from play to welcome 2020, hug each other and start our midnight feast with some delicious pizza. I discovered that I was fixed to the floor. Hips, knees and lower back had given up, despite the restless legs that had kept me wriggling for two hours. The others very kindly brought me food and drink, to save me the trouble of getting up properly. It was the best New Year’s Eve, just a simple evening with the warmth of family.

We wandered home around two a.m. both of us remarking on how unusually quiet the neighbourhood seemed for New Year’s Eve and reminiscing on past times in the local pub, too loud for conversation, too busy at the bar and too full for comfort.

I am optimistic for the year ahead and for the plans of others in my family. I should add that I’m not generally known for optimism, so let’s see.
 

My own poem,

 
I’m greeting New Year with a smile
    As optimism flows
     For hopes and wishes to come true,
     I’d like more highs than lows.

 I want a change of scenery,
     Uninterrupted view
     Of the river and countryside
     And variable hue.

 A welcome change of circumstance
      Is one thing I desire.
      I’d like to re-locate myself
     This year, can I retire?

 Without work place ties to bind me
      My writing spirit’s free.
      It’s what I really want to do,
     This optimistic me.

 So let me loose with fountain pen
     To tell a tale or two,
     And I’ll be fulfilled and happy,
    “To thine own self be true.”

 PMW 2020
 
 
A Happy New Year to everyone. Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Immobilised

Are we rolling? Yes indeed. Immobilised may be the given theme this week, but happily no lack of traction afflicts the Saturday Blog as it blazes fearlessly into a new decade.

I thought I'd start off by writing about the phenomenon now commonly called 'sleep paralysis'. I don't know if any of you have ever woken up and been momentarily phased by a complete inability to move a muscle. It's happened to me a few times in my life and it can be quite scary.

According to the NHS website, sleep paralysis (an example of parasomnia) is when you cannot move or speak as you are in the process of waking up or falling asleep. This momentary immobilisation occurs because the body is still in sleep mode but the brain is active. The effect can last from a few seconds to some minutes and is often panic-inducing but is in fact quite harmless. It has been linked variously with insomnia, jet lag, narcolepsy, PTSD, hypertension and general anxiety disorder.

Other sources go into somewhat more graphic detail about causes and symptoms. When in sleep mode, our bodies relax and our voluntary muscles are rendered static. This is a mechanism to stop us from injuring ourselves during the dream cycles of REM sleep (effectively preventing individuals from physically acting out their dreams). The phenomenon of sleep paralysis arises if/when the body's transition to or from that REM sleep gets out of synch with the brain, though there is no clear explanation as to why this sometimes happens.

What is known is that during parasomnia episodes the areas of the brain that detect threats are in a heightened state and overly sensitive. Therefore, common to all such events in addition to the sense of being consciously awake but unable to move or speak, there is often a powerful sense of fear and panic. Sleep paralysis episodes are frequently accompanied by hypnagogic experiences, including visual, auditory and sensory hallucinations. These typically fall into three categories - intruder, motor and incubus.

An intruder episode will often feature perceived phenomena such as the sound of doors opening, shuffling footsteps, a shadowy figure or the sense of a threatening presence in the bedroom. My recent ex-wife used to experience this latter sensation quite regularly and would often wake me up screaming her head off once the parasomnia had loosened its grip.

A motor episode (more accurately vestibular-motor) can give one a sense of spinning, falling, flying, floating or undergoing a complete out-of-body experience, a sense of looking down on oneself from above.

Scariest of all is an incubus episode which can manifest itself in any of the following unpleasant ways, sometimes in combination: as a feeling of pressure on the chest, difficulty with breathing, a sense of being smothered, strangled or sexually assaulted by a malevolent being. Quite often the paralysed individual believes he or she is about to die. Such episodes, harmless though they are, can remain haunting memories for years.

Immobilised I - Incubus Sleep Paralysis Reimagined
As I said, I've had a handful of such episodes in my time and they're not nice. The best advice the NHS website can offer is: exercise regularly (but not in the four hours before going to sleep), don't eat, smoke, drink alcohol or caffeine shortly before going to bed and don't sleep on your back. Sorted then!

Taking a random shunt of the theme into a weed-ridden siding, I've long had a fascination for immobilised relics of our mechanical past, especially rusting old aircraft, cars and locomotives. I suppose it's because unlike we more organic creations who don't long outlast the transition from being quick to being dead, old planes and trains once their motors have been shut down for good take a long time to rust and crumble to dust and can look quite poignant - even poetic? - in the process of their heroic degradation. I hope the image below conveys a sense of the beauty of these immobilised mechanical giants. It  relates tangentially to my latest poem and neatly to an audio bonus I've attached for you this week, gentle readers.

Immobilised II - Some Old Engine
Here then, the first Saturday poetry of the dawning decade, fresh from the imaginarium, its title a cheeky paraphrase of Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps (bless the grumpy old contrarian). I hope you like it...

Dust Never Sleeps
There's a lazy part of me thinks
'let sleeping dust lie'; that by
not over-agitating those motes
but allowing them to softly coat
every domestic surface
like a token powdering of snow,
the air will be somehow freer
of pollutants and cleaner to breathe.

Nonsense, of course.
Not just the tenuous justification;
even the original notion is flawed,
for fugitive dust never sleeps.
It's always in motion,
empowered by the very spinning
and spiralling of the universe.

Too soft to register on the Mohs scale,
this quintessence of hair, lint, skin,
spiders' webs and dreams worn thin
shifts constantly across the boards,
aggregates insidiously under beds
into colonies of dust bunnies,
spumes out of hearths
and car exhaust pipes as soot sprites,
marshalls itself in every corner
where decaying empires crumble
before migrating in plumes
around the earth.

But it doesn't stop there.
Borne upon solar winds
it rides shining on comet tails,
mixes it with the gases of galaxies,
dances along the cosmic highway
to the tune of the Djinn of creation,
truly star dust, on its destined path
to form new worlds over time,
new lands, peoples, homes, hearths,
new lazy domesticities.


Finally, that New Year musical bonus, a YouTube link to what I consider the most utterly brilliant and soulful 'immobilised' song ever committed to vinyl. Click here to listen: Tom Rush - Driving Wheel

Thanks for reading. Shine on, S ;-)

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Immobilised - Rooted to the Spot


My husband was only a five minute drive away from home when something went ‘bang’, alerts flashed on the dashboard and the car slowly rolled to a halt.

I listened to the symptoms as described by my husband when he phoned, not that I could be of any help. Green Flag, aware of the disabled driver status, would be as quick as they could. This was great news to the person who was concerned about getting their usual parking space back. The car was completely immobilised and the electronic wizardry that governed the engine was beyond my junior level of basic car maintenance and my husband’s greater skills. I could imagine the ghost of my father voicing disappointment at modern cars. ‘A bonnet full of sealed units, impossible to try to mend anything, whatever happened to engineering?’

Green Flag arrived with a clever computer that suggested an automatic gear-box failure, or something else, or something else again. The computer reset the ‘alerts’, but something still flagged up. It couldn’t be by-passed or over-ridden, so the car remained immobilised and was towed off to the garage.

It turned out to be nothing major, after assessments at more than one establishment. A belt had snapped and hit one of the electronic sensors which gave a false reading of gear-box failure to the dashboard. Repairs and or replacements were carried out. It took days. My father’s ghost was probably tutting and shaking his head. It was something he could have fixed without all this electronic ‘improvements’ getting in the way of mechanics.

This unfortunate episode marked the beginning of the end of our Citroen Berlingo, after only a couple of years. It had been the perfect vehicle to travel to the Outer Hebrides twice, with our dog and all our self-catering stuff.  I found it awkward to drive and considered it to be a beast of a vehicle with a mind of its own. I was happy to see it go and be replaced with a lovely car that I feel confident with.
 
 

The other night, as I returned to the bedroom after an early hours bathroom visit, I was aware of a flash of light through the blinds. I waited for a clap of thunder, which didn’t happen, but I slowly realised that the flash had been torchlight. Someone was out on the street, probably up to no good. I was frozen to the spot, too scared to check. Monsters exist in the small hours and tiny worries become massive. I managed to climb back into bed and close my eyes to all the shadows I hadn’t noticed before. I must have fallen asleep while listening hard and training my hearing to nocturnal activities outside. Nothing came of it, except my fear.

This poem by Mark Toney sums it up perfectly,

 
Night Sweats

Startled at night, I awake,
Frozen, motionless, immobilised,
Eyes straining into the black void,
Phantoms darting about me,
Springing from every direction,
Heart racing, rapidly breathing,
Fantasy and fear running amok.


Happy New Year! Thanks for reading, Pam xx

 

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Magical

As we navigate what I recently dubbed "the ragged, weary end of another crazy year", I thought it best to keep this final Saturday blog of 2019 short, though I'll struggle to keep it sweet.

December has proved darkly depressing, with little of the magical in evidence - but hey, lighten up! We've left the longest night behind us once again and the spiral to warmer, brighter times has recommenced: 2020 ahoy!

"The sun sets - the sun also rises."
And so, as a final poem from a traumatic year, I offer you this on-theme polemic concerning that much mytholigised, magical...

Money Tree
Bury this tarnished golden seed
two feet down in the dung-pit
of greed - and cover your traces.

Sit tight with poker faces
while the vagaries of a sub-prime
climate do their nefarious worst

to sprout you a handsome harvest.
The best of it is, when the time
is ripe in the wake of delusional storms,

all you need do, to double your gains,
is hedge your bets, let a well-worked lie
or two leak onto the killing floor,

then reap the rewards of your sting.
You brassholes, with practised evasion,
will surely sidestep all accountability

while we duffers who fall for the smokescreens
you've crafted, be it that shadow
of a smoking gun or the phantom grail

of getting Brexit done, are royally shafted.
You might deny that it exists,
but your magic money tree never fails,

its roots and branches everywhere,
and though regulators will ineffectually rail
afresh on each regrettable occasion

the sombre truth is this: you get obscenely richer
and the have-nots grow the poorer, even while
being expected to bail out or foot the bill

for those lies you told, those lives you've ruined
and all those enterprises you have killed
in your selfish pursuit of such glittering fruit.


That's them told! Thanks for reading. With all best wishes for a Happy New Year, S ;-)

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Overheard

I elected not to blog last Saturday in the wake of the Friday 13th general election result. In the immediate aftermath, words failed me; and then when they did come, they weren't fit for sharing, being as blue as most of England! It's ironic, given that the blog theme last week was Altered States (chosen and scheduled back in June before there was a hint of a December election). However, the trip out to cast my vote did at least give me material for this week's Overheard blog.

What follows is a conversation I couldn't help but catch as I walked from the polling station and across the school playground behind two loudly spoken women after we had all exercised our democratic rights. (The words may not be 100% precise but they are pretty close - I didn't have a notebook to hand!)

Woman #1: I hope Corbyn doesn't get in. He's a nasty piece of work, used to be in the IRA and he hates Jews.
Woman #2: Yeah there's too many immigrants. Send them all back.
Woman #1: So who you vote for?
Woman #2: I wanted to vote for Boris but he wasn't on the list so I did 'Brexit'.
Woman #1: Me too. Won't make any difference though. They're all the same...

To be perfectly honest, I wish I hadn't been privy to that conversation. It was a depressing augury. I was almost expecting one of them to say "Anyway, the end of the world is coming soon". She may have done so once they were out of earshot - which imaginative flight of fancy led me to thoughts about elections just before Christmas, the festival of Saturnalia, the crowning of the Lord of Misrule et cetera...more of which further on.

My favourite overhearing dates back to a few Christmases ago. I'd opened the front door on Boxing Day night to let the cat in - there was a perfectly serviceable cat-flap in the back door, but cats will be cats - and a middle-aged couple were arguing loudly as they walked past my house:

She: But you don't even like Christmas pudding!

He: Yes I do. I love it. It's you I can't stomach!

I suspect I only remember this overheard exchange because it was both somewhat bizarre and unwittingly witty. Ah, that Christmas spirit.

I'm currently reading Ian McEwan's 2016 novel Nutshell and thoroughly enjoying it, one of the best things I've read in a long time. I mention it here because the protagonist is an unborn baby who overhears everything from the confines of his mother's womb. It is brilliantly plotted and wittily written; actually an audacious take on the story of the love triangle in Hamlet. You don't need to know the play to enjoy the book but it will double your pleasure if you do.

Saturnalia, then. This is the season - December 17th to 23rd. The Romans gave us one of the major precursors to our current festive period; Norse yuletide being the other. (Check out my Yuletide blog from the tail-end of last year for more details of the latter.) Little gifts, much feasting and a few days of turning the world upside down in the name of comic relief - the Romans wrote the script, all in honour of the God of life spirit and appetites, Saturn.


I'm sure that, like the majority of the good people of England this month, Saturn would have admired our intoxicating new Lord of Misrule, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, larger than life, buffoon when it suits, 'lovable rogue' in the eyes of the many - certainly in preference to the vinegar serious Jeremy Corbyn. Well, the people are getting the present they asked for, with a jolly populist ho ho ho. I hope they remember that a turkey's not just for Christmas! OK, I'm done with the commentary and will waste no more words on the subject. Let the future unfurl.

It's penultimate poem of the year time. This is still a work-in-progress, so subject to change, but I offer my moral support to Nancy Pelosi and a symbolic tilt at the Trumpkin for what it's worth (the imaginarium being a bit depleted at the moment)...

Saturnalia
Allegedly overheard
through the wafer thin walls
which the Devil's Diner shares
with FBI HQ,
the  good ol' USA is now 'technically'
not so much a democracy
as a Demonocracy
for bad men and narcissists
are running the show.

There's no denying
it was a populist steer
stage-managed by cheerleaders
mouthing a simple
triumphalist mantra.
What was it a wise man
once implored?
"Forgive them Lord, for
they know not what they do."
Heaven help us all then!

As Saturn rings in the changes
at the ragged, weary end
of another crazy year,
while he stands there
tainting highest office
in his bronze-gone-wrong,
with his gritted millionaire's
lying white teeth,
shedding onion tears
and madly tweeting his innocence
even as he leeches still
on a people's hopes and fears,
there's a plan to impeach
this Lord of Misrule.

Time has come, it seems,
to teach the unconscionable
baby-faced Fool.
Tie his feet with wool.

Thanks for reading. Merry Festives, one and all! S ;-)

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Overhearing

It’s all very well overhearing an interesting conversation or catching a remark from people passing in the street but I know from bitter experience that I will have forgotten it within milliseconds. So I have carried a notebook in my pocket for years now just so I can jot down things like this from one woman to another on a train somewhere: 
"He’s the type to go as a banana."

But choosing that notebook is not a simple matter. It has to be slim, small enough for the pocket but not so small that it can’t be used to write complete lines. Or lost. It needs to be hard backed, there’s nothing worse in a notebook than creases on a page. Definitely not one with a spiral metal spine that catches on everything else in your pocket when you need it quickly for a comment like this from two people passing in me in a street. I’ve no idea when or where: 
"She was like a radioactive cucumber."

The colour of the notebook is totally irrelevant as to whether it is fit for purpose. I’ve had blue, green, black. If it glowed in the dark, I wouldn’t care.
 

These are my requirements in a pocket notebook:

- The size is about 7 cm by 11 cms
- About 50 pages
- The quality of the paper used is 90 gsm or more (but I’m guessing at that)
- It has to have a robust, hard cover
- It has to have a space in the spine for a small pen or pencil*
- I would like an integrated elastic band to wrap round the notebook
- Ideally it would have a ribbon to mark my place
* Note the point about space for a pen. There’s no point in having a notebook and no pen.

One of my favourite overheard snippets was one that, maybe, doesn’t sound so good now but I heard it in my local newsagents when the Lottery had been going for a while and scratch cards became more popular. It was from a woman in her 60’s to her friend: 
"You can’t go into the shops these days without winning a million."

I’m restricting these comments to stuff that I may be able to use in my poetry. I don’t want to start thinking about times when I’ve heard something about a friend and having the moral dilemma of whether to tell them or not. Or on a more light-hearted note (just) when, a bit like an episode of The Likely Lads, I’ve almost made it to Match of the Day without knowing the scores, when someone sits next to me on the train and his radio leaks into my ear.

I have to tell you this one from two women passing me and a friend on the Bristol Road in Birmingham: 
"But why does John keep a corpse in his flat?" Oh how we wanted to chase them and find out.
 
But sometimes you just have to give yourself up to the moment. I was on a train to Carlisle and a very ordinary young man got on with a very beautiful girlfriend. I thought he’s punching above his weight. They sat down opposite two older men who they both knew as they all worked on the railway. After a while the young man started on a hugely complex tale about how his best mate was trying to hide from his mate’s mother the fact that he had blown up her gateau. I had to hide behind my seat as tears of laughter streamed down my face. Not such an ordinary young man.

Terry Quinn