Thursday, 8 December 2016

Deep Sea Creatures - there's a disco going on down there.

I have always loved the sea. I should qualify that statement.  I have always loved sitting on the shore, watching the sea.  I do like to swim in the sea but I am only tiny and not a strong swimmer, so I stay within standing depth.  I don't enjoy water sports but I love to swim in the sea, on a calm day, off the side of a boat.  I admire people who scuba and snorkel but it is not for me. Although I am fascinated by what is down there, for the most part , I would rather be introduced via a television screen.

I swan with dolphins in Copa Bodega Bay, Florida and I have stroked the shells of wild turtles in the Aegean but deep water is a scary place best left to the professionals. Jacques Cousteau, the legendary deep sea diver and film-maker was born in 1910 and died in 1997.  It was through his eyes and pioneering work to develop diving equipment that I began my own journey to the bottom of the sea.  He opened up an alien world, never seen before and took the first dives that started a hundred years of discovery.  While Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were taking their first steps on the moon, Cousteau was crossing the frontier of earth's inner space and his adventures introduced us to life forms and phenomenon beyond the imagination of H.G. Wells.



We owe Cousteau a debt of gratitude. He campaigned long and hard to protect our great reefs, to reduce whaling and to prevent underwater storage of nuclear waste. His well documented journeys filled our Sunday night screen and like him, many of us fell in love with the sea.

I love to read about new natural science discoveries and two years ago, won an annual subscription to National Geographic magazine. This year I was given a subscription as a truly thoughtful birthday gift. It drops through my letter box every month as a gift that keeps on giving. I lap up every article, every incredible new gem of information and every startlingly beautiful underwater photographs.  It has been known for many decades that many marine species are bioluminescent, usually emitting a blue or green light as part of a chemical process. The phosphorescent glow attracts prey via a lure or perhaps a mate. 

In 2014, two U.S marine biologists Gruber and Sparks, photographed marine creatures that display a different kind of colour change.  They are bio-florescent under Ultra Violet light and many glow in the dark, displaying colours on the infra red part of the spectrum. Without the presence of UV light - we, as human explorers of our own planet, have been blind to these wonderful illuminations.  It seems there has been an underwater party going on that we are only just beginning to uncover.  I may have to learn to scuba dive after all.  It's going to be the event of the century.




 
Shine a light

It’s dark down here
In the depths of despair,
I keep losing my way.
Is there anyone there?

I know it’s the season
for me to be jolly,
But my lights have gone out
and I haven’t much lolly.  

Can somebody help me?
Just switch on the light
To show that you care
And perhaps then I might –

Glow with a smile
as I welcome each day
and bio- fluoresce
In a rainbow display.


 
 
Have a great week.  Thanks for reading.  Adele 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Creatures of the Deep - The Unknown

11:04:00 Posted by Pamela Winning , , , , , No comments
There’s something about the sea that draws me to the coast to admire the view of the horizon. It’s a view I’ve grown up with, being fortunate to have seafront windows overlooking Blackpool promenade for most of my childhood. My travels, whether home or abroad, have involved me searching the nearest coastline where possible and wanting to reach the furthest point, Land’s End, John O’Groats. It may be a bit odd, then, that I find the sea scary.
 
 
My earliest fear of the sea happened in Morecambe, probably the late 1950s before I started school. Uncle Roy, who used to swim in the sea every day and had a physique to prove it, lifted me on to his shoulders and waded through the waves. He held my feet really tight and I felt safe up there, but the roar of the tide terrified me and as I became distressed, he took me back to play on the beach with my dad. For a long time I wouldn’t walk on the sea-side of any promenade. The experience instilled in me a great respect for the power of the sea. Any thoughts of the creatures within came later.

When I was nine or ten I wrote a horror story called The Unknown. I had been reading ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ by Jules Verne and was fascinated by the creatures of the deep. We were living in Blackpool now and I had my first sea-view bedroom window. I imagined all kinds of ocean-dwelling monsters.  In The Unknown, a massive, green, scaly dragon-cum-dinosaur emerged from the waves, eager to climb over the sea wall and terrorise South Shore, especially me. It was so good, I gave myself nightmares.

There were worse nightmares to come. Around that time I started to watch ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’. It was a family thing. We’d gather round the television with the treat of a picnic tea in the lounge to see what challenge was in store for the Seaview, a nuclear submarine.  I wasn’t following the plot or the story. I was waiting for the scary bit, the first glimpse of an underwater monster that was causing all the trouble. It was usually a giant octopus that was wrapped round the deep sea vessel, or something with lots of sharp, pointed scales and more teeth than any other creature, had fastened itself to the propeller. It began to fill me with more fear than the Daleks, but luckily, I had Commander Lee Crane (David Hedison) to protect me. In my dreams.

I enjoy the Sealife Centre as long as I don’t have to touch anything or get close up, but I can’t bear the recent images of newly discovered deep sea creatures. They look like something from a low budget science fiction movie or even my own sea monster from The Unknown.

I’ll continue to watch the horizon, the shimmering golden ripples of the sunset’s reflection on a calm sea, or the tempestuous waves crashing in a storm. I’ll try not to think too much about what lies beneath.

 


The Octopus by Ogden Nash

 

Tell me, O Octopus I begs

Is those things arms or is they legs?

I marvel at thee, Octopus;

If I were thou, I’d call me Us.

 

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Very Private Place

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to hide away in a quiet, cosy corner, preferably with a book and a drink (back then, orange juice, these days, tea or coffee) and, if possible, some sort of calorific snack.   

As a child, there’s something particularly enticing about a den, especially one cobbled together out of old bits and pieces – blankets, tablecloths, scarves, discarded cushions – and all held together with safety pins and sellotape.  I always went for HCF  (High Cosy Factor) so warmth, low lights and a hidden view into the real world were all points high on my agenda.  That little area under the stairs was always good, so long as I had a cushion to sit on, a blanket to throw over me and the door was left slightly ajar for spying purposes.

I’m not sure where, when or quite how this obsession with these very private places started but I know it goes back a long way.  I remember when my brothers and I received transistor radios for Christmas.  We were thrilled.  It was certainly the best present I’d ever received and promised endless excitement, preferably within some sort of den situation.  The bottom bunk, with a blanket as a screen was a speedy solution, but even better was to take the radio under the covers at bedtime and wait, with escalating excitement, for Midweek Theatre, the highlight of my week.  Of course, this was a Wednesday night and I had school the following day.  I was supposed to be sleeping, so this was definitely a covert activity.  One night the play was so frightening that I was scared to open my eyes.  Worriedly, I turned off the radio, missing the grand denouement, and called for the comforting presence of my mum.  Needless to say, I never admitted to what I’d been doing, but whimpered something about a nightmare.  It didn’t stop the bed/den activity but it did make me a bit more choosy about what I listened to.

At about this time I was considerably in awe of my granddad’s shed, which was his little haven from the stresses of normal life (and my grandma).  It was small, jam packed with old jars and tins holding an assortment of nails, screws and washers, and had its own unique shed smell: wood shavings, glue, creosote and granddad’s Old Virginia roll ups.  Often, when we visited, grandma would be bustling about in the kitchen and granddad would be making something in his shed – tiny chairs made of pegs, crude picture frames, little boxes with ill-fitting lids.  Always a man of few words, he loved to be on his own, which probably explains his actions one day when my brother, then aged about three, was sent out to ‘see granddad.’  As young children are wont to do Geoff started giving granddad imaginary objects.  This went on for about ten minutes until granddad opened the shed door, put a tin on the ground, instructed his grandson, “Here, put everything in that,” and swiftly shut himself back in his shed.

Next door to grandma and granddad lived a family with two girls around my age.  My envy knew no bounds when I opened the connecting gate one day to discover that their dad (a bit of a whizzkid in the DIY stakes) had built them a proper brick wendy house, complete with furniture, rugs, crockery and fancy curtains at the windows.  How I loved to play in that wendy house.  My dad, although capable of basic DIY, could never compete with Ernest Truslove.  Only recently, dad told me, with a voice full of incredulity, that years ago Hazel Truslove had revealed they were moving as ‘Ernest had run out of jobs to do in the house.’

The thing about private places is that they have to be just that – private.  They’re not places for crowds of people.  In my opinion, two adults could be one too many.  It’s private, it’s secret and therein lies its appeal.  The summerhouse we received as a Silver Wedding present several years ago is the culmination of a lifelong wish to have my very own private place.   I’m sure that desire had its seeds in Ernest Truslove’s wendy house, and although I don’t have fancy curtains or a rug I do have two chairs, a table and a collection of old candles.  And a sign that tells me I’m ‘living the dream.’  Summer evenings and I am ensconced in a blanket, just me, a cafetiere and a good book.  And if the husband wishes to visit he has to knock….


Rio in his Den
I wrote the following poem in memory of my childhood hideaways.

My Den - Jill Reidy

Pull the blanket right across
Secure with pins and sellotape 
But leave the smallest gap 
To peer through 
View the outside world
As it goes about its business
Whilst I, in my tiny den,
Nestle down into the cushion
Like a mouse in straw
Wrap the rug around my legs
Nibble at a biscuit
And turn the pages of my book

My mother passes, humming
I hear the strike of match 
And flare of gas on hob 
Water splashing in a pan
And the chop chop chop of knife on board
Sunday's leftovers 
Are whipped into shape 
Bubble and squeak, cold roast beef
Peas, and pickle on the side
Aromas mingle, waft towards me
Finally...
I am lured from my tiny hideaway.


Thanks for reading,    Jill 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Heads Up: A Very Private Place

We all have to play the hand that has been dealt us - and this week's cards read 'A Very Private Place' . Hmmm. The temptation is to hold such cards close to my chest! However, here goes...

I'm hard to get to know - apparently. I've also been told that people find it difficult to read me, to know what I'm thinking, wouldn't like to play poker against me (not that I play poker, by the way).

I don't know what to make of such assessments. There are people reading this blog who've known me for over half a century, others for a matter of weeks or months. All of you are much better placed to pronounce on such matters than I.

When I was a kid, I used to worry that perhaps people could read my thoughts just by looking at me. Such disquiet (not paranoia exactly) probably derived from being brought up in a religious household, where God could supposedly see into everybody's hearts, minds, inner motives - and there was no hiding place.

I escaped from that particular institution.

However, I'll willingly concede that I'm quite a private person, happy to socialise but equally content with my own company; that I think a lot but don't feel the need to pronounce or spout off except on occasions (including the odd ranting blog); that my primary mode might even be contemplative rather than active.

I live in my head and it's a very private place, but one that I'm comfortable in, thank you.

I'm more of a poet than a politician. I choose words carefully, use them sparingly, occasionally write them down - and never talk in my sleep. I guess that's it really.


What more is there to say?

Just this. In case anyone thinks they can steal my thoughts, I give you the latest short but to-the-point tongue-in-cheek creation:

Caveat Vispillo*
Search elsewhere
for inspiration,
plagiarists.

There are no poems
left in this head
overnight!

*roughly translates as 'Night robber, beware!'

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A Very Private Place

Since reading an article about Indonesian orang-utans in 2008, I have shopped politically, written poems and talked to everyone that I can about a terrible threat to the population of this most private creature. Baby orang-utans have endearing features and are poached to be sold as pets. This trade usually involves killing the mother: They are very protective of their off-spring, just like we human mothers.  Removing the baby from a population is one thing but removing a female and the potential for further babies, is a devastating blow. 

In Borneo, a female orang-utan only reproduces every 9 years and although the reason that it is the least frequently reproduction mammal is as yet unclear, recent studies show that trees in the region where they live, only fruit every four years.  Scientists believe that in times of plenty the orang-utans are fatter and that this is when they become fertile. This makes sense to me. Many anorexic young women do not menstruate.  There is a link in mammals between female weight and fertility.

As dreadful as poaching mothers and babies may be  this is nothing compared to the loss of orang-utans that happening every day because of the global demand for palm oil.  Orang-utans are very private and usually solitary individuals, unlike gorillas and chimpanzees who live in groups and are easier to study.  These magnificent creatures live in the highest part of the rain forest canopy in Sumatra, Borneo and Indonesia.  In the last two decades, with the help of GPS tracking, scientists have at last been able to assess populations but have also discovered that there may be three distinct species of Orang-utan.

The decimation of rainforest, to grow palm oil, is lucrative for growers, governments and indeed global suppliers but devastating for these very private creatures.  In 2008, I made a conscious choice to avoid all palm-oil products.  It has been a surprising and confusing journey.  I set out with the view that palm-oil was just in cosmetics.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Palm oil is in thousands of food-stuffs.  Years ago I switched to vegetable suet for puddings only to discover that it is made from palm oil and only today, I read the label on some high end organic stock cubes, only to discover that they too contain palm-oil.  On some Sainsbury's packaging, I have found the words, 'contains sustainable palm-oil'.  What I really want to know is, who is sustaining the orang-utans that have died so that the palm-oil can be grown over thousands of hectares of land that was previously vital orang-utan habitat?

I wrote the poem in 2008 when orang-utans were judged to be on the brink of extinction. I performed it at the first Dead Good Poets open mic that I attended. At the time I hoped to get the message out there and perhaps with your help today, I finally will. Recent population counts are not so bleak but if we keep demanding more and more palm-oil, then Asian governments with burgeoning populations, looking for a quick fix may cost us one of our most private and precious creatures. Orang-utans use tools, they are problem-solving and caring. We have shared ancestry - perhaps that is something that the palm-oil industry forgot.



Last man of the forest

Let me take you on a journey to the not so far off future,
Hold my hand and walk with me, it takes a little trust.
Destination Borneo.  Time zone 2030.
Once a teeming forest, now a barren isle of dust.
There remains a small oasis. One green and luscious belt,
with a solitary occupant who is seldom ever seen.
They say he is the last of those who dwelt in this dominion
His nightly piercing cries are mourning for what might have been.
Then call him the Orang-utan. The old man of the forest.
His fleeting rusted, redness sometimes glimpsed from down below.
If we're lucky, we may see him, deftly swinging through the branches
as he searches for the mate, he'll never find but cannot know.

The natives say the canopy was infinite last century,
greed has ripped the trees away far faster than then grew.
It seems the palm-oil industry was proving highly lucrative,
without regard for conservation, bulldozers powered through.
The Indonesian government brokered five million hectares.
Greedy 'cruel oil' barons reaped their profit as they may.
The scourging of the forest was relentless for two decades
Ecological disaster looming closer every dreadful day.
Many adult females died before they reached maturity,
most of them lay crushed beneath the excavated trees.
The sanctuary worked tirelessly to nurture and protect them
but no ears were tuned to listening, though they pleaded on their knees.

Palm-oil for cosmetics, on the ugly face of vanity
worn by a throw away society oblivious to cost.
Washed in soap extracted from blood of dead orang-utans.
a stain indelibly imprinted for what the world has lost.
His upturned leathered palms have done no human any harm.
Can you see his doleful eyes and hopeful tender smile.
Look closer, with your heart - regard the last man of the forest,
hold his portrait in your mind forever - in Da Vinci style.
This handsome, gentle creature is the last one of his species
and we, like him are hollow vessels, weeping for the tree.
So return now to the present day and tell of what you witness,
his demise may be prevented if all nations can agree.
Make them strike a balance to prevent this bleak prediction,
tell your governments to intervene to save the canopy.
He's the last man of the forest,
the Orang-utan of Indonesia.
His survival is dependent on the voice of you and me.

Thanks for reading. Please share, please read the packaging and please lobby MPs. Adele

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A Very Private Place - Sanctuary

11:17:00 Posted by Pamela Winning , , , , , 1 comment
 
I’m back from a welcome break. I dread this time of the year, miserable mornings and dark tea-times. Everything seems like a major effort. It’s like an illness and the older I get, the worse it feels. The best thing is to go away and talk myself into accepting winter. I spent a few days of rest and recuperation at my favourite location in Dumfries and Galloway. Close to Loch Ken and on the fringe of Galloway Forest, a concealed single track lane winds through the countryside leading to a cluster of timber-clad lodges. They are each set in their own space, surrounded by trees and shrubs and positioned so that none over-looks another. Next to the lodges, a couple of stone-built cottages face the courtyard of the old manor house where the lane ends. We stay in one of the lodges, quiet, hidden, a very private place.

We found it by accident. A few years ago we were searching online for weekend accommodation in the far north-west of England to meet up with family who were travelling down from Ayrshire. Our previous destination at the top of the Lake District was too expensive at this time and we wanted an affordable alternative. We didn’t intend to go into Scotland, but we found this place – well within budget, even with extra travelling costs – and decided to go ahead, with the understanding that ‘you get what you pay for’. With that in mind, we were not expecting much. We were certainly not expecting the high standards that we found in a warm, cosy, spotlessly clean, very well equipped wonderful lodge, in the middle of nowhere. Of course, we missed the turn off. It’s easily done.

That was the first of many visits. I love the isolation. The nearest shops are six miles away in Kirkcudbright, or seven miles the other way to Castle Douglas. There’s nowhere within walking distance for us, apart from, well, going for a walk which is usually my first occupation in the mornings, taking our spaniel out. No WiFi, no phone signal, no trappings of the fast moving electronic world. It’s refreshing to escape, listen to the sounds of nature, watch woodland animals and relax. 

We’ve got it off to a fine art, now. We pick up groceries and supplies on the way and upon arrival we are soon unpacked and settled in. This was our third visit this year. The woods and hedgerows were rich in autumn and winter colour of reds, rust, gold and green, edged in white with morning frost. Walking our dog early one morning, I was thrilled and surprised to see two deer very close to the lane. A little further up, our presence disturbed a pair of pheasants, the majestic male with his glorious blood-red plumage and golden speckles took flight, quickly followed by the brownish, chestnut speckled female. It’s a privilege to be so close to nature. I’d rather listen to owls at night than speeding cars and sirens. 

This hidden gem is my perfect sanctuary. I feel a lot better for my visit. 

Sanctuary
This is a very private place,
A comforting, cosy retreat
Where we find peace in our own space
And rest until we feel complete. 

Close to the forest, near the loch
This is a very private place
Beyond the grazing Blackface flock,
A home from home, a perfect base. 

We snuggle up in warm embrace
And listen for the woodland sounds
This is a very private place
Where playful rabbits have no bounds. 

In the semi-dark of twilight
An owl, a fox, maybe a trace
Of deer or something to delight
This is a very private place.
 
 
 
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Pastiche - It's All a Bit of a Miss Mash

17:59:00 Posted by truthnotlies , , , , , , , 1 comment
Pastiche.  I like the sound of the word. I roll it around my mouth, savouring the feel of the letters. I say it out loud, slowly. I do this for several minutes whilst I ponder on its meaning. This is mainly because, to my embarrassment, I haven't got a clue what it means and I have a strong feeling I should know. I have a vague inkling it might be something to do with collage, but I'm far from certain. 
I ask the husband if he knows what it means. 
'It's a drink isnt it?' he ventures. I ponder for a moment.
'No, that's pastis' I reply, hesitantly, 'I think.'
My grandson comes in as we're still discussing the word.
'Pastiche?' he asks, 'isn't that like a pasty?'
I decide it's time to google. 

'pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche celebrates, rather than mocks, the work it imitates.'

Ahhh......I should have known the meaning of this word, not only as a writer but also an artist. I'm ashamed. I don't think I've ever needed to use the word, but then, who can say? Maybe if I'd known it sooner I'd have been peppering all my conversations with it.  I read on. 

'The word pastiche is a French cognate of the Italian noun pasticcio, which is a pâté or pie-filling mixed from diverse ingredients.  Metaphorically, pastiche and pasticcio describe works that are either composed by several authors, or that incorporate stylistic elements of other artists' work. Pastiche is an example of eclecticism in art.' 

It sounds like my grandson's pie definition isn't totally wide of the mark. And nor is my wild guess at collage.

I know I'm going off topic here but this got me thinking about vocabulary.  I've always loved reading, writing, the sound and meaning of words, but I realised when I returned to uni to study for a PGCE after a twenty year gap that I was out of touch with quite a lot of vocabulary.  Admittedly, some of it was jargon but there were other words and phrases which had come into use whilst I was busy wiping faces, bums and noses - that I just hadn't heard of.   I think I managed to catch up but then I had a few more gap years and I got left behind again.  This time I was re entering the art world, which had its own unique language, involving grants, funding, open exhibitions and curators. It was another steep learning curve. 

I might not have followed the brief this week but I've learnt the meaning of 'pastiche'.  I now know it's not a drink or a pie.  It's a start.....


Pastiche: not a drink, not a pie

In the absence of either a suitable poem - or the time to write one, I decided there could only be one song, here reproduced in it's entirety, that could sum up 'pastiche'.  I know this because Wikipedia tells me in no uncertain terms that: Bohemian Rhapsody is unusual as it is a pastiche in both senses of the word, as there are many distinct styles imitated in the song, all "hodge-podged" together to create one piece of music.


"Bohemian Rhapsody"

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me.

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead.
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away.

Mama, ooh,
Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine,
Body's aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, ooh (any way the wind blows),
I don't wanna die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico-o-o-o-o.

I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me.
He's just a poor boy from a poor family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Never, never let you go
Never let me go, oh.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.)
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.

(Oh, yeah, oh yeah)

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me.

Any way the wind blows.




Thanks for reading, I've learnt a lot,    Jill

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Black Friday Cornish Pastiche

I'm down in London as I write this. I drove south from Blackpool yesterday ('Black Friday') and had arranged to kick the week-end off by meeting a friend I hadn't seen for nigh-on 25 years for a couple of beers in a pub in Greek Street.

Black Friday quite literally lived up to its billing, as by the time I arrived in Soho at approaching 6pm the whole area had been plunged into stygian darkness: power-cut - no street lamps working, all the traffic lights out, shops expelling customers and closing early, cars inching warily through thousands of people milling around using the light of mobile phones to navigate in the blackness. It was chaotic and very spooky.

I eventually found the pub, which was serving only hand-pumped beer in plastic glasses by candle-light, to be paid for in cash (there being no electricity for pumps, card-machines or dishwashers). I was worried that in the gloom I wouldn't recognise the friend I hadn't seen for a quarter-century. In the end it wasn't a problem. We sat out at a table on the pavement and enjoyed pints of ESB, the zombie-like madness on the streets and the camaraderie that this sort of 'crisis' engenders. It was fun - and power was restored to the area by about 9pm.

All of which has got almost nothing to do with the theme of this week's blog, pastiche. This will be a challenge!

A French word deriving in turn from the Italian pasticcio, a pastiche is an eclectic work of art in which the creator references or imitates the style of another artist (or indeed more than one other). It's a metaphorical pate or pie-filling made up of diverse ingredients. It differs from parody in that a pastiche celebrates rather than sends up that which it draws on.

By a tenuous mental link (the like of which I am fond, as you've probably realised by now), metaphorical pie-fillings put me in mind of pasties or oggies, which in turn led to thoughts of Cornwall, traditional home of said foodstuff, and tin miners, for whom the oggie is supposed to have been devised. The idea for this week's blog was born in the Soho gloom: Black Friday Cornish Pastiche!

Pasties ('hogen' in Cornish which gave rise to the word 'oggie') were what Cornish miners would eat for lunch (see the photograph below).

Cornish tin miners on their pastie break
They were an early form of convenience food, wrapped in a D-shaped pie-crust for ease of handling and considerations of hygiene - no knives and forks required and, wrapped in paper, there was minimal chance of contamination by the mineral dust in which the miners worked. Pasties were filled with diced meat and vegetables, whatever was seasonal and to hand. Sometimes they got a bit sophisticated and had a savoury filling at one end and fruit (apple or mince-meat) at the other - two courses in one pie-crust. You just had to know which end to start at!

Anatomy of a pastie

Cornwall has long been famous for its mines and mining tradition. Tin (along with arsenic, copper, silver, tungsten and zinc) was mined in the region from as early as 2150 BC and the last working tin mine closed less than 20 years ago. After the forced closure of South Crofty in 1999, the following graffiti appeared on the wall: "Cornish lads are fishermen and Cornish lads are miners too, but when the fish and tin are gone, what are the Cornish boys to do?"

It is obvious enough that tunnelling deep into the earth in search of mineral ore was hard and dangerous work, often lethal - a long metaphorical black Friday, powered by pasties! Do you see where this blog is going?

So now you get two poems. I hope you enjoy both.

The first, Unknown Shores, looks to the skies. It is by the brilliant Cornish poet D.M. Thomas and is itself a pastiche of sorts, being an affectionate reference both to the work of an earlier French poet, Theophile Gautier, and to the science-fiction stories of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke for which Thomas, born in Redruth, Cornwall in 1935, had a bit of an obsession as a young man growing up with the nascent space age...

Unknown Shores
Okay, my starsick beauty! -
blue jeans and tilting breasts,
child of Canaverel -
where would you like to go?

Shall we set course for Mars,
or Venus's green sea,
Aldebaran the golden,
or Tycho Brahe's Nova,
the moons of Sagitta,
or Vega's colonies?

School-minching, bronze Diane,
bane of the launching-pads -
I may not ask again:
wherever you would go

my rocket-head can turn
at will to your command -
to pluck the flowers of snow
that grow on Pluto, or
Capella-wards, to pluck
the roots of asphodel?

I may not ask again:
where would you like to go?

Have you a star, she says,
O any faithful sun
where love does not eclipse?
...(The countdown slurs and slips).
-Ah child, if that star shines,
it is in chartless skies,

I do not know of such!
But come, where will you go?

                                          D.M. Thomas (1968)


The second, The Stannary Pieman's Legacy, peers down into the earth. It is by the not so brilliant Lancashire poet S.G. Rowland (moi) and is a freshly baked pastiche of Thomas's work - which you wouldn't have realised if I didn't include the original inspiration...

The Stannary Pieman's Legacy
Oggie for you, pale-skinned hearty! -
with hard hat and swelling breast.
Man-child of Cornwall -
where were you used to go?

You'd set your course for Hades,
searching out copper's green seam,
cassiterite's dull gleam
deep beneath the barren hills
of Kernow.

Pastie-munching subterranean,
thane of the underworld -
what else was there to do but mine or fish?

Wherever you would go,
your pick-axe head you'd wield
at will with skilful hand
to crack the rocks of Zennor,
to mine rich veins for tin, or
St Austell-wards, to chip out
tungsten ore from granite folds.

And when the minerals were all brought out,
Come, then where could you go?

Have you another mine, you said,
O any gloomy tunnel to a vein
where ore can still be hewn?

- Ah, man-child, I replied,
if there be such it lies beneath
another's heartless skies.

Cornwall's mining days are done -
be thankful that it's pie lives on.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you a great week, filled with diverse interests,  S ;-)

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pastiche- I get it now.

In the late 1960s and early 70s,  my study of English Literature was peppered with novels,  short stories, poetry and plays.  Each academic year I was entertained by at least two Shakespeare plays, a novel by Charles Dickens and poetry by the Romantics.  Some of the stories were familiar to me and this was because of my family’s dedication to cinema and in particular musicals. My elder sister Lesley was a keen student of ballet and tap under the tuition of Blackpool ballet mistress, Elsie Bradley.  By age fourteen Lesley danced on her points, had cameo roles in the Blackpool Children’s Pantomime and danced every Summer Season in the cast of the Tower Ballet, first as a tiny tot and eventually in quartets and duets.  She was a lovely dancer.  

In 1962, my father took licence of a public house in St Helens and unfortunately Lesley didn’t like the new ballet school, (it is hard to go from being a teacher’s favourite to the new girl), declared she hated it and that was that.  Any thoughts of a career in dance evaporated overnight and despite one sojourn in an amateur production of The White Horse Inn, she didn’t dance again.  Our love of musicals was fed by the cinematic journey.  The 1960s were awash with Broadways musicals transformed for Technicolor by Hollywood. We two sisters lapped them up.  

In 1970 I was reading aloud in English: A passage from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, when suddenly the voice of Eliza Doolittle was transformed into a cockney twang.  Immediately I was playing Audrey Hepburn, the most beautiful and glamorous actress that I had ever seen. Lerner and Lowes pastiche of Shaw’s remarkable play was transformational for me.  I had already seen My Fair Lady at the cinema.  I knew every song, almost every line and I understood the nature of all the characters.  

I had started at Elmslie Girl’s Grammar School as a naturally very bright, scholarship holder with an acquired Liverpool accent and what was more of a strain for my headmistress than my, already blossoming, career in International dance.  It had been made clear to me, before I was offered a place at the school, that if the standard of my school work should deteriorate due to dancing, that the dancing would stop.  Mum and Dad were surprised that I even considered agreement to Miss Oldham’s terms but it made me all the more determined to succeed at both.  

Pygmalion was a turning point.  A working class girl in a public school, intelligent but awkward, playing the role written for me by others.  Suddenly I knew how to live in both worlds.  I became a living pastiche.  I let the school and the world of dance transform me into from ugly duckling into a swan and I soared.  Unfortunately, there is a point in every play, musical or novel when the heroine has to choose, when the pressures of living two lives become too much.  For me, academia and dance were suddenly ripped apart by a seemingly unrelated issue. My sister married.

She could no longer drive me to lessons on the Wirral every Saturday, my twice weekly practice sessions in Manchester were out of the question and gradually, my international competition career went out of the window.  By now I was living in a village inn near Blackpool and my dance partner lived in Stoke on Trent.  The only way to keep up the standard was to travel to his parent’s house every weekend by coach and return on Sunday evening. Inevitably homework suffered and I had to decide.  Despite our success in reaching the British Junior Finals at only thirteen, I had to split with John and give up competitive dance.  He found a new partner and went on to be Ballroom Professional World Champion.  By then he was 6’ 2” and as I never grew above 5’2” the split up was inevitable but at the time I was devastated and totally lost.  

I did return to dance but it was always as a shadow of the dancer that I knew I should be. I found a semi –professional partner who had a cabaret contract. It was not enough and by 16 I was qualified to teach and running a Saturday morning class for kids in the village.  I taught for a while in the South but my heart was still in competition and performance.  When my mother fell ill, I gave up completely and settled into an office.

This week I am taking to the stage in two performances of Die Fledermaus at Thornton Little Theatre. On 'Black Friday', 9 May 1873, the Viennese Stock Exchange crashed, spreading gloom and despair. The shockwaves were also felt by Vienna's theatres, which experienced falling box-office receipts. Anxious to remedy this potentially disastrous situation, theatre managements eagerly sought out productions that would attract audiences back into their establishments. Johan Stauss operetta was a pastiche of a French play adapted as a libretto.  The success of Die Fledermaus was incredible. The overture was a sensation.
 
 


 
 
Musica Lirica's Musical Director, Michael Hall and his wife Fran's styling on this production of Die Fledermaus is way out there: True to the orchestration and lyrics and music with an English translation and a thrilling ‘Steam Punk’ style. I hope that some of you will come along either this evening or tomorrow at 7.30pm. In a pastiche of my own life, I am cast as ‘The Dance Mistress’.  I have no poem to express the joy at 58 of being able to dance without tears in my eyes. Thank you both Fran and Mike for helping me to be a swan again, just for a while.

As always, thanks for reading.  Adele