Thursday, 20 July 2017

Candlelight - be careful

I have nothing against candlelight. I find it very pleasant, especially in a restaurant, with a hearty Italian meal, a red checked table cloth, a brilliant blue sky and a bottle of Chianti. Italian food, red wine, candlelight, especially in Sorrento: who could ask for anything more. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a bad record with candles.

There was a very unfortunate incident when I was young. It was Halloween. Pumpkins had not made it across the pond in the 1960's so was given a swede and a spoon. An adult cut off the top and I was charged with hollowing out a very hard, rather unpleasant smelling globe, then watched as crooked teeth, eyes and a triangle nose were cut into the face. A hole was cut in the lid as a chimney and a string attached to carry the lantern with. So far, so good.

Then some of my little friends arrived. The candle had been lit and for some reason the adult trusted me to take the friends and the lantern into the bedroom that I shared with my sister. I think we were playing, 'witches at a black mass'. No really. My sister was an avid Dennis Wheatley reader and by the time I was nine, I had read The Devil Rides Out. I read anything and everything that I could get my hands on. I didn't notice the smell of burning until the smoking lantern had begun melting the veneer on the drawer of my sister's brand new dressing table. I had hooked it over the handle. I still recall the sick feeling in my stomach when I had to tell her what I had done.

Many years later, with two children of my own, the area where I live was hit by a power cut. Apparently someone digging up the road had sliced through the power cable. It was to be an overnight repair. I searched in my cupboards, found enough candles for the evening. I found some terracotta plant pot saucers and put  a night-light on each, placing one in  the bathroom and another in the loo. Thrilled by the novelty of no electricity, my son invited his friend to stay the night. They were telling spooky tales when I went to bed, instructing them to blow out the nightlight in the loo before they went to bed. I should have known that it was a mistake.

When I woke, a couple of hours later, there was a smell of burning. I grabbed my mobile, turned on the torch and ran into the loo to find the saucer filled with burning wax.  The terracotta had soaked it up, a wick-effect setting fire to the whole surface and the paint on the window-sill was beginning to scorch. I knocked the saucer into the loo, to put out the flame and my phone went with it. What a great night that was. The damage was minimal. A friend of my daughter's once left a candle alight in her parent's living room, set fire to the curtains and although no-one was hurt, they had to stay in a guest house for months.

Candlelight eh. Not in my house please, well at least, only if there is a hunky fireman present with a bottle of wine, an Italian meal and an extinguisher.

But on the other hand...


You cooked that night.  
Salmon, olives and tomato,
Wild rice and wine.

Simmering in candlelight
I dreamed of a tomorrow.
Cloudy days turned fine.

Sweet scented delight,
Flickering in the shadow,
Whispering ‘be mine’.

Thanks for reading.  Adele

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Candlelight - Power Cuts

That’s Wimbledon over and a hope for two British champions in the same tournament is on hold.

There’s something romantic about candlelight. A warm glow that softens complexion and reflects a gentle flicker on the wine glasses in the relaxed atmosphere of a gathering of friends. If only I could travel back in time, my chosen gathering would include my dear Lord Byron, Wordsworth, Shelley, Burns and the Brownings; and if only I could hear their poetry from their own voices instead of mine.

It was my voice reciting their poetry in the candle-lit evenings of early 1974 from ‘The Penguin Book of Love Poetry’ which I had just added to my bookshelf.  Power cuts meant we sat together in our dining-room, the one room that still had an open fire-place suitable for a coal fire (go easy on the coal, shortages). The room was large enough to have a three piece suite round the fire and a dining table and chairs set out further back. Our family lived in here and our bedrooms for the duration of the crisis.  For safety reasons we used torches everywhere except the dining room and kitchen. My father, still a licensee, had an off-licence as well as his brewery work and we lived in a house instead of a pub. The silence of a private detached house was eerie after noisy pubs all of my life and now it was even creepier in the dark, but our candle-lit dining room had a cosy feel. We listened to the battery powered radio, played board games and had enough light to read to ourselves or to each other. No one seemed to miss the television. I hated being unable to play my records. Luckily, we had a gas cooker. I can’t remember how long the power cuts lasted. I know we were given the times that we would have electricity and how long it would be on. I wonder how we would manage these days.

Thinking of candlelight reminds me of the wonderful ‘Carols by Candlelight’ services we had at Raikes Parade Methodist Church when I was a Sunday School teacher. I looked after the infant age group which included one of my children. She wasn’t the most trustworthy to carefully carry a tea-light in a jar to the front of the church but filled with a sense of occasion and doing something important, she did it perfectly as did the others, and all singing ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ at the top of their voices.

My husband and I are having a weekend away soon for our wedding anniversary. It might include a romantic candle-lit dinner and a Scottish sunset.

One of my favourite poems, first encountered in 1974. I’d spent years amongst the Brontes and it was time to extend my interests.
Sonnet XLIII, from the Portuguese.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, - I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

                   Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Thanks for reading, Pam x 

Saturday, 15 July 2017


I would have expected Image to be a popular theme among Dead Good bloggers, wide open to interpretation. Not so, it seems - and I fly the blogging flag alone this week. Maybe the distractions of Wimbledon have had something to do with it, or the insistent demands of the real world.

I'm actually a bit pushed for time myself, being down in that there London for the week-end, celebrating my elder daughter's birthday (and doing some shoppings), so I've commandeered a poem on theme by the American humourist and poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971) of whom it was observed "he could make frivolity immortal".

Probably everyone at some time or other has had issues with their own image, or sense of themselves. The social pressures to conform to certain expectations of shape, size, style are not new - reference the poem - but they seem to have been ramping up again decade by decade since being temporarily defused for a while in the libertarian Sixties (or was that just a different model of conformity?)

The prevalence of social media merely intensifies those pressures, which don't only apply to girls and women, despite Ogden Nash's emphasis. I know he was making a deliberately jokey commentary on obsessing about weight, which has its serious and dark side in slavish dieting, anorexia and bulimia, all of which can afflict boys and men as well. Beyond that, I am told that in 2017 the sales of grooming products for men have outstripped those for women for the first time in the UK.

To me it seems that being fit and healthy is of the first importance; if it can be achieved and maintained, that brings its own balance and beauty - to which everything else is secondary.

Anyway, enjoy the poem by Ogden Nash, a product of its time and place and a cautionary tale in its own light-hearted way...

Curl Up And Diet
Some ladies smoke too much and some ladies drink too much and some ladies pray too much,
But all ladies think that they weigh too much.
They may be as slender as a sylph or a dryad,
But just let them get on the scales and they embark on a doleful jeremiad:
No matter how low the figure the needle happens to touch,
They always claim it is at least five pounds too much;
To the world she may appear slinky and feline,
But she inspects herself in the mirror and cries, Oh I look like a sea lion.
Yes, she tells you she is growing into the shape of a sea cow or manatee,
And if you say No my dear, she says you are just lying to make her feel better,
And if you say Yes my dear, you injure her vanity.
Once upon a time there was a girl more beautiful and witty and charming than tongue can tell,
And now she is a dangerous raving maniac in a padded cell,
And the first indication her friends and relatives had that she was mentally overwrought
Was one day when she said, I weigh a hundred and twenty seven, which is exactly what I ought.
Oh, often I am haunted
By the thought that somebody might some day discover a diet
That would let ladies reduce just as much as they wanted,
Because I wonder if there is a woman in the world strong-minded enough
To shed ten pounds or twenty and say There now, that's plenty;
And I fear me one ten-pound loss would only arouse the craving for another,
So it wouldn't do any good for ladies to get their ambition
And look like somebody's fourteen-year-old brother,
Because, having accomplished this with ease,
They would next want to look like somebody's fourteen-year-old brother
In the final stages of some obscure disease,
And the more success you have the more you want to get out of it,
So then their goal would be to look like somebody's fourteen-year-old brother's ghost,
Or rather not the ghost itself, which is fairly solid, but the silhouette of it,
So I think it is very nice for ladies to be lithe and lissom,
But not so much so that you cut yourself if you happen to embrace or kissome.

Thanks for reading. Be happy inside your skins, S ;-)

Saturday, 8 July 2017


It's shaping up to be a peerless beauty of a July day in the jewel of the north, sky of blue and sea of green (etc). Coffee is brewing, I've watered the tomato plants before the sun gets too hot and now must turn my attention to the Saturday blog.

Upheaval. What to make of this week's theme? You'll detect that I'm in 'stream of consciousness' mode this morning. My fellow bloggers have already covered house-moving (along with marriage, divorce and bereavement one of the most stressful of life events); they've also taken care of the geographical angle (tectonic plate-shift and vulcanism) so I'm rattling the brain-box quite hard. I could write about upheaval at the football club - but I gave that some exposure in last week's blog. Think, pour coffee, drink, savour, think some more...

Okay, we'll go with this thread. Technically I'm a heathen, i.e. I've not been baptised; maybe not that uncommon an occurrence nowadays, but unusual sixty years ago and particularly so given that I'm the son of a preacher man (some  of you knew that already). My father was a missionary in Africa (where I was born) and later a Methodist minister in various parishes in England. My parents' religious persuasion was non-conformist (I think my mother may have been a closet Quaker), in that fine free-thinking tradition stretching via Wesley, Knox and Zwingli right back to Martin Luther and the birth of religious upheaval which followed on the heels of the European renaissance. From the 15th century onwards, intellectual curiosity and a growing rationalism began to challenge the philosophical stranglehold that Catholicism had enjoyed for a millennium. Dissident thinkers saw in the established church a lazy moralising in tandem with unbridled corruption and they rose up against it.

Did they not like that!
To their credit, my parents' decision not to have me baptised was based on their deeply-held religious view that it was a decision the individual should make for him/her self, a matter of conscience and belief and not something to be imposed. They hoped that when I was old enough to understand, I would want to get baptised and confirmed. This I never did, and here's why.

Faith is a mysterious attribute. I could never understand why my father, a practical man with an aptitude for engineering (he designed aircraft engines upon graduating from university) would become a minister of religion. Being of a rational turn of mind in the 20th century I could never see the concept of God or organised religion as anything other than anthropomorphic convention. I could never 'believe' in the fundamental sense that he and millions did and do (be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Jew). Maybe his conversion had to do with proximity to the horrors of World War II. I don't know and we never discussed religion.

I recognise the positive attributes of many belief systems (community, compassion, dedication to high ideals) but I also see the negatives (corruption, fanaticism, intolerance, prejudice). At the leading edge as a species, we have evolved (if that is the right way to put it) in terms of our knowledge and capabilities beyond childhood's end, beyond that point where it is reasonable or necessary to believe in some religious code enshrined in a father or mother figure - but we haven't quite grown up enough to take the positive components of all the world's great faith systems and transmute them into an universal humanism that should be the next logical stage. It's a work in progress, a constant upheaval - and I hope we make it.

For a poem on theme, I've ransacked the archives and hoiked out something I wrote forty years ago. It couldn't quite stand as it was, I've had to make a few changes - but the main thrust and spirit of it has stood the test of time, I think. Some of it was even sadly prescient. See if you agree. (Dissent is allowed!) More coffee...

Glory Be!
One day,
not necessarily a Sunday,
when the critical mass
of dissenting voices
against your repressive rubric
becomes strong enough
for long enough,
then the whole fabric
of the 'one true church'
will simply explode,
blown to shreds by anger
at decades of hypocrisy.
Pope and cardinals,
bishops, vicars and priests
will be hurled into the dusty recesses
of outworn convention
along with the vestiges
of abuse and oppression.
All the supposed sins of the world
will get sucked at the speed of light
back into some black hole
where they belong;
and in the bright glare
of the post-confessional age
people will dance
knowing they've nothing to hide
and happiness will be all the rage.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Friday, 7 July 2017


I've just returned from a pretty hectic day of poetry reading and listening. It seems lately that my life is in constant upheaval. At one time I was organised (or at least I tried to be) but lately I seem to rush from one event to another. I don't seem to have a timetable. Actually it's probably not a bad thing for at least I'm active and busy.

Anyway I'm not going to talk about personal upheaval but more about geological upheaval. I have an interest in geology but no sound education on the subject. Lately I've taken to watching programmes on the forming of the Earth; from these I've gathered snippets of information that I don't necessarily remember correctly. Why only this week I watched a programme about the demise of dinosaurs... however at the same time I was looking at train timetables (an example of my personal upheaval).

From this programme I gathered (rightly or wrongly) that a HUGE meteor or asteroid crashed into the earth with the force of 5 billion " Hiroshima's" ...5 BILLION? Did I hear correctly ...did I remember correctly? This led to the extinction of the dinosaurs after 10 million years of inhabiting the earth! I can't imagine such huge figures! However without this catastrophic event that mankind would not have existed. Well, this just blows the mind !

Then another programme informed me that the Lake District Fells were once the height of the Alps and only glaciation and erosion have brought them down to the size they are now! Of course I might have got it all wrong...
This doesn't however detract from my rather vague interest in the formation of our geography. I've always been an avid reader of maps. For me, maps are a whole book of information, absorbing me for hours. I sort of "enter" the map... exploring history, geography, archaeology, architecture, town planning, canal building, railway routes, reservoir construction, road building, drystone walling, the effects of glaciation, erosion, follies, monuments... the list goes on's all there ...all you have to do is look. It's often with this looking and tracing routes I've walked... or I'd like to walk that my 'timetable' for the day goes all to pot.

Scafell in the Lake District

Over the years I've written quite a few pieces about the formation of mountains, islands, lakes etc so I've got two pieces of poetry this week that illustrate geological upheaval. I do hope you enjoy reading them.

        Trotternish ( Isle of Skye)

         Twixt sky and sea there is no line
         Only a far off island does define
         The horizon at a distance.
         Misty shapes loom out of the sea -
         Mountains formed by volcanic eruptions,
         In a time not known to Man.
         But science has told us the tale
         Of tectonic upheaval, shifting plates.
         Fire, ash, lava.
         Dark columns rising from the deep.
         Mountain tops smoothed by glaciers,
         Glens scoured out by mighty action,
         Moraine blocked corries, isolated in splendour.

         Goatfell ( Isle of Arran)

         Mirrored sides facing south, gathering the sunlight.
         Rugged peak stretching to the sky- touching clouds.
         Stark grey slabs set on sideways- pyramid like...
         Inviting, but daunting. Head in the mist,
         Feet in the peat moor.
         Majestic peak , scarred from apocalyptic upheaval.

Thanks, Kath (Lady Curt).

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Upheaval - new beginnings.

We moved as a family, for the first time when I was four years old,  from a small family house in Blackpool to a great rambling public house in St Helens. At that age I didn't really have friends just family. Two older brothers, an older sister, Mum and Dad and Nana, my mother's mother who lived with us. Dad loved Blackpool but with my unexpected arrival, he went in search of a better life and a bigger income. It was an easy move for me but more difficult for the others.  For him it was a new challenge and as you can see from the photo - he was a great gardening enthusiast.

My eldest brother was settled into Blackpool Grammar School and swam for county and my sister was a budding ballerina. She had to leave her beloved ballet mistress, Elsie Bradley, foregoing her summer appearances at the Tower Children's Ballet and the annual pantomime. For them it must have been a tremendous upheaval. I remember that she started at a new ballet school but she just didn't settle. I wouldn't go along because she didn't like it and it would be another three years before I started dancing. Miss Bradley had told Mum that she wanted me as soon as I started infant school.  I loved to sing and dance. Mum said to me earlier today that I should have had a singing career. Next time around perhaps?

Move upheaval would follow: Two more moves, one to Liverpool and then back to a village near Blackpool, before I reached eleven. For the others, the last move would mean leaving home and working in different cities. For me, it was fine - I would be starting my first year of at senior school in Blackpool  and living in beautiful countryside.  I was the most fortunate because the moves didn't have any detrimental effect. With each one life just got better. I have been writing a series of short stories for a book about those formative years and today, instead of  a poem, I am going to share one of them with you. The book is called, Three Dog Tails and Other Stories.

It is often said by psychologists and others in the know that our earliest memories are not our own. Many, we are led to believe, are simply recollections of stories related to us later by family, when we are older and can understand.  I believe that some of my own vivid memories were assimilated in this way.  I recall seeing black and white photographs and sitting with my older sister and brothers, or Mum and Dad while they exchanged tales about, ‘the day that was taken’ or ‘what that person did’ and ‘why was he wearing that outfit’ in that particular image. These stories, although not my own memories, became embedded as mine.  Most of my own early recollections seem to be strong impressions of feelings or colours, as if the reasons for those have gone but the strong sense of their importance existed even before I was old enough to put them into words.

I remember being in a darkened room, wearing white cotton gloves, while people came in and out and often told me "not to scratch".  I don’t remember the days leading up to German measles but my lasting impression of being really poorly for the first time in my young life remains deeply imprinted.  In the same way, a snapshot of my family on the bows of a river cruiser in Shrewsbury, taken when I was three, is in black and white, yet I clearly remember that the striped sun suit I am wearing was turquoise and white with a bright yellow, lemon-shaped pocket on one side and a vivid orange-shaped one on the other.  Feelings stand out too.  There was a lift in the hotel with a latticed metal grill that had to be closed once you were inside.  This was dangerous and exciting.  I was aware of this because my ten year old brother Lindsay told me so and of course his sole purpose in life was to protect me by the use of fear:  a role bestowed on him by my parents to make him more responsible and one he embraced with the enthusiasm of a developing Attilla the Hun.
The best memory I have of what was probably only a two or three day break for my parents, was of a delightful boxer dog, belonging to their great friends Charles and Keeta who owned the hotel.  So many years have passed that I can’t even remember the dog’s name and I certainly have no recollection of whether it was a girl or boy dog.   What seems to have stuck is that the dog was big and brown and soft and loved to play.  It seems that the meeting with the boxer had an effect on all of us simultaneously and soon after our return to the Carr Mill Hotel in St Helen’s, a new edition was introduced to our already sizeable throng.  She was a German Shepherd–cross pup, who soon became my eldest brother Howard’s shadow.  He named her Tara.  Howard needed her more than the rest of us.

My family had recently made a life-changing move from a small house in Blackpool, to a huge rambling pub thirty miles inland.  It stood like an enormous stately home on one of the busiest main roads in the St Helen's area, ‘The East Lancs’.  I remember sitting in the back of Dad’s new, green, Mini-van on the day of the move.  I suppose it didn’t matter to me. Home was going with me, along with Nana’s blue, chatter-box,  budgerigar,  Billy who sat on her lap with his cage covered by a cloth for the whole journey.  Of course the move would affect the budgie.  He knew his name and address and would never be able to change his repertoire. For the others, there were mixed feelings of sad endings and exciting new adventures.  New town, new schools, new home and for the first time ever, no lifelong friends.
Howard and his loyal shadow explored everywhere together and for a fourteen year old boy who loved sport and the great outdoors, she was the perfect companion.  A blur of energy indoors, tearing about, bounding over furniture , racing and skidding on the polished floors,  (funny I can still smell that deep red linoleum floor polish), her exuberance often got the best of Tara and her back legs would race, overtaking the ones at the front. She would skid with her tail sweeping like a duster under the chairs and tables in the empty bar.  This daily event soon became known as her ‘mad half hour’.  Every day, she greeted him from school, tail wagging with delight, ready for the run along-side his racing bike as he delivered evening newspapers for pocket money.

A short way along the East Lancs Road, on the opposite side of the four lane dual carriageway stood Carr Mill Dam. It was a large fresh water pool in an expanse of grass, surrounded by tall trees.  There was a bright red and white striped helter-skelter and on warmer weekends, it became a place of pilgrimage for families with young children.  To boy and dog, it was a playground too.  He would walk her there on the lead, settle down with his rod and line and eat a sandwich lunch washed down with a bottle of cream soda or dandelion and burdock.   She would trot about, meeting people and often have a swim, especially if Howard had brought along his trunks. 
A natural entertainer and people magnet, Tara introduced my brother to interesting people.  He soon had pals to talk to, boys from school who recognised him.  In no time, he was part of a group of lads enjoying the long, balmy, summer days that our parents always tell us are the best days of our lives. Like a guardian angel, Tara protected Howard and gave him the confidence to get through.  My father’s plan, if it had been a plan, worked seamlessly.
There is a gap in my memory here, mainly due to the German measles.  You see, apart from telling me not to scratch and keeping the room dark, it seems my family took great pains to keep me in the dark too. When I was better and allowed out of my sick room for the first time, there were customers in the bar, so Dad was busy and Mum was up to her eyes preparing food in the kitchen.  Howard, Lesley and ‘The Hun’ were all at school.  I know that I was looking for Tara around the back garden for a while but she wasn’t there. The chickens were there.  I accounted for Milly, Molly, Tilly, Dolly and Lily.  Josephine, the big, noisy, white goose was there honking and hissing at me as usual and with no Tara to back me up, I couldn’t collect the big, warm, brown eggs from underneath the soft, warm, brown chickens, so I wandered back to the kitchen.

I don’t remember who told me what had happened.  I think that when you are so little, your mind finds a way to forget very sad things.  Even now, I know that Howard would have tears in his eyes if he were to tell you himself.  He loved her so very much.  I expect it was Dad who explained to me.  I know that he and Mum told the story many times to many people.  You see although my brother loved Tara and he trained her very well, dogs, just like people, get excited and sometimes they are careless.
So it was that on an ordinary day, the two companions were walking home from the dam, when Tara became too boisterous and slipped her lead. Howard tried frantically to grab her by the scruff but she was too fast, darting playfully in front of him, barking and bounding about. Before he could stop her, Tara ran into the path of a car on the dual carriageway.  He stood helpless as the screeching brakes were followed by a dull thud and a desperate yelp from his beloved dog.  The driver got out to help and seeing the blood soaked black and tan fur, went back to the car.  He produced an old sweater from the boot and brought it to my brother who wrapped her up to stem the flow.
What happened next is the stuff of Robinson family legend and will be passed down earnestly to my own and all my sibling’s children until the end of time or the end of the world, whichever is timespan is longer. Howard had to decide:  Go back to get Dad to drive them to the vet, or walk.  Tara was a pretty big dog by now and heavy but home was on the opposite side and in the wrong direction.  He weighed he odds, (maths was his best subject), then lifted her slumped, unconscious body into his arms and set off. 
It was nearly three miles to St Helen’s town centre but he walked every step alone, never stopping to rest.  Somewhere along the way, unnoticed, Tara died quietly in her master’s arms. The vet telephoned my father when they arrived and he hurried to the surgery. He told Dad how overwhelmed he felt seeing my brother walk through the door, covered in blood and asking for his help to save his dog, exhausted eyes pleading as tears burned dusty tracks down his cheeks.
From his war time days in India, my father nurtured a love for the tales of Rudyard Kipling and would often quote from his poetry to minister wisdom to his brood.   Whenever I heard him retell the story of Howard’s gallant walk, to customers or friends, the pride would swell his chest and love mist his eyes.  Now as a mother myself, I understand, that on that saddest of days, the last line of the poem ‘If’ became a statement of Dad’s love for his first born son. That day, for my father, my brother became a man.     
Thanks for reading - hope to see you all at Lancashire Dead Good Poets' open mic on Thursday.  Adele

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Upheaval - Moving House

My father’s job meant that we moved house a lot in my younger days. Sometimes, to me, it seemed like we had just got settled and we were off again. This transient lifestyle took us from pub to pub, or pub / restaurant or residential hotel and on one rare occasion to our own private house when he worked for Scottish & Newcastle looking after several premises. I can’t remember the layout of our living accommodation everywhere, I only remember the adventures of exploring our new home and whether or not I had to share a bedroom with my younger sister. Some places were vast, others were pokey and hotels usually meant no kitchen to call our own and bedrooms down a faraway corridor with views out on to a scruffy yard or a brick wall. Sometimes we didn’t need our own furniture and kitchen things. It would all be stored away in a spare room, ready packed for the next move. More than always being ‘the new girl’ at school, making new friends and meeting new staff, my ever lasting memory is the upheaval of  relocating.

In later years, I loved the independence of buying my own house, just mine. It was compact, tiny, even, and not perhaps in a favoured area, but it was my home and I loved it. How I managed to collect so many belongings and squeeze them in to my two-up-two-down, I can’t imagine now, but when my husband and I were planning our wedding and starting to move my things into our house, what an upheaval that was. I declared then that I was never going to move again, ever. Up to now, we haven’t, but if someone handed us the keys to a delightful bungalow in Kirkcudbright, I would cope.

Recently, my father-in-law moved into permanent residential care. Our family have been busy emptying his house of a lifetime of stuff which he doesn’t need anymore. In a way it seems wrong to be sorting out his belongings and making decisions on his behalf, but it’s the way it has to be and it’s a job which is certainly better to be done by his family rather than a house-clearance firm.

Again, it’s an upheaval but it will soon be done and in all the sorting out, there was family treasure to be found. An anthology of children’s poetry which includes a poem by his late grandson, David, aged eleven.
     Split Worlds
Eyes large with colours of the town.
Looking up, looking down.
Arm trying to grab a drink.
Fist ready to punch, angry. 

Body in purple.
Body in orange.
Split personality.

Red city, yellow lights.
In the blackness of the sky.
Confusion like the litter.
The world is drunk inside. 

I drink some more.
I have a fag and drop to the floor. 

David Winning (1982 – 2009)
Thanks for reading, Pam x        

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Sir Owain and The Tangerine Knight

The blog theme this week? Balladry. My initial reaction? "Oh b*ll*cks!"

I've only ever composed one ballad in my time and that was way back in school days, aged eleven. We had to read out loud around the class The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens (already referenced by our dear Scottish blogger yesterday) and as holiday homework we got to write a ballad of our own over the Christmas break. My reaction? Then as now - see above!

To suggest that the task blighted the festive season would not be entirely true however, as I didn't set to until the day before school commenced again. My composition was a last-minute effort (well, more like six hours if I recall) and I didn't enjoy the experience one bit. I can't even remember what I wrote about, which is very unusual; the fact I have erased all memory of the contents of said ballad just goes to show what a deeply unrewarding exercise it was! I might have vowed at the time that I would never write another ballad. I don't remember, but it is highly likely. Oh, I got a commendation for what I wrote, but that didn't make any difference.

Balladry then, what's it all about? The word ballad derives from the medieval French chansons balladee (danced songs); ballad shares its etymological root with ballet - and the significant features of early balladry were narrative verse (usually written in couplets with a refrain), set to music to be sung and danced to, almost a form of musical theatre. Over time the dancing was dropped leaving the ballad as a sung or even spoken narrative - and it survives to this day in somewhat reduced circumstances as slow-paced, usually romantic pop music.

In its heyday (15th to 19th centuries), three distinct classes of ballads emerged. Firstly came the Traditional (or popular) Ballads as devised and widely performed by wandering minstrels in medieval Europe. These were often about famous events or people, like folk-hero Robin Hood (who had a great many ballads written about him) and were akin to an oral history of the times. One of the most famous and considered a fine example is The Ballad of Chevy Chase, supposedly composed by the Lancashire-born minstrel Richard Sheale in the mid-16th century.

Then with the arrival of the printing-press came the Broadside (or broadsheet) Ballads, mass-produced on poor quality paper and sold in street markets and at fairs by hawkers. These ballads were quite often scurrilous or seditious, like The Tragical Ballad of the Lady Who Fell In Love with her Serving-Man, the precursors of pulp fiction and soap opera, if you will.

Finally, in the late 18th century, the 'proper' poets got to grips with the form and the Literary Ballad was born, courtesy of the likes of Robert Burns, Walter Scott, Coleridge and Wordsworth.

This week's poetic effort (remember, I detest the ballad, so I use the word effort advisedly) takes its cue from a masterpiece of medieval literature, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. That epic poem (author unknown) wasn't in fact a ballad at all, but a superb alliterative poem of over 2,500 lines in 101 verses.

I haven't gone to that much trouble (as will become apparent) but I have fashioned a hasty spoof and I offer an excerpt below from Sir Owain and The Tangerine Knight...

First, though, I should share some background explanation to this spoof - for those of you who don't share my constant preoccupation with the tragi-comedy that is Blackpool Football Club.

In as few words as possible, then: Owen Oyston, flamboyant local business man, bought Blackpool FC in 1988 for £1. For most of the thirty years he's owned it, the club has struggled in the bottom two divisions of the football league, hampered by lack of ambition and investment on behalf of the owner (who is not of the same order of selfless benefactor to football club and community as the likes Jack Heywood at Wolves or Jack Walker at Blackburn). Change came in 2006 when a Latvian banker became a 20% shareholder in the club (apparently with an agreement to up that share to 50%). Valeri Belokon's ambition and investment in the team and the stadium helped to elevate Blackpool FC back into the top flight of English football for the first time in forty years. He said it was his intention to get us there in five years. In fact it took just four - a fantastic achievement. Owen Oyston is on record as saying "we wouldn't be in the strong financial position we're in without Valeri Belokon."

Curious then that as soon as the 'holy grail' of Premier League status and its associated rich revenue streams had been attained, Belokon apparently found himself side-lined by the majority share-holder, various agreements appear to have been reneged on and the Oystons are alleged to have diverted many millions of pounds that should have gone to the football club into their other businesses. Lack of ambition and lack of investment soon reasserted themselves as the modus operandi and Blackpool FC plunged from top flight to bottom division in five disastrous seasons. Blackpool fans have not taken this cynical management lying down. Most of us are disgusted by the Oystons' poor custodianship of our football club and are boycotting until Owen agrees to sell up and go. Nor has Mr Belokon. The Latvian has taken the Oystons to the High Court under the Companies Act claiming unfair prejudice and seeking to expose the Oystons' business practices in the process. The five-week trial is about to enter its final week. We await the outcome with keen interest.

I hope this final canto does not prove a jinx. We want our club back. Fingers crossed...

Sir Owain and The Tangerine Knight  - Canto XII
Blight spread like plague through Blackpool town,
Football's fortunes came tumbling down,
But funds for use in time of need
Had been diverted without heed,
If not illegal then as least unethical,
The motive unmistakeable -
No thought of putting football first.
Our famous club was sadly curst.

When fans perceived the owners' greed,
Then Owain Out became the creed:
Give not a penny more to his regime
While staying loyal to the team
Perforce the order of the day.
Fans in their thousands stayed away.
But supporters rallying for change, alone
Persuaded not Sir Owain to atone.

Then the man who'd fired our great revival
Stepped forth as Owains' doughty rival.
The magnate seeming in denial,
'Truth and honour' went on trial.
A costly battle thus was fought
For justice in the highest court.
What was revealed soon made it clear
There could be but one winner here.

So after thirty long, hard years of Old Sir Owain acting like a feudal Lord,
Thanks to that Knight in Tangerine our football club was finally restored.

Thanks for reading. Have an intrepid week, S ;-)

Friday, 30 June 2017

Ballads And Folk Songs

I enjoy traditional folk songs, set as ballads. Those tales..true stories from beginning to end and most often with a moral. Often tragic, adventurous, depicting love or lost love, heartbreak, emotions. The whole gambit of a good story . Singing ballads was a means of spreading news of real life events.

I've never written a ballad myself (that's something to try). But I recall using "The Ballad of Jesse James" in an exercise I had to do for a postal course I did on Teaching English as a second language.

The most memorable of the ballads I've read is " Sir Patrick Spens" a Scottish ballad with no known author....the last line being..

      Half 'oor, half 'oor
      To Aberdour.
      'Tis fifty fathoms deep,
      And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
      With the Scots lords at his feet.

It's a great ballad and a great story...all true.     I'll leave you to look it up and enjoy.

Thanks for reading my short contribution this week...Kath

Thursday, 29 June 2017

I love writing Ballads.

If you research what a poetic ballad really is, you will discover that they are usually written about and dedicated to a heroic figure. As a school child I read and did comprehension exercises about Samuel Taylor Coleridge's,  Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  The ballad itself is astonishing.  It is hypnotic, both in its imagery and the telling of the story. I still recall many of the details fifty years later. Wow that says something doesn't it.

No wonder then, that when I started to write poetry, the idea of a well written 100 verse ballad was always there waiting to be developed.  One day, I had a piece of creative writing to submit for an exam portfolio. I had decided to write a ballad but at that moment was struggling to find a suitable hero. On arriving home, the usual pile of junk mail met me, as I opened the front door. I leafed through, as I always do, in case a letter was hidden between and there was a request from the RNLI for funds to buy equipment for lifeboat men.

Suddenly I had the material for my epic poem, The Ballad of The Lifeboat Man. It helped me towards a distinction in the exam, took six weeks to write and tells the tale of a local man and boy who run into difficulties sailing from the Wyre Estuary.  While I was writing the poem, a helicopter crashed into the Irish sea off the Blackpool coast when delivering fresh crew to a gas rig. Despite the bravery of lifeboat crews from all local stations, all those aboard the helicopter died.  Their bodies were all brought to shore by the RNLI volunteers. My completed poem was given to the North West RNLI with a final memorial verse.

The Irish Sea around Morecambe Bay can be a very dangerous place. In 2015, I was asked to get involved with the restoration of  Euston Park in Fleetwood. With the help of research by Lynn Asgar from Fleetwood museum, I wrote a ballad for two brave, young Fleetwood men who have a memorial obelisk in the park. Several weeks later, I was asked by the designer, to select 333 characters from my poem and these were carved into a stone circular seat that now sits around the obelisk. I am very proud to have part of a poem as a permanent fixture in the renovated park but I am also humbled to have been asked to memorialise their heroism.

The Ballad of Greenall and Abrams

In the reign of Queen Victoria,
November 1890, a violent storm played havoc
with the ships in Morecambe Bay.
The lifeboat from the ‘Child of Hale’
rowed into a force ten gale,  to rescue
thirteen men aboard Norwegian barque ‘Labora’.
Each man  was dragged aboard the boat,
from lifebuoys keeping them afloat,
in freezing waters of the Irish Sea.

Later on that dreadful day,
the lifeboat ‘Edith’ made her way
to aid ‘New Brunswick’ floundering
in the bay. Robert Wright’s heroic crew,
using lifeboat Number Two,
safely brought back every hand
to the haven of the land.

But still the storm did not abate
and the hour was very late
when a Fleetwood fishing smack
was struggling to get  safely back.
There was a schooner in distress.
‘Jean Campbell’ was about to sink,
all hands would fall into the drink.

Wild and free the storm winds blew,
high and higher great waves grew,
yet the fearless ‘Osprey’ crew
left the safety of their ship,
rowing out to sea, they risked it all
to answer fellow sailors call.
And soon the schooner’s crew of three
were hauled into the little boat.

Tragically, in towering waves,
it swamped. They sank to watery graves.
Only one brave man survived,
hauled aboard ‘Osprey’ as he swam alongside,
George Greenall and James Abrams gave their lives.
In memory of the two who died,
we deck our Euston Park with pride.
A ballad to the bravery of all who answer, fearlessly,
cries of “those in peril on the sea”.

Adele V Robinson
[Wyre Poet in Residence 2015] 

Please give generously to the RNLI if you get the chance. Thanks for reading. Adele