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

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Travesty

Bakewell, Derbyshire is something of a family home on my father's side. He and my uncle grew up there, went to school there, and the Rowland family built the house on Upper Yeld Road in which we would stay for weeks at a time during my childhood. At the end of Upper Yeld Road stands Bakewell Cemetery. We used to pass it regularly on our walks to and from the town centre.

In September 1973, the town and its cemetery became notorious for what was soon dubbed the Bakewell Tart Murder and the person charged with the offence went on to spend 27 years in prison - for a crime he did not commit. His conviction was eventually overturned in 2002 and stands as possibly the worst miscarriage of justice an innocent man has suffered at the hands of the British policing and judicial system - a travesty, in his case, if ever there was one.

You are probably not familiar with the details. Why would you be, unless you had some personal connection to the town that made the events register for you? Allow me to summarise. It is quite an extraordinary account of wrong-doing compounded by wrong-doing on wrong-doing.

Wendy Sewell was a secretary working for the Forestry Commission in a Bakewell office. Married and in her early thirties, she had something of a reputation locally for being promiscuous. She'd had several periods of separation from her husband, was known to be conducting 'love affairs' with local businessmen and often resorted to the extensive grounds of the cemetery as a place of rendezvous and al fresco liaison (or outdoor sex).

Bakewell Cemetery - at the end of our road
On the fateful day in question, she was seen hastening up from town to the cemetery in her lunch hour for an assignation, presumably with one of her lovers. She was found less than an hour later, partially unclothed and badly bludgeoned around the head in a part of the cemetery near the groundsmen's toolshed.

The person who found her was the junior groundsman, a simple lad aged 17 but with a reading age of 12. He used to go home to his Mum for lunch every day and had just returned to work. He summoned help from the older workmen in the cemetery and they returned to see Wendy Sewell stumbling about, fall and hit her head on a gravestone and lose consciousness. She died in hospital two days later.

The lad, Stephen Downing, was arrested by police at the scene and they proceeded to interrogate him for several hours without a formal caution and without a solicitor present. They persuaded him to sign a confession, much of the substance of which he couldn't read or understand, admitting he had assaulted the woman. He did this because he was thoroughly frightened and thought it was best to do as he was told so he could go home. When Sewell subsequently died, Downing found himself in the frame for her murder. At his trial he protested his innocence and said he'd signed the assault confession under duress.  The only evidence against Stephen Downing - apart from the signed confession which he retracted - was that his clothes were spattered with Sewell's blood. Downing tried to explain that Sewell had shaken her head when he'd first gone to her assistance and that's how her blood came to be on his clothing. The forensic expert maintained the spattering was entirely consistent with Downing having been the assailant. The police never looked for anyone else in connection with the death and Downing was convicted to life imprisonment by a jury. Because Stephen always protested he was innocent of any crime, he was never considered for parole; and because he was labelled a 'sex-offender' he was regularly bullied, beaten up and even raped by fellow inmates. He had to be relocated eight times before his eventual release in 2001 after a long campaign to discredit the case against him.

It is startling to read how he came to be convicted despite evidence to the contrary. Firstly, he was seen leaving the cemetery (to go home for lunch) and Sewell was subsequently seen loitering between the gravestones by a 15 year old girl, but her testimony was disregarded. Secondly, Sewell had been beaten on the head with a pick-axe handle, eight separate blows to the back of her skull, by a right-handed person and a blood-stained right hand print was clearly visible on the handle, but Stephen Downing was left- handed (shades of To Kill A Mockingbird) and wearing gardener's gloves at the time. Thirdly a blood-stained man was seen running from the scene by several witnesses at the time but the police didn't follow up the lead.

It took the dedication of a campaigning journalist in the late 1990s to build sufficient doubt about the original conviction before the authorities agreed to re-examine the case. The police claimed all the original evidence, notes, files et cetera had been lost; even the transcript of the original trial had somehow been destroyed - and then the murder weapon, that pick-axe handle was found to be on show in Derby Museum.

In 2002 the Court of Appeal overturned Stephen Downing's conviction and awarded him £750,000 in compensation for the travesty he had suffered. He now works as a chef, a skill he learned while in prison.

The police conducted a fresh murder investigation at a cost of another £500,000, re-interviewed everyone they could trace and took fresh statements from people who had not come forward at the time. A list of 22 suspects was drawn up but nothing conclusive could be proved against any of them - not even the owner of the white van that someone had observed parked outside the cemetery gates that lunchtime and noted the registration number of, because he and his two colleagues were acting strangely. The witness kept the note of that number for nearly thirty years. In tracing back its history, it turned out it had belonged to one of the men Wendy Sewell had been seeing at the time of her death. Finally in 2014 a pathology report from 1973 resurfaced, the contents of which - had it been submitted at Stephen's trial - would have contradicted his 'confession', completely exonerated him as a suspect and most certainly have saved an innocent and vulnerable young man from the travesty of a gross miscarriage of justice.

Wendy Sewell's killer is still at large and there must be people in the close-knit community of Bakewell who know who is responsible.

Follow that with a poem, I hear you challenge. Very well, I shall...

On Finding Wendy Sewell
Cemetery gothic,
tombstones, cypress and yew,
and you - the pretty lady.
I've seen you here before,
but you didn't see me.
I've seen you disappear into the trees
with your men friends
and get down on your knees,
but you never saw me.
Sometimes I think I'm invisible.

Are you hurt? Crawling in the dirt
and crying? Can I help?

I tried to rescue a fox once
that had been hit by a car,
fur all bloodied and it couldn't walk.
I went to pick it up.
It had the same look in its eyes
as you do. It tried to bite me.

Don't shake so. There's blood
everywhere. Your head.
Stay there pretty lady.
Don't you have a mother
who'll make everything all right?
Sometimes I think I'm incompetent.

I'll get help. Lie down and rest.
Blood on the buttercups.
This is not good. Cemetery gothic,
tombstones, cypress and yew.
We all need a mother
who'll make everything all right.

I couldn't sign off on such a downbeat note, so I'll conclude with a little sweetener, still on topic. Here is a slice of original Bakewell pudding:


Note the puff-pastry case, layer of raspberry jam and then rich, buttery custard filling, baked to perfection. That's the real deal. No short pastry, frangipani, sickly icing and stupid cherry here. Those Kiplingesque confections marketing themselves as Bakewell Tarts are just another travesty!

Thanks for reading. Stay on the bright side, Steve ;-)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Travesty

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a definition of Travesty is: something that fails to represent the values and qualities that it is intended to represent, in a way that is shocking or offensive.

Well, that covers a multitude of sins. Where do you start? Voting systems, conspiracy theories, railway timetables (excluding Northern Rail as it's on another planet where train crews don't exist), manifestos, VAR, bank balances, Preston North End switching an agreed end for penalties in the Championship play-off against Birmingham City on the 17th May 2001.

All of the above, but as this is a poetry-based blog, let's stick to one thing which really does qualify as a travesty. It first came to my notice about ten years ago when I came across a CD of T. S. Eliot's The Four Quartets read by Ralph Fiennes. My delightful LP of Eliot reading his own work was scratched and worn so I purchased this update with some enthusiasm. I managed about two minutes of it when I got home.

T S Eliot reading
Then in 2012 I tuned into the BBC for a reading of The Wasteland by Jeremy Irons and Eileen Atkins. I seem to remember recoiling in a mixture of horror and laughter. I'm not sure about Atkins, but Jeremy wasn't reading but performing.

That was when I started to notice that there is a difference between poets reading poetry and actors reading poetry. Someone else has noticed this as well because I came across a phrase that sums up that difference. This person (and I can't find their name, damn it) said "Actors read vowels and poets read consonants." Another way of looking at it is that vowels are the emotion and consonants are the intellect. Consonants can only be spoken in one way and so make speech hard and crisp but vowels can be pronounced in many ways. Thus with consonants there is a concentration on the words being spoken but with vowels their open-ended nature gives rise to you listening to the pronunciation, the rise and fall of the voice, and away from the meaning of the poem.

Listen to the radio or recordings of poetry and you'll find that most of them are read by actors. They are being paid. I am a member of the Poetry Society which exists...to create a central position for poetry in the arts and continue to build new avenues to promote poets and poetry in Britain today. I know it is not a Trades Union, but I don't see any actions that would create opportunities for poets to earn a living by doing what they would do best: Read Poetry.

I'll finish on a positive note. If you want to hear a poem read well then I'd point you at Alice Oswald reading her own work Dart. It's available on CD and here is an excerpt:

Who's this moving alive over the moor?

An old man seeking and finding a difficulty.

Has he remembered his compass his spare socks
does he fully intend going in over his knees off the military track from Okehampton?

keeping his course through the swamp spaces
and pulling the distance around his shoulders

and if it rains, if it thunders suddenly
where will he shelter looking round
and all that lies to hand is his own bones?

                                                             (from Dart by Alice Oswald, 2010)

Terry Quinn

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Travesty - Dressing Up

   
I’m sure I chose ‘Shelf’ for last week’s blog, which makes me feel really bad about not making a contribution. I had some notes in my head and even the beginnings of a poem until it all went pear-shaped or migraine-shaped. Well, not exactly a migraine but whatever it is affects my vision, my concentration and makes me feel worn out. It doesn’t happen often, thank goodness. Anyway, if ‘Shelf’ should come up again in the future, I’m halfway there.

 Thinking about ‘Travesty’ took me back to some dark days, long ago times before I was able to take control of my own life.

My mother had beautiful clothes. She was always perfectly dressed for whatever she was doing. Even the casual trousers and tops she wore for general housework and jobs around our pub were smart. She had fabulous cocktail dresses, suits and blouses that she wore in the evenings when she accompanied my father in the bar. They were always off to dinner dances so she had a selection of evening gowns, usually from an exclusive dress shop. She died young. I remember my nan and Auntie Kathy, our housekeeper, sorting out her clothes. They gave me some jumpers and blouses that I wanted. Some evening gowns remained in my mother’s large wardrobe, whether forgotten or on purpose, I don’t know.

My father remarried. Our family was never the same again.

They were going out to a ‘black tie’ function. Dad looked handsome in his best suit, bow-tie and highly polished shoes. I was horrified to see his partner giving me a twirl, winking and smiling widely, wearing one of my mother’s evening gowns and asking me if I liked it on her. I expect the hard slam of my bedroom door gave her the answer she was goading for. Dad didn’t realise it was my mother’s gown and was unfazed. I was livid, it was a travesty. She was an attractive woman and had lovely clothes and things of her own. There was no need to do this. I grew used to it and hardened myself to her hurtful ways.



 
One of my favourite books and films is Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. Perhaps I should announce Spoiler Alert here, just in case. There is going to be the Annual Costume Ball at Manderley and as the second Mrs de Winter is pondering over what to wear, housekeeper Mrs Danvers manipulates her into wearing a dress as illustrated in a painting of an ancestor of her husband’s. What Mrs Danvers doesn’t tell her is that Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, wore the exact same costume for the last ball. She tricks her on purpose, knowing that Maxim will be angry and embarrassed at the travesty. Indeed he was, as a loud gasp of all the guests draws his attention. Seething, he orders his wife to go and get changed immediately. (If you haven’t read the book, I strongly recommend it. The Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine version is the best film.) The photograph is Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs de Winter.
 
My poem,
 
 
Pale Blue Brocade
 
Pale blue brocade, nipped in at the waist,
Gentle swish as the hem swept the floor.
Satin ribbon crossed her back and laced
The bodice, just skin-tight but no more.
Over her shoulders, organza swirls
And around her neck some plastic pearls.
 
 She knew it was wrong to wear that dress,
Obvious mockery in her eyes.
Her feigned innocence did not impress
Me. A travesty, undisguised,
Without Mrs Danvers’ poisonous touch.
This was sev’ral steps too far, too much.
 
PMW 2019
 
Thanks for reading, Pam x
 
 

Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Sense Of Shelf

22:45:00 Posted by Steve Rowland , , , 15 comments
Shelf has proved a flat and uninspiring subject matter for our Dead Good blogging collective this week. Not even the person who nominated the topic has managed to write about it ;-(

You know by now that I am not one to baulk at a challenge, but I do feel the pressure is on to make this post as novel and diverting as possible, so it's going to take the form of a sleuthing quiz. How exciting is that, Cluedo fans? (I sense the buzz...) Everyone into the library immediately!

Have you ever, when you've walked into someone's house for the first time, taken a discreet (or even more blatant) look through that person's record collection or bookshelves and wittingly or not used the information to help form your opinion of them? It's tempting, isn't it? I know I've done it many times. (As an aside, would it surprise you to learn that Boris Johnson's new right-hand maniac - sorry, senior advisor - one Dominic Cummings, has a soft spot for the writings of Otto von Bismark? We should all be very worried.)

Okay, here's how the sleuthing quiz works. I've chosen six well-known household names, and I've made a series of informed assumptions about the books, specifically novels, one might expect to find on their bookshelves. (I was going to select the individuals using the Acton Impulse random decision maker, naturally, only it appears to have broken down.) Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read those six lists of books and then use your skill and judgement (and such clues as you might have picked up into how your Saturday Blogger's mind works) to identify correctly the individuals by sense of shelf.

A Sense Of Shelf
To give you a sporting chance, for it is Saturday after all, I'll tell you upfront those six well-known characters are:      (a) Reverend Green, (b) Colonel Mustard, (c) Mrs Peacock, (d) Professor Plum, (e) Miss Scarlet and (f) Mrs White. They should all be names you are familiar with, I think. The rest is up to you - just match the individual to the shelf. Happy sleuthing (but watch out for red herrings). The shelves (numbered 1 to 6 obviously) include, among other titles, the following:

1: Cider With Rosie (Laurie Lee)/ My Family And Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)/ Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks)

2: Whip Hand (Dick Francis)/ Greenmantle (John Buchan)/ The Murder At The Vicarage (Agatha Christie)

3: Appassionata (Jilly Cooper)/ Mapp and Lucia (E.F. Benson)/ Random Harvest (James Hilton)

4: Where Eagles Dare (Alistair MacLean)/ Mr. Weston's Good Wine (T.F. Powys)/ The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

5: Harnessing Peacocks (Mary Wesley)/ Doctor Zhivago (Boris Pasternak)/ Snowdrops (A.D. Miller)

6: Vanity Fair (William Thackeray)/ The Trumpet-Major (Thomas Hardy)/ The Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith)

That's it. Once you've got them all paired up to your satisfaction you can check on the answers below, after today's new work, a 'found' poem of sorts, constructed around phrases beloved of the sellers of second-hand books when describing their wares.

Shelf(ish)
Pre-loved and therefore
as one might expect,
a little spotting and tanning
commensurate with age,
some creasing of the spine
and other signs of wear
as slightly scuffed edges,
light soiling in places,
occasional wine-glass stain,
dirty remarks in the margins -
though otherwise tightly bound
and contents reasonably sound.
Still, eminently serviceable copy
in fact, with all intact,
just probably not suitable
as present material.
P.S. jacket missing and note:
stock image may not
match the actuality...

...in other words:
has done the rounds, been surplus
to requirements for years
and is now growing fusty old
in a second-hand bookstore
with his name above the door.

Finally, the answers to the literary cluedo are as follows:
1=e, 2=b, 3=c, 4=a, 5=f, 6=d How did you do?

Thanks for putting up with my outpourings, S ;-)

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Elefantasy

Oh dear, elephants again! Somewhere in my back pages on the Dead Good Blog is one about When Elephants Strolled The Sands, featuring Blackpool Tower Circus elephants taking an early morning turn on the beach (tide permitting). I think I'm suffering from theme fatigue - the old pachyderm is wearing a bit thin. However, the blog must go on - and actually there is a very important message to be got across, because in reality, elephant populations are declining fast! The animal is flashing red on the UN/WWF endangered list.

When I was growing up in deepest, darkest Africa (though south-western Nigeria was never that deep nor truly that dark), the nearest town to our little savannah village was Ilorin, which in Yoruba (local language) means Town Of The Elephants... and it is true, they were a reasonably common sight in my childhood, observed from a distance in the bush (for they are known as Bush Elephants) and treated with utmost respect. I'm sure my Dad had photographs of them - if only I could track those images down.

Half a century later, Nigeria is one of the continent's fast-rising and most populous countries and the elephants have pretty much retreated to the confines of Omo forest. Some estimates suggest there are merely a few hundred left in the country - an endangered species struggling to survive man's dubious march of progress.

Elsewhere on the continent, in East and South Africa, this large-eared branch of the elephant family fares a little better. There are thought to be some 400,000 wild elephants in total in Africa, though that's half the number there were even thirty years ago. Loss of habitat and poaching are the biggest threats - for illegal hunting for ivory claims the lives of 55 elephants a day! That's 20,000 a year! Elephants have the longest gestation of any mammal, approximately 630 days or 21 months.  I don't know how many calves are born each year but the numbers all look to be heading rapidly in the wrong direction.

a different take on bush elephants!
On the Indian sub-continent, the smaller-eared Asian elephant (sometimes called Indian) is possibly less at risk, partly because it is culturally more integrated into human life as a work animal, beast of burden, religious icon. However, there is a much smaller population of these creatures to begin with, maybe 35,000, spread across India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and Indonesia. Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to these magnificent creatures.

a dancing Indian elephant
In just over a week's time, on August 12th, it will be World Elephant Day, an annual event that seeks to raise the profile of the plight of the poor pachyderm - not as thick-skinned as it looks.

I'm taking my cue from fellow blogger Pam Winning this week and reproducing a comic poem about elephants, this one written by Adrian Mitchell for his children:

Elefantasy
The elephant knocked the ground with a stick,
He knocked it slow, he knocked it quick.
He knocked it till his trunk turned black -
Then the ground turned round and knocked him back.

Thanks for reading. Never forget, S ;-)

Friday, 2 August 2019

Elephants

   Firstly let me apologise for my tardiness in writing a regular blog. At present my life is like an episode of a soap opera. Anyway, I settled down for a few minutes earlier this week and wrote this short piece....

   Our old van had a registration number that included the letters ENP, so in order to help me remember the registration,  I made up this little phrase.
         
              "Elephants never party".

   So I came up with this little poem....
             
             
             


                 ENP

   "Hey", says mama elephant,
   " Let's party the night away.
     Put on your brightest gear
    And together we shall sway.
    I like reggae music, but Mildred
    Likes old pop.
    Make it a real all night party,
    We'll dance till we drop.
    Daisy, there, is almost past it,
    But she likes a bit of twist.
    So let's get down and boogie,
    Make sure no one is missed.
    Ethel will bring good food,
    And Dolores even better wine-
    Get us in a good mood.
    We're sure to have a good time.
    Don't say we never party-
    We can party like the best.
    So come on ladies let's travel,
    We haven't got time to rest.
    It's only a few days journey
    To our favourite party spot.
    So tails to trunks together
    And off we'll jolly well trot.

Thank you for reading, Kath

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Elephants - Jumbo Jet


 

My recent travels have taken me to Cheshire, Yorkshire and Scotland over the last five or six weeks. Most of it has been during some of the warmest summer weather and at each location  I’ve benefitted from the comfort of my long, loose-fitting, printed skirts. I’m not really one for wearing a skirt but I’ll make an exception to stay cool. I don’t like to get dressed up either, so these are perfect with a tee-shirt.  The appeal, besides the easy-wear, easy-travel fabric is the print of decorated elephants creating a circular pattern.  Yesterday I added to my collection when I couldn’t resist an elephant-print dress in a sale.  This was me not supposed to be buying for myself but life’s too short.

I like elephants. I haven’t got a problem with their trunks up or down, facing doors inwards or outwards, or any other associated superstitions. My grandmother is probably wagging her finger at me from the after-life. Birds are surely worse, aren’t they, Nanna?

Elephants crossing the promenade used to be a pleasing feature of my drive to work in the summer. In those days I lived in South Shore and worked in North Shore. My preferred route, in my Austin A40 a long time ago, was to get on to the front at Harrowside and enjoy the sea views all the way up. I tried to time it in order to reach Central Promenade when the circus elephants were being escorted out of Blackpool Tower for a walk on the beach and a dip in the sea, depending on the tide. Many times I queued as they plodded across the road, trunk to tail, enormous and magnificent, and wished I was in the first car.

Information from WWF websites: Both African and Indian elephants are classed as endangered species. Illegal activity in poaching and ivory trading goes on and for African elephants there has been a loss of natural habitat due to the expansion of the human population and land being used for agriculture. The WWF is working towards preventing both these situations from worsening. 

To end on a lighter note, I found this poem by Spike Milligan,
 

Jumbo Jet  

 I saw a little elephant standing in my garden,
     I said ‘You don’t belong in here,’ he said ‘I beg your pardon?’,
     I said ‘This place is England, what are you doing here?’,
     He said ‘Ah, then I must be lost’ and then ‘Oh dear, oh dear’.

‘I should be back in Africa, on Saranghetti’s Plain’,
     ‘Pray, where is the nearest station where I can catch a train?’.
    He caught the bus to Finchley and then to Mincing Lane,
    And over the Embankment, where he got lost, again.

The police they put him in a cell, but it was far too small,
     So they tied him to a lamp-post and he slept against the wall.
     But as the policemen lay sleeping by the twinkling light of dawn,
     The lamp-post and the wall were there, but the elephant was gone!

So if you see an elephant, in a Jumbo Jet,
     You can be sure that Africa’s the place he’s trying to get!

Spike Milligan  (1918-2002)
 
 
Thanks for reading, Pam x
 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Acton Impulse

Some think that Acton Impulse is the name of a west London ice-hockey franchise, runners-up in the National Ice Hockey League in 1984, 1987, 1988 and 2003. Others claim it was a popular model of 500cc motorbike that was manufactured between the world wars by AMW (the Acton Motorcycle Works).

Both are eminently plausible suppositions, but they can't both be right, can they? No, of course not. In fact neither of them is remotely true. As if...

Instead I would have you believe a much more fanciful explanation: that the Acton Impulse was a complex and beautifully-crafted piece of machinery - judge for yourselves from the illustration below - designed and built by a couple of visionary transatlantic geniuses, the brothers Acton in the early 20th century, to allow random decisions to be made quickly with absolute authority and confidence in the most trying of circumstances.

the marvellous Acton Impulse random decision generator
How might the proud and lucky owner of an Acton Impulse use it, typically? Well, for instance, if he were the somewhat bored master of the house he might, on a rainy Saturday morning after a dilatory breakfast, retire to his study and punch the following options into his Acton:
- pay to fix result of the afternoon's Yankees game
- eat a light bulb
- go on a week-end booze bender
- take wife out to dinner in the city
- hold up the First National Bank
- pick up a couple of floozies
- sit in a darkened room until hallucinating
- swim the Hudson river
- read Aristotle's Ethics at one sitting
then pull the lever and wait to see which impulse he would have to act on.

And if she were the somewhat at-a-loose-end mistress of the house (while her man was out perhaps swimming the Hudson river), she might well sneak into his study and type  the following options into the gleaming machine:
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for shoes
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for handbags
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for lingerie
- dance naked in the rose garden in the rain
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for frocks
- nearly strangle husband to death with pantyhose
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for cosmetics
- throw Acton Impulse out of the study window
- go on 5th Avenue shopping spree for fur coat
then pull the lever and wait to see which impulse she would have to act on.

Of course it wasn't long before the Acton Impulse gained popularity far beyond the domestic market. It was soon in regular use in the halls of government of God's greatest nation, which explains a lot!

Finally, for all of those millions who couldn't afford the capital outlay of an Acton, eventually along came George Cockcroft, alias Luke Rhinehart, the Diceman - but that's a whole other story.

By the way, the Acton Impulse determined that I shouldn't write or include a poem this week, so sorry about that; (not my decision you understand).

Anyway, thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Impulse - spontaneous acts of generosity

From a very young age it was obvious that I was a fairly impulsive person. I often found myself stuck up on the roof or chimney stack having followed my brother on the climb only to be left stranded when he descended.

When I was around seven, my mother came home in floods of tears. It evolved that she had lost her purse on a trip to the local shops. Apparently I ran to my bedroom and brought a ten shilling note to Mum, bringing a smile to her face and making my dad very proud.

This was the first of many spontaneous acts of generosity that have become a fundamental feature of my life. Of course it takes faith in human nature to act on impulse: It is easy to give help to others but there can be a cost if that generosity is not reciprocated. I have lent quite large sums of money to people who desperately needed help. Of course it is easy to be benevolent when you have a healthy bank balance but on occasion spontaneity involves a more physical approach.

I am sometimes reckless when it comes to members of the public in distress. I once heard a young man verbally abusing a girl who was with him in the corner bakery. I couldn't help myself and followed the pair down the street, speaking to her, reassuring her that she could come to my home if she was afraid. As I walked and the young man continued to shout at her, other people joined in and eventually the girl left the man and  decided to go to her mother's home. It was a seminal moment for me and cemented my commitment to intervene whenever the need arose.

I never drive past a woman or elderly person in a broken down vehicle. I have been in that situation myself and in the days before I was able to afford breakdown cover have felt isolated and sometimes afraid. One morning I was driving from my home to a local supermarket when I was slowed by a stream of traffic. It was cold and snowing. An older lady had broken down and she had been en route to her disabled child's school. I had a blanket in my boot and once I had made sure that the child was warm enough, I helped the woman to push her car to the side of the road. The woman put her trust in me: she allowed me to take the little girl to school. She asked me if  I was a Christian. Well yes I am and perhaps the parable of The Good Samaritan plays into my actions.

During my years of bringing up teenagers singlehandedly,  my home has often been safe-haven for friends of my kids who have been thrown out of their parental homes. I have rules. I provided a clean bed, good food and a listening ear but in return they had to keep sensible hours, attend school and be respectful. Often the youngster would remain for weeks and I hope that my intervention helped them to overcome difficulties.

Spontaneous acts of generosity can be far more simple. In cold weather, I buy a coffee and sandwich for a homeless person  rather than give them money that could be spent on booze or drugs.  I never walk past litter on the street: I pick it up and put it in the bin. This has its rewards. A few weeks ago, I  picked up what I thought was a discarded lottery scratch card. It was actually a folded ten pound note. I was out with my daughter and granddaughter earlier this week. We went for an ice cream at Notariani's. There was a discarded tin can on the pavement. I duly picked it up and deposited it in the nearest bin. I was delighted to see Riley, who is only three, pick up several pieces of paper and follow my lead.

I have acted on impulse on many more occasions and I truly hope that some of my readers will take this to heart and embark on their own spontaneous acts of generosity. The rewards may not be instantaneous but like dad always told me, "What goes around comes around and a good deed is returned ten fold."



The Impulse

It was too lonely for her there,
           And too wild,
           And since there were but two of them,
           And no child,
           
           And work was little in the house,
           She was free,
           And followed where he furrowed field,
           Or felled tree.
           
           She rested on a log and tossed
           The fresh chips,
           With a song only to herself
           On her lips.
           
           And once she went to break a bough
           Of black alder.
           She strayed so far she scarcely heard
           When he called her—
           
           And didn't answer—didn't speak—
           Or return.
           She stood, and then she ran and hid
           In the fern.
           
           He never found her, though he looked
           Everywhere,
           And he asked at her mother's house
           Was she there.
           
           Sudden and swift and light as that
           The ties gave,
           And he learned of finalities
           Besides the grave.

Robert Frost


Thank you for reading. Adele

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Sic Note

Paper! It has to rank as one of the greatest of man's inventions, along with the wheel, the football and the long-playing record. Already you can tell I'm in not entirely serious mood today. I'm down in London to celebrate the anniversary of my elder daughter's birth half a lifetime ago - meaning she is now the age that I was when she was born one glorious July day back in the 1980s. (I'll give you a minute to think about that one.)

I remember when she was about three, she would sit on the sofa holding the newspaper as wide as her little arms would allow - it was a broadsheet - pretending to read it just like her parents did (not that we pretended, you understand). Her ability to start reading for herself wasn't far behind and she grew up loving books and reading. She came home from Primary School one day a little indignant and upset because she and her teacher had disagreed in class about the spelling of caterpillar - the teacher had misspelled it but had insisted that she was right and my daughter (who spelled it correctly) was wrong. I think a discreet apology was offered next day.

Talking of schools, I must regale you with a few choice tales from the chalkface. I taught English and Drama in a north London comprehensive school for a number of years and as a form teacher I was accustomed to receiving notes from parents about their offspring, explaining their absence from school or requesting their exemption from certain activities. These notes arrived in a variety of guises: some were typed, some were written in florid script, some were scrawled, some came on headed notepaper, some were scented, some were laboriously spelled out in capital letters, many were in sealed envelopes, others were hastily scribbled on whatever was to hand - the back of an old envelope, a square cut out of a cereal packet, a page torn from an exercise book. Some were written by the children themselves (excusable if their parents were illiterate or non-English speaking). Occasionally the notes were very funny. I have a soft spot in my memory banks for these three:

Dear Mr Rowland, Tiffany is not to have a shower after games this week as she is suffering from mildew.

Dear Sir, would you be so kind to allow Oswald to be excused the exam today. He fell downstairs last night and has a slight brain damage.

Your honour. Humblest apologies for my daughter Samina's absence from school last week. She attended her sister's wedding and missed her plane home

Paper - How It Was Made/The Tools Of The Trade
Moving on. Nowadays, those of us who use paper to write or print on are accustomed to A4 pads or reams (A4 being 210 x 297cm or 8.21 x 11.7in for the Imperialists among you). A4 is the most commonly used size in the civilised world - the exception being the New World (USA, Canada and central America) where they use Letter and Legal sizes.

It wasn't always so in the Old World actually. The convergence on A4 standard came in the 19th century. Before that foolscap was widely used (along with folio and quarto); foolscap being slightly wider and considerably longer than A4 (at 200 x 330cm or 8.5 x 13.5in). What you really want to know is: Why was it called foolscap?

The answer appears to be: Because of the watermark (commonly a depiction of a jester's cap with bells) built into the paper and barely visible when dry to prove that it was genuine top quality paper stock and not some cheap substitute. I thought it was a pre-urban myth, but apparently not. The foolscap watermark is recorded as early as the 15th century and was made by pressing a mould onto not-yet-dry paper so as to almost imperceptibly vary the thickness and thus allow more light through.

And so to my own sic note -

Nota Bene
To whom it should be concerning
(and if not, why not, really?):

This recycled paper is full of old news.
You'd think we'd pulped the truth
in mulching up those inky pages,
but as I diarise atrocities anew
by post-apocalyptic candlelight
faint headlines reveal themselves
like watermarks within the sheet.

I read of blonde ambition,
over-weening pride, lies and deception,
a people shepherded to a precipice.

All this print was created
in an analogue age, predating micro this
and digital that, way before the waging
of cyber-wars, the death of the web
and the runaway greenhouse effect;
and yet its portentous message
is as relevant now as it ever was,
for the patterns of the human heart
are timeless till the last one
beats its last.

I append to this account -
for the day may not be far away -
my final will and testament:

To my son, my shoes - fill them well.
To my daughter, my blues - sing them loud.
Hold each other fast
for however long is left.
Remember how lovely trees were
before they were all felled.
Dream of cool breezes.

Please excuse the brevity and thanks for reading, S ;-)