Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Jets - Comet or Jumbo?

23:53:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , , , 3 comments

It was a very grown-up thing to be doing, again I was reminded. Perhaps my mother expected me to ‘kick off’, to use modern parlance, though I never had done before and any slight attempt on my part to be anything less than perfectly behaved would have met with her cross face and a warning tap. I hated that face. Something strange happened with her mouth and her eyes, transforming my otherwise glamorous, attractive mother into an old-looking scary witch. Of course, it’s not a look I was overly familiar with. I was born flawless and had impeccable, lady-like manners by the age of two, apparently.  So, here was my sensible, six-year-old self waiting patiently in the departure lounge of Ringway Airport – Manchester International these days – clutching my chosen toy from the airport shop, a Comet aeroplane, the same sort of jet that we would be flying on. Soon we would be embarking on the real thing. Air travel, and I was grown-up enough.

I was going on holiday to Jersey with my parents and uncle, my father’s brother. I sat by the window with my toy Comet resting on its stand, placed on the pull-down table in front of me. We were airborne before I knew it. The mosaic I could see through the window was actually the ground so far below me and I was fascinated but what thrilled me more than anything was the miniature salt and pepper shakers we were given with our in-flight snack.

Many years later, I found my first Atlantic crossing filled me with apprehension. I hadn’t been up close to a Jumbo Jet before and I couldn’t imagine something so huge would make it off the ground. It did, but I found the physical force of take-off a little worrying. Trust me to be making this trip when the popular aeroplane disaster movies were fresh in my mind. I was travelling alone to stay with family in the U.S.A. and would be met at the airport.  It was a relief to arrive unscathed.

     After our honeymoon in Jersey, we made return trips and it became a favourite place of ours before we had our children. We returned for a family holiday which was their first trip in a plane and a grown-up thing to be doing. I had come full circle.

I think I might need a refresher course in ‘lady-like’. If my mother is watching over me she might agree, as long as she’s not doing that cross face.

Here’s Simon Armitage, our new Poet Laureate,

Thank You For Waiting 

At this moment in time we’d like to invite
First Class passengers only to board the aircraft.
Thank you for waiting. We now extend our invitation
to Exclusive, Superior, Privilege and Excelsior members,
followed by triple, double and single Platinum members,
followed by Gold and Silver Card members,
followed by Pearl and Coral Club members.
Military personnel in uniform may also board at this time.
Thank you for waiting. We now invite
Bronze Alliance Members and passengers enrolled
in our Rare Earth Metals Points and Reward Scheme
to come forward, and thank you for waiting.
Thank you for waiting. Accredited Beautiful People
may now board, plus any gentleman carrying a copy
of this month’s Cigar Aficionado magazine, plus subscribers
to our Red Diamond, Black Opal or Blue Garnet promotion.
We also welcome Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald members
at this time, followed by Amethyst, Onyx, Obsidian, Jet,
Topaz and Quartz members. Priority Lane customers,
Fast Track customers, Chosen Elite customers,
Preferred Access customers and First Among Equals customers
may also now board.
On production of a valid receipt travellers of elegance and style
wearing designer and/or hand-tailored clothing
to a minimum value of ten thousand US dollars may now board;
passengers in possession of items of jewellery
(including wristwatches) with a retail purchase price
greater than the average annual salary
of a mid-career high school teacher are also welcome to board.
Also welcome at this time are passengers talking loudly
into cellphone headsets about recently completed share deals
property acquisitions and aggressive takeovers,
plus hedge fund managers with proven track records
in the undermining of small-to-medium-sized ambitions.
Passengers in classes Loam, Chalk, Marl and Clay
may also board. Customers who have purchased
our Dignity or Morning Orchid packages
may now collect their sanitised shell suits prior to boarding.
Thank you for waiting.
Mediocre passengers are now invited to board,
followed by passengers lacking business acumen
or genuine leadership potential, followed by people
of little or no consequence, followed by people
operating at a net fiscal loss as people.
Those holding tickets for zones Rust, Mulch, Cardboard,
Puddle and Sand might now want to begin gathering
their tissues and crumbs prior to embarkation.
Passengers either partially or wholly dependent on welfare
or kindness, please have your travel coupons validated
at the Quarantine Desk.
Sweat, Dust, Shoddy, Scurf, Faeces, Chaff, Remnant,
Ash, Pus, Sludge, Clinker, Splinter and Soot;
all you people are now free to board.
by Simon Armitage
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Saturday Symbolism

I'm not sure tha symbolism  (the theme for Saturday blog #225) is any sexier a subject than last week's flowerpots topic - and it looks as though that's the common verdict seeing as I'm the only one to rise to the challenge. I'll do my best to make it worth your while.

I'm assuming everybody knows what a symbol is - something that by general consensus and common usage represents something else. One example is the use of combinations of letters to represent elements in the periodic table. I particularly like the less obvious ones (usually derived from their Latin names), such as Hg for mercury (hydrargyrum), K for potassium (kalium), Na for sodium (natrium) and Pb for lead (plumbum). Then there are those commonly recognised symbols or signs representing the twelve phases of the zodiac. Apparently I'm a water-bearer, whatever that signifies (and I'm not particularly interested).

Beyond those sets of symbols and other internationally-accredited codes that transcend languages - such as road traffic signs and hazardous product labelling - many everyday objects have acquired symbolic significance in our culture: the red rose is generally recognised as a symbol of love, the dove and the olive-branch as symbols of peace and the scythe or sickle as a symbol of death and so on. Colours are also frequently employed to express common emotions - red variously for love, anger or danger, green for both jealousy and naivety/naturalness, blue for sadness, white for purity, yellow for happiness, orange for spirituality, purple for power, black for doom.

I could go on, although I won't. Symbolism is rife in art, in religious iconography, in heraldry, in secret societies...

Under The Eye
...but what about in mainstream literature?  Allegorical narrative is symbolism of a sort, as in the Fables of Aesop, Dante's Divine Comedy, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress but Symbolism as a literary movement, and a poetic one at that, is generally conceded to be a French phenomenon, originating somewhere around the middle of the 19th century and being driven by such luminaries as Baudelaire, Mallarme, Valery, Verlaine and Rimbaud. Their common artistic or poetic intent was to strive to evoke mood rather than meaning through their work. They were interested in the emotional spell language could cast. They rejected the prosaic in favour of poetry rich in private symbols whose power came from being suggestive rather than explicit.

However, there was a lesser-regarded but equally interesting and important school of symbolist poetry which flourished 1,500 miles to the east in Russia, which counted Fyodor Tyutchev, Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Vladimir Solovyov among its first exponents.

Solovyov (1853-1900) was an historian, philosopher and theologian as well as being one of the principal poets of the Symbolist movement in pre-revolutionary Russia. Something of a natural mystic, he was a friend of Dostoyevsky and an inspiration to Tolstoy as well as to the three Bs' Bely, Blok and Bryusov, writers who gained international recognition in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Solovyov, like all seekers after truth, had flirted with Buddhism, Gnosticism and Rationalism before electing to champion intuition over realism. He developed a philosophy in which regard for the eternal feminine force of the universe, also known as Sofia (or divine wisdom), was paramount. He recognised Sofia as his Muse and his greatest poetry celebrates his apprehension of her in the beauty of the natural world.

The Sound Of A Distant Waterfall
The distant sound of a waterfall
Resounds through the forest,
Quiet joy wafts down
From the dusky heavens.

Just the white vault of the sky
Just the white dream of the earth...
My heart obediently fell silent,
All my worries drifted away.

Slow joy,
Everything flows together as in in sleep,
The distant sound of a waterfall
Resounds in the silence.
                                              Vladimir Solovyov

Solovyov sought a unifying principle in everything, and longed for a mystic union with creation - he borrowed the Greek word syzygy for this sense of alignment; (a most useful word in both hangman and scrabble). Sad to report that for all his learning and undoubted artistry, Solovyov died a homeless pauper at the dawn of the 20th century. He was buried in Moscow's Novodevichy Convent, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, which may be some small compensation for his soul. His fellow symbolists wrote works of an increasingly apocalyptic nature in the run up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and afterwards reconsidered their artistic position, most accepting Soviet Realism as the inevitable corollary to the seismic historical events in their motherland.

I'm going to round out this blog with a new poem of my own, not an exercise in symbolism, you'll be relieved to know, but indirectly attributable to the above account of poor Solovyov and a collection of old ink bottles.

Johnson it was who described ink as "the black liquour with which men write" and that thought prompted me to write this...

His Nibs
A haunting of empty ink bottles,
closest a man of letters comes
to conceding his addiction.

Nightly in his study,
his dark habit an outpouring
of quixotic fiction.

He, who never fumbled
under farthingales or tumbled
in the wain, writes with compunction

Of unrequited love; his yearning
for Sofia, inscribed in trembling hand,
thrills in the depiction

Till retiring spent to bed
as daylight threatens, his nibs'
reprieve lies in sleep's dereliction.

Have a good week and don't forget to make your mark (X) on polling day, S ;-)

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Down Among The Flowerpots

Flowerpots! Not the most prepossessing of topics, I'll grant you, but let's see where we can go with this one. I've always preferred proper terracotta (literally baked earth) pots to the shiny plastic variety, even before the war on plastics was declared. Anybody with a garden almost certainly has a stack of earthenware flowerpots somewhere, either in a potting shed (if the garden stretches to such a luxury) or stowed neatly in a secluded corner waiting to be recycled into action.

I once knew a robin to build its nest in one such flowerpot. Said pot was lying on its side over-wintering with a collection of pots of varying sizes in a sheltered spot at the bottom of my garden. In deference to the robin and its nest, all those pots remained undisturbed well into early summer.

Fearless Friend
That robin was seemingly fearless. I hesitate to use the word tame (as garden birds are wild creatures), but he often searched me out while I was gardening, would happily sit on the handle of my spade while it was stuck in the ground and I teased out small earthworms  for him. I somehow persuaded the cat (who would usually accompany me on these gardening jaunts) to just lie quietly and watch the robin unmolested. To her credit, she never showed any sign of wanting to attack him and he always appeared unfazed by her presence, as though some unspoken truce had been sealed between us all. On occasions when he felt particularly bold (or maybe just exceedingly hungry) he would perch lightly on my outstretched hand to take whatever disinterred grub lay wriggling there. I felt extraordinarily privileged.

Of course for a child of the Sixties, no blog about flowerpots would be complete without giving an honourable mention to Bill and Ben - the flowerpot men - and little weed. They were a staple of BBC TV's Watch With Mother on weekday afternoons.

Flowerpot Men & Blissful Weed
Although I didn't have one - TV that is, I must have watched occasionally at a cousin's house - I was as captivated watching creatures made out of flowerpots and who lived in flowerpots boldly pottering where no one had pottered before as any pre-school tot of the last two decades has been by the doings of the teletubbies. (Who remembers Slowcoach the tortoise?)

My predilection for the antics of Bill and Ben and little Weed was resumed briefly in my later teenage years when we watched with dilated pupils and a knowing sense of irony. That's a whole other story (and one you're not going to get here) but it provides a tenuous connection to this week's poem (which, if I'd finished it in time, might have ended up gracing a music-themed blog.)

Blackpool hosts the Rebellion Festival over a long week-end every summer, usually at the beginning of August. It's been going since 1996 and has become the world's premier punkfest, filling the town (and the Winter Gardens) with thousands of punks from all over the world. I've never been to any of the gigs - though Flipper are over from the States this year and that's very tempting - but the influx of so many aficionados is a wonderful and energising spectacle.

This, then, is an affectionate reflection on the Blackpool Rebellion extravaganza from one who was there in London when it was all kicking off over forty years ago. The Clash were my favourites, I saw them the most often. The Damned were pretty good too, as were The Ruts. The Sex Pistols may have become the most newsworthy but they were more manufactured than most in my opinion. As for the US scene, I've always had a soft spot for the afore-mentioned Flipper and the Dead Kennedys. By the way, the poem owes its title in part to San Francisco rockers The Tubes. 1-2-3-4...

White Punks On Weed
There's a rebel yell
rolling down the tramline,
a rainbow pageant of defiance
taking the town by storm;
not gay pride this week-end
but Blackpool's annual punk fest,
non-conformance the norm,
a convention of the unconventional.

There's a sweet smell of weed
on the sea breeze
ensuring more beatitude than attitude
as the last of the mohicans
in proud defiance of the years
pogo with collective verve
to three-chord wonders in performance
at the Winter Gardens, ornate home
of the original holiday in the sun.

They're a curious breed,
these doctors, lawyers, postal workers,
draughtsmen, civil servants, teachers,
milkmaids, truckers and lay preachers
all geared up in safety pins and bondage trousers,
sprayed DMs, slashed vests and dayglo Ts,
for three days of anarchy
in the UK's premier seaside resort
but you've got to hand it to them.

There's a sense of 'no future'
debunked by the enduring spirit of punk
an all's well that ends swell -
for witness the damned generation now,
this once ripped and torn
Radio Blank bin-bag nation
who had no particular place to go,
happily reborn in tribal glory
gravitating in their thousands
to Blackpool's golden mile.
That's Rebellion week-end for you,
an annual pilgrimage for many
and one hell of a story to tell.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Flower-Pot - Things We Love

22:29:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , , No comments

There is a special flower-pot in my garden. It hasn’t always been a flower-pot and it is a fairly recent addition to my green-fingered efforts. It’s a huge, heavy ceramic bowl that my late mother-in-law marinated dried fruit in ready for homemade Christmas puddings, Christmas cakes and mince pies. The results were always delicious and we looked forward to being given our share. There would be lots to go round. I don’t know how she managed to lift it, even when empty. When it came into our possession, I struggled to move it, wanted to keep it and there was only one practical thing to do. It would make a fabulous flower-pot, if my husband could drill drainage holes in the base of it without it breaking. Success.

I never knew my father’s sister, my Auntie Peggy. She died years before I was born, but I have stood by her grave in Southern Cemetery, Manchester and wept, a grave now shared with her parents. The tears were not for a relative I didn’t know, they were for the shattered, vandalised flower-pot that my father had discovered on his visit and lovingly piled the pieces in front of the headstone which had escaped serious damage. It was leaning back, but still in situ, unlike many others that had recently been attacked. This was in the early 1980s. Peggy had died around 1946/7 aged 21. They were not a rich family; they were ordinary people making ends meet. Dad had told me how his mother, my Nanna Hetty, saved a few pennies each week to enable her to buy a special flower-pot and have Peggy’s name inscribed on it. He was saddened by the mindless violence which destroyed so much and caused upset to the bereaved.

I’m currently looking after two special flower-pots. These are really disposable cups being recycled to nurture sunflower seeds on the kitchen window-sill until they start to grow and get strong enough to plant outside. They are the work of my two elder grandchildren, with my limited assistance, of course, though I came in handy for the cleaning up afterwards. We had such a fun time together. There was a moment of disappointment when I explained that the seeds wouldn’t start to show immediately, so no need to watch over them. Distraction tactics usually work, or failing that, chocolate buttons. ‘Nanna Time’ is the best.

I found this poem,
The Flower by Barbara Miles Jackson
All spring and summer,
One thing after another.
No time for gardening,
And summer's ending.
Checked the mail everyday,
That much needed letter,
Drowned out by bills,
Junk mail and books.
Family out of tune,
Other plans and people.
Holding their interest,
No easy as before.
Looking out my window,
At four flower pots.
Dirt dried and cracked,
For lack of water.
There in a big pot,
Green leaves sprouting.
New wonder to see,
A lone flower growing.
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Thank You For The Music

16:05:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , 1 comment
Apart from The Billy Cotton Band Show on a Sunday afternoon and Children’s Favourites on a Saturday morning I don’t remember a lot of music being played during my childhood. The radio was always on in the background but to me it just sounded like a lot of boring people talking, and I preferred my little toy record player with Pinky and Perky and Max Bygraves as a blue toothbrush.

My dad loved the deep dark tones of Paul Robson and used to attempt (spectacularly unsuccessfully) to imitate his wonderful baritone, whilst my mum was an inveterate hummer and whistler (both of which I’ve inherited), mostly musicals of the time (Some Enchanted Evening, True Love, Porgy and Bess).
But as for playing a record, that was a very rare occurrence. My dad, working twelve hours a day, six days a week, certainly hadn’t got time for such things. So it was a big surprise when he arrived home one evening with a Jim Reeves single, sat mum down in the armchair, and requested that she listen. Jim’s smooth voice serenaded mum with ‘You’re the Only Good Thing that Happened to Me,’ while dad put his arm round mum’s shoulders and stared at her fondly. It would have been quite romantic if mum hadn’t leapt up to check the oven and one of us kids hadn’t started whining that surely we came under ‘good things’ too.

It was no wonder music didn’t feature too heavily in my early years, although I did buy my younger brother ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ (‘White Christmas’ on the other side) from Woolworths one Christmas when he was about six. And once my elder brother got into modern bands, I remember quite a lot of late night sofa snogging with my latest boyfriend to the Loving Spoonful’s ‘What a Day for a Daydream.’ On repeat.

My real awakening came with the Beatles. Aged eleven, walking around Woolies (obviously my favourite store) one Saturday afternoon, I heard something that sent shivers down my spine. ‘She Loves You’ suddenly blasted out from nowhere, filling the shop with such a raunchy and joyous sound that it made me want to dance down the aisles. When I hear it now, it evokes exactly the same feelings as that day in Woolies, although I fear my aisle dancing days might be over.

Aged about fifteen, my best friend and I had been into London, visiting the first of the little Indian shops, selling incense, candles and tiny brass bells. Haunting eastern music played in the background as we breathed in the exotic aromas. To a teenager in the sixties these shops were magical. Halfway home, we passed by a house with an open window. Scott Mackenzie’s ‘San Fransisco’ wafted out. We stopped in our tracks. I can see us now, my friend and I - both in colourful, floaty dresses, our bags emitting smells of soap and incense, staring at each other with pure joy. ‘I’m having this at my funeral,’ I said We both laughed. Fifty years later it’s still going to be my funeral song - but not for a while yet, I hope.

The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, the Doors, Jethro Tull, David Bowie - so many singers and bands from that era still give me goosebumps. They say the music from your teenage years is the most influential and evocative and I’m sure that’s true. I can remember exactly where and when, and what I was doing, at the time I first heard those songs - and it wasn’t all snogging on the sofa.

When I first went to Art College I started seeing a lad I wasn’t all that keen on. The only reason I stayed with him (and I’m not proud of this) was because I fancied his friend, Kevin. And one of the reasons I fancied Kevin was because he’d bought a new LP and invited us to come and listen to it. Sitting on the bed between the boyfriend and Kevin I heard the first sweet, lilting notes of Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush,’ and I knew that I either had to get with Kevin or buy the LP. Kevin got a girlfriend, I bought the LP and I still love it nearly fifty years later. It sits on a shelf in our back room, now alongside hundreds more.

Not long after that I was at a Shakin’ Stevens gig at the college, drinking Newcastle Brown and waiting for the star guest to appear when a friend came up and whispered in my ear something that would not only change the course of my life but would also introduce me to far more music than I could ever have dreamt of. That whisper? ‘Dave Reidy fancies you.’ My reply? ‘Oh blimey....’

That night Dave asked me if I’d like to go to a Fairport Convention concert in a month’s time. I remember thinking, ‘He’s expecting us to still be together in four weeks? No way.’ We saw each other every day up to that concert, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dave gets his fair share of (I think well deserved) flak from me, but I have to give him credit where music’s concerned. He knows more obscure bands and singers than anyone I’ve ever met, and if he says they’re good, then they generally are. His influence on my musical tastes has been immense, from the Bette Midler LP he bought on our first date, through the Incredible String Band - his all time, ALL TIME favourite - and a band we went to see again quite recently - to a newly discovered, ‘Need to Breathe.’
There are too many incidents to mention when our tastes coincided but one that does stick in my mind was a Sunday evening, sitting in the back room, flicking through channels. Dave was in the kitchen, unbeknownst to me, doing exactly the same thing. Suddenly I heard the most unusual and beautiful voice and put down the remote to listen. After a minute, I got up and raced to tell Dave he had to come in. As I ran into the hall Dave burst out of the kitchen.
‘You have to hear this,’ he shouted.
‘Transatlantic Sessions?’ I replied.
‘Yes! Iris - ‘
‘Dement!’ I finished for him.
She had the most rare and haunting voice and I’m happy to say we managed to get to see her live not long after that.

Music has so many associations for me and I realise that most of them stem from my formative years. I could mention so many more musical memories but that will have to wait for blog post part two.

For now, I’m recalling my dad’s funeral, just a few months ago, when, as he had requested, Jim Reeves once again serenaded my mum with dad’s favourite song. Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World,’ accompanied us out. I looked around. There wasn’t a dry eye.

That’s the power of music.

The Power of Music by Jill Reidy

It’s the happiness at festivals
The sudden leap of joy
as the radio delivers a forgotten tune
The tuneless humming
of a child about her business
It’s Spotify
The whistling of a craftsman
as he sees a finished piece
It’s your heart missing a beat
At the purity of a voice
Your child’s first nativity
The screeching violins
of ten year olds
It’s hymns ringing out in church
Carols in the snow
It’s delicately positioning
the needle above LP
It’s singing in the shower
It’s the secret look
that passes between lovers
and concerts
And at the very end
The power of music
reaches its grand finale
It’s a Wonderful World
A quite wonderful world....

Thanks for reading.... Jill

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Music - Saved by the Music

23:14:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 comment

“If music be the food of love, play on…” Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare.

Lots of us have an ‘Our Song’ or a piece of music which is meaningful and special, above and beyond all others. I find it uplifting when something significant comes on the radio and transports me back in time. If that particular time was happy, it’s nice to re-live that fond memory. If it belongs to a dark time, it’s good to reflect on how we coped and what changed. Challenges and experiences make us who we are.

I love music. I grew up with Sing Something Simple on Sundays long before the contents of the pub juke-box became important to me. My mother listened to the wireless Light Programme or played records, so I was effectively drip-fed her favourites. Tommy Steele’s Little White Bull, Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore, Anthony Newley, Billy Fury, Neil Sedaka, Dusty Springfield, Joe Loss and his Orchestra, Elvis, and of course Russ Conway, amongst others. This was before The Beatles. She was young and trendy, my mum. I still have her record collection and just looking at them brings back childhood memories. There are lots of Russ Conway, singles and a couple of LPs. I don’t know if they were called albums in the 1950s. I think I’ve mentioned before that Russ Conway was responsible for me longing to learn to play the piano. I wanted to lift the lid on the old upright in the concert room and make music come out of it, not the out of tune honky tonk sound that someone knocked out of it on a Saturday night. What a blessing a juke-box was in later years.

I had years of classical training but I do not have musical talent. Occasionally I play on our electric piano, a cast off from a very talented nephew with a music degree. Our son can play piano, keyboard, guitar and bass, all perfectly well by ear. He’s amazing at that. Our daughter has a beautiful singing voice.

The first album I bought was The Rolling Stones, Through the Past, Darkly. The second was The Moody Blues, A Question of Balance followed quickly by In Search of the Lost Chord as I discovered there was MBs stuff I needed to catch up with.

The pub juke-box and The Moody Blues was and is the soundtrack to my life, as it constantly grows. No juke-box now, but the radio is always on, or a CD, YouTube or MP3. Music will always surround me, in any form.

When I was fortunate to meet Moody Blues bassist, singer, song-writer, John Lodge, I took the opportunity to tell him how glad I was that he had included ‘Saved by the Music’ in his solo tour. It is a song that means so much.

Hymns have their place amongst my favourites. As a child I was more than happy to sing in church. As an adult, I enjoyed teaching my Sunday School class new songs or hymns. It was a small group but they were enthusiastic and we had lots of fun.

When I started to write this poem, it seemed to grow legs and run off taking with it all the thoughts that were buzzing round my head. As a result, it is more personal than I intended, but what it is, is me.
My Music
 Music, my music, my loud surround sound,
I smiled and sang as my nemesis frowned.
Her eyes swept my room, not an inch unexplored,
But for now, my feelings were carefully stored.
I’m with The Moodies In Search of the Lost Chord.
I made that room spotlessly clean and sparkly
While the Stones carried on, Through the Past, Darkly;
Then busied myself with the next task to hand
And wasted no effort to understand
Her jealous resentment or what might be planned.
I’d given up wond’ring what she even means
As I sewed fabric flowers on my old jeans.
And Stevie belted out For Once in my Life
And I join in fully, like he knows my strife.
We could have slashed the atmosphere with a knife.
All I was saying was Give Peace a Chance.
I’m off at the weekend to spend time in France,
Away from that border-line aggression
When she hits the drinks in rapid succession
Attempting to cover her sick obsession.
Music, my music, my means of survival
And sanity, with her hasty arrival.
Bad mem’ries and nightmares, too much have amassed,
But those times are now long since gone, in the past,
And I’m Saved by the Music, myself, at last.
PMW 2019
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Sails Into The Wind

To be honest, I'm surprised it wasn't the Greeks who invented the windmill, that 'sails into the wind' mechanism for converting a force of nature into rotational energy which could then be used for grinding grain, pumping water and many and varied pre-industrial processes.

Archimedes of Syracuse had already developed the screw pump that bears his name even before Jesus was a lad and those enterprising Hellenes certainly had a head start as early as the first century AD when Hero of Alexandria engineered a horizontal vaned windwheel - but its sole purpose was to make music, an early type of organ; (ah, those Greeks, ever the aesthetes).

In fact, the first utilitarian windmills didn't appear until a few centuries later around 700 - 800 AD in eastern Persia. Interestingly, they too had horizontal sails, made of bundled reeds or cloth. These early panemone mills were probably first used not for milling but for drawing up water and powering irrigation networks - as still happens today to dramatic effect on the island of Crete.

three of hundreds of windmills on Crete's Lasithi plateau
It was the Persians also who further developed the horizontal design to perform the function that earned its generic name, the milling (grinding) of grain to produce flour.  This valuable technology spread east to China via the silk route and west around the Mediterranean by the end of the first millennium and shortly thereafter came the next big leap forward to a tower structure mounted with vertical vanes and sails (as seen above and below).

the vanes in Spain
These imposing tower structures, of wood, brick or stone, allowed windmills to be larger, higher, stronger and therefore much more powerful. At first their vanes were fixed, oriented to the generally prevailing wind, though this made them less effective when the wind changed direction. Therefore one further enhancement was inevitable, that which rendered the turret atop the tower to which the sails were attached capable of being rotated on the horizontal axis to face into the wind from whichever direction it chose to blow.

The movement generated by the spinning of the sails was converted by a series of cogs into the rotation of a central vertical shaft which then turned the grinding or the pumping mechanism lower down in the mill.

Windmills became a common sight across Europe during the Middle Ages. Many towns in crop-growing regions had a windmill for flour production and many other areas that were either very dry (especially around the Mediterranean) or very wet (like the Netherlands on the continent or the Fens and the Fylde in England) had arrays of windmills powering pumping systems to irrigate farmland or drain polders.

Wind powered mills were used to grind not only grain but also cocoa beans, mustard  seed, tobacco leaves (snuff mills anyone?) and chalk and minerals into powder for cosmetics and paint. In addition there were variations harnessing wind power to cut tree trunks into planks (saw mills, obviously enough) and to pulp wood fibres (paper mills)... and all of this using clean, green energy before a sack of fossil fuel had been hewn from the ground.

The Fylde, that low-lying coastal area of western Lancashire between the rivers Ribble and the Wyre of which Blackpool is the principal town, used to boast over thirty five windmills at one time and was even known locally as Windmill Land. Now only a handful of specimens remain, lovingly restored as popular landmarks.

Marsh Mill, one of our local survivors
As inspiration for today's poem I've gone (metaphorically) to the Netherlands, famous for its windmills, many of which still function today. I was intrigued in particular to learn how the resourceful Dutch had developed a means of signalling  using the exact orientation of the sails when locked in a stationary position, + meaning open for business, x (e.g. as in the photograph above) meaning closed and other subtle gradations in between being used to signify a celebration or a warning. This sail semaphore was even used during the second world war to warn local people of impending German advances and is still in use today to mark events of national significance such as a coronation, a footballing triumph or a mourning after a major disaster.

The Clog And The Jackboot
A milling wind streams steady out the west,
cresting white horses on the Zuiderzee,
the best of breezes for a working day -
yet all the country's windmills stand at rest,
sails locked in stubborn semaphore.
No grinding grains nor beans, no sawing logs
or pumping of insurgent waters
back into those linear dykes,
for there are still more pressing tasks at hand.

All in the tilt, the secret of the sails
set sinister aslant at two, five, eight, eleven
though soundless, wails loud as any siren
for those who know its code.

The crucial message blazed from every tower
in silent geometry warns of a danger
riding tanks and shod in jackboots,
driving deadly down the road from out the east,
crusading minds consumed with Aryan lore.
No mercy will be shown to gypsy or to Jew
if the advancing Hun divine their quarters;
so Dutch courage is required
to thwart a desecration on their land.

With vulnerable parties timely hidden in dusty attics
or stowed in cellars beneath piles of logs,
intrepid locals wait on their invasion,
set faces wooden as windmill sails and clogs.

Thanks for reading. Keep on turning,  S ;-)

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Windmills - Rhyming in my Mind

23:48:00 Posted by lancashire dead good poets , , , , , , , , , , , 2 comments

I was washing glasses in our pub, hidden away in the ‘still room’ on my regular Friday night and Saturday night stint during the busy Illuminations, singing along to the music that drifted in.

There was a song on the jukebox in the front bar, a haunting melody that forced me to listen and beautiful, poetic lyrics that reached out to me. Any meaning in those words was lost on me, but being an impressionable hippy-ish rock-chick in my mid-teens, I’m proud to say that I learnt it off by heart. It is still up there with my favourites, sung by Noel Harrison.
The Windmills of Your Mind
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.
Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.
Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the color of her hair!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.
Songwriters: Marilyn Bergman / Michel Legrand / Alan Bergman
It was the theme song to The Thomas Crown Affair, a major film at that time, and I wonder if the lyrics might make more sense to me if I actually saw the film, or the more recent remake? It will be something else to do in my retirement.

There’s always fun to be found in doing new things. I’ve lived in Blackpool since 1965, a long time in South Shore, but never travelled on a train from Blackpool South until this year. That rail adventure with my friend took us to Lytham for lunch and a pleasant stroll along the front to the fabulous, white windmill which holds centre stage on the green. Another first. The closest I’d previously been to Lytham Windmill was the main road.

I found this poem,
The Windmill
Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.

I look down over the farms;
In the fields of grain I see
The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
For I know it is all for me.

I hear the sound of flails
Far off, from the threshing-floors
In barns, with their open doors,
And the wind, the wind in my sails,
Louder and louder roars.

I stand here in my place,
With my foot on the rock below,
And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
As a brave man meets his foe.

And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands.

On Sundays I take my rest;
Church-going bells begin
Their low, melodious din;
I cross my arms on my breast,
And all is peace within. 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Still Life?

For fact fans,  brief encounter  - the theme of today's blog - most famous for being a 1945 David Lean film starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard with a screenplay written by Noel Coward, was actually based upon a pre-war one-act play by Coward called Still Life.

Still Life was about an illicit and ultimately doomed love affair between a suburban housewife and a married doctor, whose brief encounters took place mainly in the waiting-room/cafĂ© of a railway station over a period of several months. As I recall it (maybe inaccurately), it played out the impact on two decent people of the conflict and guilt that arises when a good thing is also a bad thing (strong mutual attraction versus social mores); this in contrast to the easier-going liaison between a male and female worker on the station staff.

The film screenplay expanded the cast of characters and the story line, in particular Laura's staid relationship with her husband. It put me in mind of the opening lines from Joni Mitchell's reflective song 'Chinese Cafe' (on Wild Things Run Fast ): "Caught in the middle/ Carol, we're middle class/ We're middle aged/ Nothing lasts for long...I wonder where the time goes". Both Alec and Laura had thought they were happy with their respective lives until their paths crossed in that railway station refreshment room. Ultimately, despite what they felt for each other, decorum and destiny decreed that they must part forever. (For the movie, the station used was Carnforth in Lancashire - still worth a visit today.)

I always read the title of Coward's play ambiguously. Whether he intended it or not, I don't know (but I suppose he did). On one level, the brief encounter makes the middle-aged Laura and Alec realise there is still life in them yet, as their meeting triggers passions that maybe they have never felt before or possibly never expected they would feel again. On a second level, still life symbolises the staid and unexciting married lives of those protagonists (seemingly sterile in Laura's case). Of course, the play as portrait of Alec and Laura's affair is a still life in the third sense of it being a depiction. Finally, I read a fourth layer into its meaning: a recognition that although the lovers concede they cannot be together, still life goes on and they will treasure what they feel for each other as a submerged but sustaining force in their otherwise routine existence.

Before we go there, here's a bit of a random insert: I have to tell you about a brief encounter I had this week, all the more exciting for it being unexpected (often the case with brief encounters). I was in Fleetwood quite early on Wednesday morning when I saw my first swallow of the season perched on one of the overhead tram cables near the seafront - clearly a harbinger of the unusually warm Easter week-end we are all enjoying.

Swallow on a Fleetwood tram cable
I take it as a sign we are going to enjoy a long, hot summer in the shimmering jewel of the north. I hope so. Anyway, it was a lovely surprise and one I thought worth capturing.

Okay, back to the main thread of the blog, a brief encounter and its more enduring aftermath, when common sense, convention, decency, lack of nerve, past loyalties, self-preservation, a sense of duty or whatever combination of factors has made one or both parties step away from the liaison.

Still Life?
There are almost always consequences. I don't know how many of you have been there and I'm not asking, for that's your own private business; but if you have, or know someone who has, you might recognise some of what I've tried to encapsulate in this latest product of the imaginarium.

Seeking the distraction or protection
of a busy coffee-shop, you faced me down
over untouched cups of froth;
frowning, took my hand in yours
one last time and said
we should not, could not meet again,
much as it pained you to say.

By then I was drowning,
your phrases washing over me
with a sense of their finality...
distraught at the thought of being caught,
unable to bear the consequences
of losing what you already had,
heart-broken at us having to part
but time we came to our senses...

Didn't I agree? Mutely I stared,
panic and pain contending,
searching your face for I knew not what,
comprehending only
that this was to be the end.

And then there came the coda:
Think of it this way, my darling Rose -
that though we may not have each other,
we will always have what might have been...

I let you walk away that day
because I loved you and still do
but as I sit here quietly reading,
silently grieving not one loss but two,
I'm thinking
if only you knew...

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A Brief Encounter with Sadie Trotter

11:35:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , 7 comments
Whenever I hear the words, ‘Brief Encounter,’ my mind leaps (like many others’ I’m sure) to the film of the same name.  A railway station cafe, a meeting of soulmates, the impossibility of a relationship, the parting of ways.  A bittersweet and poignant tale.  

My own brief encounters have been nowhere near as romantic or tear jerking as the original.  However, there have been several of these encounters over the years, some more newsworthy than others. 

Three or four years ago I was about to cross the prom near my house when I noticed an elderly lady, standing on the edge of the kerb, her head turning rapidly back and forth as she waited for a gap in the traffic. I approached her and asked if she’d like help crossing the road. ‘I’m fine,’ she said, ‘but I’ll help you.’  I laughed and we linked arms and crossed the road. For an old lady she was pretty nippy, and we only slowed down when we reached my house.  ‘This is me,’ I said, turning to go. However, I hadn’t reckoned on this lady’s ability to chat. I don’t think I’d ever met anybody who could match me.  

I’m ‘Sadie,’ she said, then, like 007, added, ‘Sadie Trotter.’ 
‘Jill,’ I replied. 

She started to tell me how she’d lived in the house next door when she’d first moved to Blackpool with her husband and children.  After a few months, her husband had died of a brain tumour and she’d been forced to move back in with her mother.  It seemed to me that this lady was suffering from some form of dementia as she talked very lucidly about the past, but struggled to remember where she lived now.  I listened for a while longer, the whole time time watching her with my photographer’s eye. I’d been out taking pictures of the sea, and my camera was slung round my neck. I could feel my fingers twitching to press the shutter and capture Sadie’s animated face. She was talking so quickly now, that her false teeth kept dropping down from her upper gums. Periodically she sucked the teeth back up, and hardly pausing for breath, would continue with her memories.  Her son had also died, many years later, another brain tumour.  She had looked after her mother when she became senile, whilst holding down a job at a local bank.  She was eighty nine and all she had left now was a daughter, who lived in Manchester and rarely visited.  This was one sad tale but Sadie didn’t tell it that way.  Looking back seemed to make her happy.

She laughed when I asked if I could take her picture.  ‘You don’t want a picture of me,’ she said, looking coy, and I could see a glimpse of her younger self.  She adjusted her hat and her teeth and gave me a smile.  I took a few quick shots, and told her I’d print one out and post it through her letterbox - once we’d established where she lived.  She seemed to know which direction to take so I offered to walk her home, we linked arms again and she set off at a brisk pace.

I printed out the picture, put it in a frame and called round a few days later.  With hindsight, I suppose Sadie was pretty trusting to let me into her home just like that.  She made me weak tea, produced a plate with neat slices of Battenberg, and continued to tell me her life story.  Her husband had been a vicar, and Sadie was obviously still very religious.  As I got up to go, she grabbed my hands, motioned for me to sit down again, closed her eyes and began to pray.  To an atheist this was a somewhat surreal experience.  

I called every few weeks after that.  Each time would follow a similar pattern:  Sadie would answer the door, comment on my purple hair, make me tea, offer me cake, and continue (or recap) on her life story.  Sadie sat before me, frail and weak, toothless and almost hairless.  The teeth apparently only appeared on special occasions, and although she enjoyed my visits, these obviously didn’t quite cut it.  The photographs on every shelf and filling every bit of wall space told their own story:  A plump, coiffed Sadie hanging onto her very own vicar’s arm and smiling shyly at their wedding nearly seventy years before; a motherly Sadie with two young children on the beach;  Grandma Sadie standing proudly next to a grandson in cap and gown.  And of course, a tiny, smiling Sadie, hanging onto her hat and her teeth in the wind outside my house.  Over the next eighteen months I continued to visit, sometimes taking the grandchildren, who had to be bribed with the promise of chocolate biscuits and very strong cordial.  Sadie loved to see the children and always went out of her way to play with them, but as time went by I realised her health was failing, both physically and mentally.  The children became harder to persuade to come with me, so I went back to visiting alone.

One day there was no answer when I rang the bell.  The neighbour informed me that Sadie was in hospital, and promised to phone me when she was home.  Or if she didn’t return…..  

I felt incredibly sad.  I never saw Sadie Trotter again, despite calling several times, and I never heard from the neighbours.  A couple of months ago I spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign in Sadie’s front garden. 

Our ‘brief encounter’ hadn’t had a lot of romance but it did end up a bit of a tear jerker.  

RIP Sadie Trotter, you were a lovely friend for a short time.

A Life by Jill Reidy

Cluttered room, a tray of tea
Cake arranged in tiny squares
Heating and hopes high
A lifetime on walls and shelves
Births, marriages and deaths 
And everything in between
Sadie talks
I sip weak tea, take a bite of cake and listen
It's a long tale
Ninety years of ups and downs
Joy and sadness
Disappointment and despair
Rheumy eyes plead with me to stay
A visitor 
A listener
A friend
Sadie suddenly looks solemn
Takes my hands, lowers eyelids
Says a prayer
I focus on her wedding ring
And ponder the unfairness of life

Thanks for reading…….. Jill