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

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Walls

Ever since we scrambled down from the trees or stumbled out of our caves, humankind has constructed walls, originally to keep the outside out (weather, marauders), but also to keep the inside in (warmth, valuables, perishables, livestock). The earliest walls were surely as basic as piles of loose rock or stone, heaps of soil, stripped branches slathered with mud or covered with animal skins. As ingenuity and tools proliferated, so did the sophistication of wall-making: hewn stone, wooden frames with planking, bricks of sun-baked mud and later fired clay, mortared and cemented constructions. The remains of the most durable, dating back thousands of years, can still be seen across the world today.

We grew to be pretty good at it, ingenious too. The Great Wall of China, at over 13,000 miles long, is probably the most famous and certainly the most impressive example. Did you know that the blocks (stone at the base, brick higher up) are all held together by a paste made from sticky rice soup mixed with slaked lime? Yummy. Some sections are 2,500 years old, and wearing well.

The walls of Jericho are also famous but didn't wear so well. Built in around 8,000 BC on the west bank of the river Jordan, they were breached (as narrated in the Bible) by the Israelites who marched round outside the city for six days and whose trumpets on the seventh day caused the walls to tumble. That marked the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their so-called 'promised land'.

Further north in what is modern day Turkiye you can still see partial remains of the walls of one version of the fabled city of Troy; and then westwards from there lies dusty Crete with some of the Minoan palace of Knossos visible on the outskirts of modern day Irakleion, and the lovely ochre-flecked walls in the port city of Chania (below) dating from Venetian times (originally 13th century).

Chania, Crete (2012 SGR)
Across western Europe, city states surrounded themselves with such stout walls, and conquerors built magnificent castles and miles of defensive walls to protect their empires from invasion, ultimately a futile task, for the combined cost of upkeep and the tenacity of invading armies with firepower and scaling machines rendered most defences only temporary stays against keeping the outside out. Also, as populations increased, so cities naturally outgrew their walls. The ramparts were often dismantled so the materials could be used for new houses and municipal buildings in the expanded conurbations.

Coming rapidly up the years, one of the most notorious walls of the 20th century was that erected in Berlin by the GDR (German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany) to keep the inside in. Its construction actually commenced on this day 13th August in 1961 because the communist-controlled part of the city wanted to stop the constant wave of East German citizens trying to escape soviet rule for the freedom of the west. It literally divided Berlin for nearly 30 years until 1989 and German reunification, after which it was dismantled and pieces were sold as souvenirs of the cold war era. 

Writing that prompted me to reflect that walls can be metaphorical as well as literal and I'm thinking walls of fear, walls of prejudice and walls of silence (and sound) in particular, some of them at least suitable candidates for undermining and dismantling wherever they may be found.

Blackpool, England (2013, SGR)
It's a satisfying undertaking, building a physical wall. With no previous experience, I built a very passable front-garden wall one hot bank-holiday while my two-year-old daughter watched the whole time from inside, standing on a chair, nose pressed against the living-room window. That wall stands to this day.

It was neither as tall nor as elaborate as the cobble wall pictured above in my adopted home. Blackpool has a number of such walls built of, or faced with, layers of cobblestones alternating sometimes with brick. A cobble (or cobblestone) is defined on the Udden-Wentworth scale as being between 2.5 and 10 inches in size (bigger than a pebble but smaller than a boulder). Many seaside towns have such walls, on account of cobblestones being plentiful at one time on beaches, beautifully sand and wave smoothed. They are rather attractive features to look at, though being somewhat irregular are no good for kicking a ball against. 

That pastime, in my childhood, required a good flat wall, such as the one depicted below, preferably with chalked-in goalposts so that the boys from built-up neighbourhoods without access to green spaces could play their games of football and dream of cup-final glory. There were no 'No ball games' signs around in those days.

Backstreet, Anytown (1958, unknown)
Here to finish is my latest poem, admittedly another work-in-progress, inspired by the recent UEFA Women's Euro 2022 tournament and a metaphorical take on tearing down walls.

Kicking On
Every time the ball strikes the wall, soot falls,
the neighbour curses, and one scuffed lad will
peel away hearing that terrace ovation rolling
down the backstreet, an affirming tide. Lasses

they have dolls and ballet classes, wouldn't get
the offside trap, the tactic of a marauding back,
the thrill of a save, the joy of a goal; so why do
they watch intently from living-room windows

while contemptuously pretending not to notice
how to tackle, nutmeg, feint, spin, shoot when
the lads go out to play? One day lasses, surely,
for every time a ball strikes the wall, soot falls.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Walls - Bricks and Ice Cream


Watching ‘Countryfile’ on Sunday evening, I was spellbound by the on-going discovery work at Vindolanda, a Roman fortress near Hexham in the north-east of England and close to Hadrian’s Wall. If my memory serves me right, Hadrian’s Wall stretches from the Solway Firth on the west coast for eighty-four miles to Wallsend on the east coast and for all the times I’ve travelled to Scotland, I’ve yet to see a stone of it. I should make the effort. Many times I must have been in touching distance. Perhaps a detour to Hexham is needed?

Last week, we were on the ‘Nine of Us Went to Butlin’s and Survived’ tour. Some of us are still shattered. Some are mentally planning a return and others are in awe at the magical time we shared making memories. Two grandchildren, aged 7 and 6 were watching others on the climbing wall and were keen to have a go. The others were too young, but could cheer loudly from the side lines. I watched, heart in mouth, then, as they gained confidence after two or three attempts, I began to relax and film them. The one I expected to climb up like a rat up a drain turned out to be more timid, though he did well. His cousin, watched, figured it out for herself and got on with it. Girl power! Neither of them reached the top, but they smashed it for themselves and as they basked in their achievement, I was able to breathe normally again. Of course, they were harnessed, helmets on and fastened to safety lines, but nannas do worry.

Almost thirty years ago, we had an extension built to give us a workable sized kitchen, an improvement to the tiny space we had. Somehow, I made New Year’s Day roast dinner for fifteen people in there. Physically I’m a bit bigger now and I doubt if I’d be able to turn round in it. We’ll never know. Watching each step of the new kitchen come to life was exciting. The walls took shape, the windows – one in the wrong place, but I could rearrange the interior plans – everything was massive and amazing. It ceased to be fun when it was time to link into the house. Being October, it was chilly when the outside wall was taken down and no amount of covering and protecting saved everywhere else from the debris involved. This was the stressful stage that had me almost climbing the nice, new walls.

‘Wall’s’. I could recognise the ice cream sign long before I’d learnt to read. Williamson Park in Lancaster was my stomping ground when I was four. I would roll or run down the grassy hill below the Ashton Memorial to be caught in my dad’s arms and swung round. A little bit further along the path was a wooden kiosk selling ice cream and drinks. I would have a cornet, Dad would always have a wafer. Sometimes he let me have a small bottle of Lucozade, but usually it was ice cream with the promise of a drink of blackcurrant and lemonade from behind the bar when we got home. Oh, the daft things that reside in my memory. We had a pub near the railway station, my aunt and uncle had one in the town, soon to be joined by my grandparents who had retired from their pub in Sale. Sweet times.

I found this poem about Hadrian’s Wall,

The Great Wall of England
A poem for kids by Jon Bratton and Paul Perro

When the Romans conquered Britain
Thousands of years ago.
They built towns in England and Wales,
They didn't want Scotland though.

The Scotsmen and the Romans
Did not get on at all.
To stop the Scots from stealing sheep
The Romans built a wall.

It stretched from Solway Firth in the west
To the Newcastle in the east.
To build it they used many stones,
Millions, at least.

The Emperor who was in charge,
(Hadrian was his name)
Did lots of things during his reign
But the wall gave him lasting fame.

It took fifteen years to build it,
Things took longer back then.
Hundreds of horses pulled the carts
There were thousands of working men.

They built forts and towers as well
They built them very tall,
So the Romans could see the Scots
Who tried to sneak up to the wall.

The Romans stayed in Britain for
Hundreds of years, altogether.
I wonder why they stayed so long?
It couldn't have been the weather.

That the wall was built to last
Would be a fair thing to say.
It was built thousands of years ago
And is still standing today.

Indeed, from all around the World
People come to see it.
There's always a tourist around
You can almost guarantee it!

 


Thanks for reading, Pam x

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Generosity -

Sometimes on social media, I read stories of generosity and the generous person is often unknown to the recipient.  Perhaps a mother with a child in a pushchair is at the check-out and realises that they cannot afford all their items, when a stranger pays for them. Sometimes it is a young person who stops their own journey to help an older person change a flat tyre. 

I want to tell you about one extraordinary act of generosity - a genuine act of selflessness by my own father. In the late sixties to the mid-seventies, my Dad was landlord of The Eagle and Child at Weeton, a 16th century coaching inn. Weeton was a small village and everyone knew everyone else.  Many villagers worked part-time for Dad including 'Old Bert' who helped maintain the grounds.  Bert was a bit smelly, his clothes were badly worn, he always tied string round his trouser legs and wore a flat cap. 

Traditionally on Christmas Day, the pub was closed in the evening, so Christmas lunch was an extended family affair. While Dad was behind the bar and Mum did the festive cooking, I was busy laying the grand table in the pub dining room. Dad called me over and said that he had forgotten to pay Bert's wages and he handed me a wage packet, asking me to deliver it to his house.

It was only a quick jog to Bert's council house. When I arrived, he opened  the door, didn't speak and went straight back to his own small table. He was keen to finish eating a bowl of hot soup. The day was very cold and yet there was no fire in the grate. Eventually he explained that his wife Winnie, who had mental health problems was back 'in Wesham'.  I gave him the wage packet and left. 

When I arrived back, Dad was just getting ready to close the bar. I told him about the sorry state in which I found the old man. He asked me to tell Mum to wait a while before she served lunch, then he disappeared out of the front door.  Fifteen minutes later, he was back with Bert in tow and instructed me to set a place for him at the Christmas table.

This was so typical of Dad but it really affected me and tears well in my eyes as I remember my loving, generous father who we lost in 1998 aged 83 - far too soon. 


'Old Bert'

Such a forlorn figure
sitting here in your cold house,
no fire in the grate.
trying to keep warm
with nothing but
a bowl of soup.

But now you are brought
to share our Christmas fayre
still wearing hobnail boots,
and threadbare, yellowed shirt.
You whiff a bit
but love has no sense of smell.

My very own Father Christmas
brings you the gift of cheer.
You eat heartily,
then touch the peak
of your flat cap to my Mum
and take your leave.

Thanks for reading, Adele

Monday, 1 August 2022

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Cliffhangers

Architects must be some of the maddest people on the planet, second only to their clients probably. For what could be more 'out there'  and living on the edge in a literal sense, than a cliffhanger of a house? Two of the examples I've picked to accompany today's blog can be found in Australia and are not for the faint-hearted. They are sited in spectacular cliff-top locations (naturally) and have been designed and built, at enormous cost one supposes and with all due regard to considerations of safety and permanence, so that their owners can thrill to exclusive and stunning sea views.


They are bold statements of man's prowess, constructs that are more suggestive of a James Bond film set than cosy nests for your average 21st century nuclear family. And presumably that is the point. A cliffhanging life is its own adrenaline charge. Even cleaning the windows requires a certain abseiling facility, the ability to dangle with a mop and bucket. I hope the seabirds are friendly. And is that a diving-board on top of the 'house' below?


I'm presuming that earthquakes are not a feature of Australia's coastline, unlike in California, which was my first introduction to cliffhanging houses. If you've seen the Clint Eastwood thriller 'Play Misty For Me ' you'll know exactly what I'm talking about (and if you haven't, rectify asap). At intervals just a short turn off the Pacific Coast Highway can be found some of America's most breath-taking real estate, with views to match. Those stunning luxury clifftop houses hang like eyries above the shoreline from Monterey via Carmel to Big Sur, and one day when the San Andreas fault finally cracks (the 'big one' is overdue by half a century) they will all plummet into the sea.

British cliffhanging, typically, is much less spectacular, pretty low-key by comparison. And yet the coastal erosion of our relatively soft sandstone headlands has already caused many a cliffhanging home owner on Devon's 'rivièra ' to bemoan the cost of living on the edge. There's a parable for that, not to mention insurance premiums.


Climate change and the associated global rise in sea-levels is only going to exacerbate the problem and many more clifftop houses that have stood proud for generations around Britain's coastline are likely to go tumbling down to the shore in the next few decades. 

But enough of arrogance and gloom. Let me leave you with a new little poem that focuses on the positives:

Theia
divine madness in the moment
it's all about the letting go
as you fall so you rise
the sound of one cliff hanging







Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Cliffhanger

I write as someone who knows about the effects of cliffhangers on a person’s life. I was an Archer’s addict. How many Sunday mornings were ruined by the need to listen to the omnibus edition to find out what was happening in Ambridge. I thought of this immediately when I came to start writing this article. Then I wondered why I would think of the term cliffhanger. Where did the word come from? I think I’ve found out where the term first appeared in print but I’ll leave it until the end of the piece....

Surprisingly, the use of the technique has been around for many years. They were used as literary devices in several works of the Middle Ages. The Arabic literary work One Thousand and One Nights involves Scheherazade narrating a series of stories to King Shahryār for 1,001 nights, with each night ending on a cliffhanger in order to save herself from execution. Some medieval Chinese ballads like the Liu chih-yuan chu-kung-tiao ended each chapter on a cliffhanger to keep the audience in suspense.

Cliffhangers became prominent with the serial publication of narrative fiction, pioneered by Charles Dickens. Printed episodically in magazines, Dickens's cliffhangers triggered desperation in his readers. Writing in the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum captured the anticipation of those waiting for the next instalment of Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop; in 1841, Dickens fans rioted on the dock of New York Harbour, as they waited for a British ship carrying the next instalment, screaming, "Is little Nell dead?"


On Dickens’ cliffhangers - first seen with The Pickwick Papers in 1836—Leslie Howsam in The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book (2015) writes, "It inspired a narrative that Dickens would explore and develop throughout his career. The instalments would typically culminate at a point in the plot that created reader anticipation and thus reader demand, generating a plot and sub-plot motif that would come to typify the novel structure."

With each new instalment widely anticipated with its cliffhanger ending, Dickens’ audience was enormous (his instalment format was also much more affordable and accessible to the masses, with the audience more evenly distributed across income levels than previous). The popularity of Dickens's serial publications saw the cliffhanger become a staple part of the sensation serials by the 1860s.

Thomas Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes (which was published in Tinsley's Magazine between September 1872 and July 1873) used the term when Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left hanging off a cliff.

Moving forward to the start of the film industry during the 1910s, Fort Lee, New Jersey was a centre of production, the cliffs facing New York and the Hudson River were frequently used as locations. For instance films such as The Perils of Pauline were made which would often end suddenly leaving actress Pearl White's Pauline character literally hanging from a cliff. But The Perils of Pauline would have been called a “serial” or “chapter play,” not a cliffhanger.


And here is the big reveal:
The word seems to have been first printed in the January 1931 edition of Variety according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But the Variety article certainly implies that the term cliffhanger was well known at the time. So, I suppose the question is at what point does a word become, well, a word?  I’ll have another look and if you read again next month who knows...

Another attempt at a haiku:

cliff walk past
fields of autumn gold
a gun fires

Thanks for reading, Terry Q.

Monday, 25 July 2022

Cliff Hanger, Puffins & More

When I do laundry, I am first a washer, then a hanger of clothes. If I was named Cliff, then I could be called Cliff Hanger or Cliff the Hanger, which sounds like an everyday object in one’s wardrobe or some medieval public executioner. I discovered that interestingly, as executions didn’t happen that often in medieval times (5th – late 15th centuries), a hangman such as our imaginary Cliff made his wage doing additional dirty jobs such as a knacker who removed dead animals from public roads and farms, a tax collector particularly of lepers and prostitutes and the beloved latrine cleaner which definitely was sloppy business in those days! Our Cliff would have most likely lived on the outskirts of town, on the fringe of society, providing services that were deemed undesirable. He would have been living on the edge.

Many of our feathered friends also live on the edge, hanging about on cliffs. The puffin is one such bird, strikingly handsome. There are four different types; the Rhinoceros Auklet, the Tufted Puffin, the Horned Puffin and the Atlantic Puffin, with approximately 580,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffins residing in colonies around the UK.

Atlantic Puffins
(Image credit: Christine Cassanell)
For safety, particularly on the mainland, puffins make burrows into cliffs where they can be protected and raise their young, one puffling/chick per pair. The cliffs with their sheer jagged faces make a perfect launching pad for seabirds such as the puffins to take off, soar - then dive into the ocean below to catch their next meal; sand eels being one of the puffins’ favourite morsels on the menu.

Atlantic Puffin and Sand Eels
(Image credit: Christine Cassanell)
And what exactly are Sand Eels? They are slender, long, and eel-like but are actually a number of species of fish. According to Teaching Through Nature, adult puffins that have a puffling to feed need to catch 400 sand eels a day! Puffins depend on these fish to survive and are being put into a vulnerable position as sand eels numbers have dwindled due to human fishing activity and climate change.

To raise awareness about puffins, climate change, and environmental issues along the East Riding of Yorkshire coast, the Puffins Galore! Art Trail was hatched. This project came to fruition earlier this year when there was a national callout for artists to submit designs to decorate a 1.5 metre puffin sculpture, which if selected would be installed somewhere along the East Riding Coast from July – October 2022.

I was one of 70 artists that had their designs shortlisted with 42 of these sponsored. Nest Builders Well Spotted was kindly taken under its wing by Active Withernsea and this puffin is now located near the RNLI Lifeboat Station in Withernsea. The artworks will eventually be sold to their sponsors or auctioned off with all monies going to four different charities.

Nest Builders Well Spotted
(Image credit: Kate Eggleston-Wirtz)
This artwork explores nature (symbolised by the puffin) and humans sharing one collective nest, one home, our planet Earth which the giant bird is keeping a close eye on. The puffin is well spotted to symbolise bird watching/spotting, spots from disease and or spots/locations where one might build smaller individual homes. This bird hopes for a healthy future represented by the newly hatched puffling safe in its burrow, where humans take to heart the impact of their own nest building, represented by the houses on the puffin’s back. All species have a right to nest safely, to thrive and fly.

Here’s a poem in response to Nest Builders Well Spotted, affectionately named Spot.

Spot the Puffin
A perfect spot, Spot stands by sea
keeping watch on you and me
building our nests side by side,
some on cliffs above the tide,
some with windows, made of stone
or brick or wood, these are our homes
for big, for little, no matter how small,
one planet Earth - one house for all.

And an additional fun little ditty in response to the Cliffhanger theme.

Cliffhanger
Hang up your clothes, get ‘em off the floor
use Cliff the Hanger that’s what he’s for.
A hanger named Cliff, a wiry fella
twisted with a hook and painted bright yella.

Hang up your clothes, get ‘em off the floor.
Open your wardrobe, open its door.
Cliff is calling, a Narnian shout,
Pick up those clothes, hang ‘em right side out!

I looked at the floor at the pile of clothes.
I opened the wardrobe, stuck in my nose.
It was dark, it was dank, it smelled funny and then…

Thank you for reading. 
KEW 😃

For further information about real live puffins:
http://www.teachingthroughnature.co.uk/puffin-season-2020/puffins-bring-back-fish/
https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/puffin/

For further information about the Puffins Galore! Art Trail: http://puffinsgalore.co.uk

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Summer

After eight years as a regular Saturday blogger, I'm searching for a seasonal summer slant that's not been used before. This week's record temperatures - Tropic of Bowland anyone? - might have proved newsworthy for a couple of days but are soon to be a commonplace feature of British summertime, it would seem. More concerning is that "beating Keir Starmer" and "getting Brexit re-done" (whatever the hell that means) look to be more important to the Tories than ensuring we are meeting the challenges of global warming and our legally-binding Net Zero undertaking. Let's face it, it's not been a priority of this administration, despite the UK hosting COP26; in fact we're going backwards - less on track than we were five years ago apparently - and Alok Sharma, the government's climate minister, has threatened to resign if the new PM fails to commit to a strong green agenda.

Anyway, here's my slant: Summerland. I don't know if you've seen the movie of the same name? It was released in 2020 (first year of Covid) and probably didn't get much exposure as a result, which is a shame because it's a first-rate film, an instant 'lost classic' as it were, with a great story line, terrific acting (Gemma Arterton and Lucas Bond in particular are excellent) and the cinematography is stunning. I won't spoil the plot, for do try and catch it if you can, streamed, on DVD, or whenever it crops up on your TV.

Summerland
Suffice to say the movie introduced me to the idea of the Summerland, essentially a pagan concept of an afterlife. Formalised to an extent in theosophical belief and writings (thanks to Swedenborg, Davis and Leadbeater inter alia ), Summerland would seem to represent the highest level or sphere that souls can aspire to between incarnations, before Nirvana is attained (for theosophists believe we are all on a cyclical mission to reach perfection). It is also sometimes referred to as the astral plane, a sort of sunlit upland for those who managed to live good lives before shucking off their mortal host. There is a lot more weird stuff associated with theosophy - like Sanat Kumara who is believed to be the spiritual deity governing Earth from the floating city of Shamballa, somewhere above the Gobi desert - but the movie doesn't get into that level of complexity. For researcher Alice in her cliff-top house and for blitz evacuee Frank, it simply posits the existence of Summerland, and the ability of those with sufficiently open minds to actually glimpse it in the ether as some reassurance in war-torn 1940 that existence goes on after death. Unlikely, of course, but charming nonetheless. 

Moving on back down to earth in 2022, my own 'house on the strand' (it's not actually on the sea-front but a short walk inland, as anyone who has visited will tell you), is oriented almost precisely east-west. The front faces the rising sun, which filters through the bedroom blinds on a summer morning. It's a splendid thing to wake up to, blue sky, gently warming bright air, the promise of a glorious day to come. By mid-day (give or take a seasonally-adjusted hour) the sun is right above, heading west, flooding the back garden while the front gradually becomes shadowy. It's a house of two halves. The front rooms are warm in the morning but cool in the afternoon and evening as the heat of the day intensifies; the back rooms and back garden are refreshingly cool in the morning but suffused with light and heat right through to sunset. I migrate between front and back as the mood or the need dictates. It works perfectly. Then there are the wrens.

Wrens are beautiful little birds, more often heard than seen because they are small and shy, but they have a distinctive sound and are far more populous than people think (estimated 11,000,000 in the UK). They are also territorial. I have two distinct families of them, one in the front garden and one in the back, with the house acting as a sort of buffer. Occasionally I hear the males singing at the same time, usually but not exclusively at the start of the day. It's a thrill and a highlight of summer mornings, and although I've written a whole blog and poem about this charming bird before (linked here, click on the title:  Tails Up), I thought why not do so again from a slightly different, somewhat humorous perspective?

Wren Singing
This then, in first draft, is for wrens everywhere, even though they can't read...

Wrens In Stereo
If I awake at dawn, the norm for a summer morning,
I can lie drowsy listening to the front-of-house wren
belting forth his silvery song from the magnolia tree
beneath my bedroom window, rallying all to the day.

Less distinct, being further away, the backstage wren
will join the chorus, rehearsing some mercurial lines
until he's note perfect in the shrubbery. If sometimes,
I suppose it's just by chance, their modulations chime

to great effect, I can feel uplifted by the sound, rouse
myself to stand equidistant on the landing, the better 
to balance both outpourings.  They're not performing 
so for me, more likely to secure their territories anew,

but what a rare delight to be showered at start of play
by wrens in stereo for ten or fifteen minutes, overture
to the quiet daily drama unfolding in a writer's house,
better by far than an intrusion of radio or breakfast tv.

Thanks for reading, S;-)

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Summer - Making Memories


It is here, at last, the moment we’ve been waiting for. Proper sultry, summer weather of hot sun and blue skies from dawn until dusk, which is around nine-thirty, and I would like to say it goes on day after day. It won’t. I think this is two days of heatwave, then rain, possibly storm, and cooler temperatures. My house is currently thirty-four degrees and I feel sticky and uncomfortable.  The heatwave may not be completely responsible.  After two and a half years of sticking to guidelines and looking out for myself and family, Covid has got me. I tested positive at the weekend after feeling unwell for a couple of days. There are no signs of recovery yet. When it cools down, I’ll rest in the garden, admiring the fruits of my labours, especially the planter I’ve called Tangerine and White.

The summers of our youth were everlasting and full of ice cream, the park, the beach and sometimes a holiday. Our holidays tended to be spent with family, when my dad could escape from running the pub for more than two days together. It was always good to spent time with our cousins. They are in the USA now, but they lived in London and the south of England when we were all children. My sister and I loved their big garden offering lots of room to play, even space for badminton.

For years home was a pub on South Promenade. We had the beach on our doorstep. Day after day we were there, not a care in the world and not a thought for how lucky we were. Someone would be with us until I, being the eldest, was considered old enough to take us across four lanes of traffic and the tramlines. My sister would choose an ice lolly or ice cream. I loved a portion of shrimps in a tiny paper bag. I can still taste how delicious they were. Better than anything sweet.

When our children were young, summer holidays meant the long road trip to Pembrokeshire and a couple of weeks staying in a static caravan. It was owned by family members who didn’t use it during the busy months of July and August, but were very happy for us and others to enjoy it. We were so privileged. We had holidays that wouldn’t have happened if not for the generosity of our extended family. Our children, and us have great memories of those wonderful times.

Making memories is what we’ll be doing in a few weeks when we take our grown up children and all our grandchildren to have a blast at Butlin’s. It’s our treat as grandparents and a one-off. It will be fun for all of us, of course, but it is centred on giving the grandchildren a fabulous time. My grandparents used to take me to Butlin’s when I was small, before I had a sister. Now I’m the nanna. It’s my turn.

Allow me the indulgence of my favourite of Shakespeare’s sonnets,

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

William Shakespeare 1564-1616

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 16 July 2022

Cancel Culture

Cancel culture. What is it? Where did it come from? Should we care? I'll keep this as brief as possible.

It has become a 21st century social phenomenon, whereby a conscious 'collective' decision is made to call out and/or censor (i.e. block or remove) an individual or group or their cultural legacy (books, records, paintings, plays etc), even historical associations (place names, commemorative artefacts) from the public domain on account of association, attitude or content that the 'collective' finds unacceptable. 

As a term it appears to have gained popularity with the rise to ubiquity of social media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. Billions of people now have the opportunity to express and share their opinions online, to be influenced by what they read on these platforms and to gang up.

In one sense it is nothing new. Social pressure (as opposed to state diktat) has 'cancelled' artists and their works in the past - for instance the mass burning of Beatles records in America's bible belt in 1966 following the mis-reported comments by Lennon about the popularity of The Beatles compared to Jesus, or the backlash against Cat Stevens (a Muslim convert) when it was reported in 1989 that he supported the death fatwa against Salman Rushdie, after which fellow musicians stopped covering his songs, radio stations removed him from playlists, stores stopped selling his records. What is new is the scale, scope and speed of 'cancellations' in recent years, which  has been remarkable. Here's a short list of examples:

Musicians The Dixie Chicks had their career 'cancelled' after one of their number publicly criticised the President. Stores pulled their records, promoters boycotted them and fans deserted them, leaving the group out in the cold.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein had his career 'cancelled' by the MeToo movement that called him out for historical sexual impropriety. He was jailed for 23 years and has had his honorary CBE rescinded.

Author J.K.Rowling caused a bit of a stir with comments about transgender rights and gender identity. Some have accused her of transphobia. Many wanted her 'cancelled', have said they will never read a Harry Potter book again and some would even "unread the ones I've read if I could."

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the American national anthem as a protest against racial injustice (the start of the recent 'take the knee' movement). He was effectively 'cancelled' by the NFL for his stance and hasn't played since.

Broadcaster Joe Rogan was perceived to be putting out anti-vax propaganda on his Spotify podcasts. Various artists (including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell) withdrew their music from Spotify in an effort to get Rogan 'cancelled'. Spotify didn't ban him but they did remove a couple of episodes and fronted the rest with disclaimers.

Imperialist Cecil Rhodes had statues of himself 'cancelled' when students in Cape Town and Oxford voted to have the memorials removed on account of his historical exploitation of native South Africans.

So-called politician Donald Trump found himself 'cancelled' by both Facebook and Twitter who blocked him after he used his social media platforms to incite insurrection on 6th January 2020.

Actress Jodie Comer found there was a clamour for her to be 'cancelled' (no more 'Villanelle ') because by coincidence her boyfriend had the same name as an outspoken Trump supporter. That's as tenuous and as silly as it gets in an age of disinformation and lack of accountability.

Cancel culture is just part of the new social media maelstrom feeding frenzy that includes terms like 'snowflake', 'virtue signalling' and 'woke', all of which have gained currency in the last five years and are used pejoratively by those on the right against those on the left of the socio-political spectrum who are perceived to be the ones doing much - but by no means all - of the 'cancelling'. And while some of what goes on is little more than the equivalent of toddler temper tantrums by people who won't take the time or don't have the inclination to establish the facts and reach an informed opinion, some of it is a legitimate reassessment of the past in terms of the changing social values of the present; history up for reappraisal. However, we should be worried by some of the implications.


Of course the exponential reach of social media via mobile internet devices has widened out a complex debate around free speech, the ownership, control and manipulation of modes of communication, the accountability and responsibility of platforms for monitoring content that is posted online, as well as issues of how to spot and take down content that breaks the law (from hate speech to pornography), and to what extent it is acceptable to rewrite the past.

Someone once described television (in somewhat extreme terms) as "an open sewer running through the living room". At least it is channelled and regulated. Compared to TV, social media is more like shit being thrown at a fan! I'm not opposed to the technology. Its accessibility and universality make it a great facility if used sensibly. It's a dynamic situation that needs maturity and a degree of shaping. The fact that social media is full of fake accounts and fake news is a serious issue for our fragile democracy and the new media barons are no more to be trusted unequivocally than the old ones. Witch trials and the engendering of a lynch mentality appear to have moved online in recent years and are factors in the growth of cancel culture at both ends of the spectrum. The feverish clamour to denounce great works of art or culture just because it appears their creators had something "unacceptable" in their make-up (Beethoven was a revolutionary, Lewis Carroll and JD Salinger liked young girls, Eric Clapton supported Enoch Powell's 'Keep Britain White' stance) should be viewed with a degree of scepticism.

I would suggest the response required from platform providers and governments is open and democratic moderation, with accredited and verified users and enforceable accountability for what is posted. And when it comes to us, the masses, it would be nice to think that such a facility might in time lead to a more nuanced and intelligent debate, might broaden minds rather than narrow them, might create a more generous general public.

Talking of  'cancellations', finally that bullying, mendacious, misogynistic narcissist has been forced to resign as PM - the worst in living memory - though for a while it looked like he might be summoning "the fourteen million who voted for me" Trump-style to metaphorically storm the capital and demand he stays, except that opinion polls suggest at least half of those fourteen million have come to their senses and now realise what a total liability Johnson is. A shame it took so long.

Goodbye Boris Johnson*
Your Oxfordshire bedroom was red white and blue
You were never short of a golden guinea or two
Your school rugby team was called The Collegers
You changed mistresses when it suited you
   Gave you a smug, thuggish sort of feeling
   The joke was always on us

You had a music box played I'm The Main Man
Your favourite building was Chequers
Your favourite food was cake with champagne
Your favourite Christmas song was Little Donkeys
   Gave you a smug, thuggish sort of feeling
   The joke was always on us

Your favourite person was Alexander Boris de Pfeffel
You won Number Ten playing poker with the voters
Your favourite lie was 'I never knowingly lie'
You didn't give a shit and you never wiped your arse
   Gave you a smug, thuggish sort of feeling
   The joke was always on us

* after Adrian Mitchell's 'Goodbye Richard Nixon '. I was seriously tempted to title the poem Fuck Off Boris Johnson, but that would have strayed too far from pure pastiche. 

Thanks for reading, S ;-)