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

Monday, 19 April 2021

Sounds Of Silence

On August 29, 1952, at a hall tucked on a wooded dirt road in Woodstock (yes, that one) the piano virtuoso David Tudor prepared to perform. He sat at the piano, propped up six pages of blank sheet music, and closed the keyboard lid. He then clicked a stopwatch and rested his hands on his lap. After 30 seconds of stillness, Tudor opened the lid, paused and closed it again. He turned one of the blank pages. After two minutes and 23 seconds, Tudor again opened and closed the lid. After another minute and 40 seconds, Tudor opened the piano lid one last time, stood up, and bowed. What was left of the audience politely applauded. The piece was called 4'33"—for the three silent movements totalling four minutes and 33 seconds—and it was composed by John Cage. It seemed like a joke. It wasn’t.

Cage was an experimenter. In his 60-year career, he composed nearly 300 pieces for everything imaginable, from conventional piano and orchestra to bathtubs, amplified cacti. Where other composers heard noise, he heard potential. Pots. Drum brakes. Rubber ducks. It wasn’t provocation; it was necessity.

John Cage playing piano
The world was brimming with sounds musicians had never used before—it was as if all the world’s painters had agreed to restrict themselves to only a few colours. Cage heard every squeak and honk as a possible ingredient for music.

This wasn’t a new concept. Sitting around Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau outlined the same thought, writing: “The commonest and cheapest sounds, as the barking of a dog, produce the same effect on fresh and healthy ears as the rarest music does. It depends on your appetite for sound.”

After the cancellation of a concert at the Museum of Modern Art, Cage was in tears, a career-making opportunity had slipped away. But at that moment, a stranger puffing a cigar walked up and asked whether he was all right. The stranger was Marcel Duchamp. The encounter was life-altering. Duchamp derided traditional paintings as superficial eye candy and opted to make art that pleased—and befuddled—the mind. His 1917 sculpture “Fountain,” an overturned porcelain urinal, was scandalous, but it made a point: Art is subjective. The two became friends, and Duchamp’s philosophy would plant the first seeds of 4'33".

Marcel Duchamp playing with our preconceptions
Cage was convinced that European music had lost its way and had become a celebration of the composers’ ego and emotion. He thought music wasn’t about the composer but it was about the sounds. So he removed himself from his work. Just as Jackson Pollock embraced the uncertainty of splattered paint, Cage started to flip coins and let heads or tails dictate which notes or rhythms came next. His “chance music” gave performers more liberty to play whatever they liked.

The emerging technology of portable recorders permitted the cataloguing and manipulation of environmental sounds by musicians.

Composer Steve Reich explored the rhythms of the human voice and of trains. The sound of the ocean, it is said, was as central to The Who's Quadrophenia as Pete Townshend's thrashing guitar. Brian Eno, who credits Cage with inspiring him to become a composer, recorded a series of so-called "ambient" albums, music of a quietude, designed to compliment rather than compete with the sounds of life. Today hip-hop producers use street noise in their musical fabric and DJs use vinyl LP surface noise to communicate nostalgia and authenticity.

I was tempted to leave this article as a blank page.



Three Women

I’m in Dorset
on a train in Bradford
turning a page
as they reach my table
and fill up the seats

I turn to the window
and hope they’re commuters
or out for a day in Leeds
resigning myself to Yorkshire
and the latest on grandchildren

or even worse
as without a word
three hands reach
into three bags
for three mobile phones

and come out
with three novels
that are silently opened
silently read
and Lyme Regis is the next stop.

(First published in Equinox, April 2011)


Thanks for reading, Terry.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Take Four Northern Men...

...from a provincial city on the slide since the mid-1950s, a dirty city hammered by Hitler's bombers and then side-stepped in the post-war reconstruction. Liverpool, once a great seaport, was losing trade incrementally to container terminals and air traffic, its infrastructure was crumbling (the overhead railway and the corporation tram network were both closed down in 1957), unemployment was rising sharply, and opportunities were few - a situation which reached its nadir with the Toxteth riots of 1981, prompting leading government ministers to urge Margaret Thatcher to commit Merseycide, to abandon the working class of Liverpool to a fate of "managed decline" rather than waste taxpayers' money on the "stony ground" of the north-west! Scousers have a lot to hate the Tories for, but at least at that critical period on the city's timeline, Thatcher dispatched one of her party's more sympathetic politicians northwards to understand and address the problems of urban decay and disaffection. It was a turning point in the fortunes of the area. A quarter century later, Liverpool would be named European City of Culture for 2008 and millions of tourists would visit it annually - partly because of what Heseltine's intervention kick-started, but largely because of those four  Northern Men  of the blog's title: John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Here they are, pictured below with their wives, girlfriends and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at a transcendental meditation week-end retreat in north Wales in the summer of 1967.  Ponder the scene for a minute. It's a seriously atypical undertaking for a bunch of Northern Men, don't you think? Bucking a stereotype, wouldn't you say? 


What it doesn't show (off-page, 200 miles away) is their real guru, Brian Epstein, dying of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol that same week-end.. Some wheels were about to come off. As John Lennon reflected on Epstein's demise: "I knew that we were in trouble then. I was scared. I thought 'We've fucking had it!'"

Of course they hadn't, because they'd already made it in ways unimaginable to most northern men. They were about to embark on a magical mystery tour through the western counties, then on a sojourn to Rishikesh in India which would prove one of their most fruitful exercises, allowing them to write a wealth of new songs that would appear on albums nearly (but not) called 'Music From A Doll's House', 'Everest' and 'Get Back'. And even after they had renounced their Beatlehood at the end of the 1960s, they went on to cement a reputation as the biggest, the best, the most influential, most loved and most missed worldwide musical phenomenon of the 20th century (and maybe much of the 21st as well). It's quite extraordinary. So how and why did something so utterly transformative come out of a dour, done and dusted northern city? Well, all was not as stereotypical as it seemed...

Yes, this band of musical brothers were Northern Men, but dour, inarticulate, uncultured proto-beings, (a view of Northerners still held by many well into the 1980s per the views of Tory magnates outlined above), they certainly were not. Neither were they the four scruffy working-class lads from Liverpool of popular press fiction. 

Two of them (Lennon and McCartney) came from what would be considered middle-class backgrounds, from aspirational families living on green suburban streets, albeit families touched with grief, for both of their mothers died young while the boys were still in their teens. In an age before TV, they read books, they wrote poetry. Three of the four (Harrison among them) went to Liverpool grammar schools and one of the three (McCartney) even briefly toyed with the idea of going to university and becoming a teacher.  

But Liverpool had something no other English city (not even London) had in the late 1950s, an umbilical sea-link to the USA, the home of blues, country, jazz and rock'n'roll - and our four Northern Men lived for that music, brought over on 78s and 45s from across the Atlantic by the seamen of the city. They weren't alone. Liverpool, always a musical hotbed because of its large Irish immigrant community (Harrison, Lennon and McCartney all had ancestors across the Irish Sea), was full of young men swapping reading for listening to rock'n'roll, neglecting their studies, blagging cheap instruments from their parents, forming skiffle bands, playing at house parties. Some even forewent writing poetry and prose for writing songs - and that was what first set Lennon and McCartney and their Beatle brothers apart from all the other wannabees on Merseyside, that and their tenacious desire to follow in the footsteps of their American idols, to live the dream of becoming musicians rather than dockers, milkmen, plumbers or teachers.

That they had to quit Liverpool to complete their apprenticeship and forge their magic, in a city and a country still regarded with deep hostility by many in the UK, was an irony that should not be overlooked, and another significant bucking of stereotypes. Between August 1960 and December 1962 the Beatles played over 250 nights in the music clubs of Hamburg, sometimes turning in several sets a night. Their time in Germany was the making of them, for on their return to Liverpool they were not just streets but miles ahead of the competition and ready to take the sedate UK music scene by storm (and then the world).

The next step was not so easy, getting a recording contract, for all the record labels were in London and their executives had a collectively dismissive attitude to anywhere north of Watford. However, the persistence of another atypical northerner, their business manager Brian Epstein, eventually found them a home on EMI's comedy label Parlophone Records - and the rest really is history, just desserts for the Beatles, whose articulate wit, energy, lyricism, belief in equality and social change, endless creativity in song, on film, in books, saw them dismantle just about every prejudice concerning Northern Man that there was. They were at the forefront of a cultural shift in the 1960s, talismans of a post-war technicolour renaissance that saw no boundaries, that embraced experimentation, that exposed every stereotype for the lazy characterization it was. We still have so much to thank them for. 

I've no new poem to add to this week's blog, though 'Before And After Beatles' is germinating somewhere in the compost of the imaginarium; and an earlier poem, 'Beatlemania Was Born In Blackpool', remains the most read of all Dead Good Blogs. You can link to that one: here

Instead, I leave you with a musical footnote, a link to the song Lennon wrote about the Maharishi on that Indian sojourn. Just click on the title: Sexy Sadie (2018 remaster)


Thanks for reading. Keep bucking stereotypes, S ;-)

Friday, 16 April 2021

Northern Men Just Grunt

I wonder if you have ever participated in a personality test? The sort of thing that tries to work out what type of personality you are. For example, are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you get your energy from being with people or from spending time on your own? 

The idea behind such tests is to try and encourage you to value your strengths and then work on any areas of weakness, so that you can better relate to others and work well in a team.

Many years ago, when I lived in London, I was asked to participate in such a test by an organization. However, the premise behind the test was rather compromised by the leader indicating her view that ‘Northern Men just grunt’. 

In her world a man from the north wasn’t capable of intellectual or sensitive comment on life or relationships. A grunting response was all men from the north could give. So, ‘eh’, ‘yer what’, ‘uh’, ‘erm’ was about the extent of the interaction. This view was aimed at several of us who were in her eyes from the north and whom she hoped to ‘civilize’ in some way by taking the test. It made for an interesting discussion, especially when I revealed that I was not in fact a Northern Man, but was from Hertfordshire!

I don’t suppose such a thing would be allowed to be said in a public way these days, but do such stereotypes still exist, even if only in people’s minds?


Northern Men Just Grunt

It has been said, ‘northern men just grunt’,
they’re bad at fashion, good at decadence
and can’t grasp basic common sense.
The conclusion really is that blunt.
It’s no use asking men, they don’t suit
introspection, it confuses them
and when feeling trapped, they go dumb –
it’s their monosyllabic front.

But men don’t put everything on display,
like furniture that’s flat packed.
We believe opposites can attract.
Come with your over- flowing cup today
and show that you’re an eloquent catch.
We could be two mugs that match.

Thanks for reading,
David Wilkinson

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Northern Man - Lock up your daughters

 My first encounter with what I now consider the archetypal Northern man was on a trip to the cinema with my family when I was about five years old. The stars were Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. The film was The Vikings of course and the story although fictitious depicted invasion by Viking long boats on the shores of Britain. 

The story was filled with gore, sword wielding hunks and helpless Anglo-Saxon inhabitants. The musical score embedded itself in my musical heritage and drifts into my thoughts whenever I think about Vikings. They were Ragnar, Einar,  Erik and Sven. Scarred and strong, clad in leather and metal, they were the stuff of a young girl's dreams. That prototype wouldn't be surpassed until Russell Crowe stole my heart as he hit the big screen as Gladiator Maximus.  Life would never be the same again. If you happen to know him, please give him my number. 

History lessons told us that the Vikings were seafaring warriors who came here to pillage our land but that is not really true. They were mainly traders, skilled metal workers and farmers, They came here to settle, possibly even to escape the colder climes of the far north and many integrated with existing communities. 


It was well known that when trading with other nations, they often embraced the religion of that place, sometimes producing amulets depicting both Thor's hammer and the Christian cross. Eventually some who settled in Britain abandoned the traditional Viking funeral, set adrift at sea on a burning vessel, in favour of burial in a churchyard. The initial attack on Lindisfarne however was a massacre. The Monastery was destroyed and all monks living on the island were massacred. Seems to have been a clash of paganism and Christianity.



Northern Man in a Nutshell

Raping and pillaging
strapping invaders
sailed in on longboats
blowing their horns.

Leather and metal
falcons and flagons
forging fine jewels
from silver and gold.

Pagan they came here
hearing the stories
of a god more forgiving
than those of their own

slowly embracing
Christian community
wedding the Saxon
farming and fathering

sowing the seeds
of ancestral thrones
here in the soil
of an alien land.


Thanks for reading. Adele

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Northern Man: Sub Species Homos Accringtonus

15:56:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , 7 comments

I first began my research into the Northern Male way back in 1972 when I was approached by one, quite unexpectedly, behind a building where I was hiding.  The hiding was another story, and one that I’ve recounted several times, so I’ll just leave that for another time.  It hadn’t occurred to me to pursue this line of study (after all, I was halfway through a degree in Graphic Design), but I found this creature so fascinating that I felt compelled to delve further.

 

Coming from London, Northern Male had been quite an enigma to me, most of my knowledge having been gleaned from watching Coronation Street, Kes and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. This was such an alien world that I felt I was more likely to bump into Clint Eastwood in full cowboy gear than to see a real live Northern Male. Of course, once I went to Art college in Leicester, my world began to expand and I realised just how much variety there was out there.  Of course, I had encountered small groups of Males gathered together in their natural habitat, usually within reach of a bar, but at that time I didn’t make much of a distinction between Northern and Southern Male.  

 

It was 10am on Monday 28th January 1972 that my research began in earnest.  This was a species unknown to me so I was naturally rather wary.  I soon realised that this was a sensible approach as there were several incidents in the coming weeks that indicated just how persistent this particular creature could be. I guessed, from various clues, that this was a young adult male, possibly quite predatory.  I could see that this particular example was slightly different to the other Northern Males I had previously encountered.  By this time, my interest had allowed me to identify various sub species: Homos Yorkshirus; Homos Geordius; and Homos Scousus to name but three. However, it was difficult to pinpoint the origin of this example: the speech pattern was one that I had never heard before.

 

Having spent some time in close proximity with this creature, I was beginning to experience a building rapport, albeit it rather hesitant and disjointed. I could see he might be open to more intensive studying, and had a breakthrough one day when I managed to convey my interest in his origins.  Using his own strange language, facial expressions and hand gestures he indicated that he was from an area north of Leicester but South of Lancaster.  When I produced a map he stared at it for a while before grabbing it and pointing to Accrington. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might never have seen a map before, and I had quite a job to wrestle it from him.  This was the first time I saw the rictus grin - something I knew could be used in fear, although, in this case, he seemed to enjoy the wrestle and obviously thought it an exciting game.  I made a note to be careful in any future situations.  I was already beginning to notice that he would take every opportunity to get close, and I hoped I wasn’t making him too dependent on me.  I was starting to get a very basic understanding of his language when I decided to take him back to his place of origin. I hoped he might still have some links to others of the same species, and I was delighted when this proved to be the case.  One very elderly ascendant would have been a great source of information, if only I could have understood his language which was even more pronounced than that of the Northern Male (henceforth known as NM) I was following.  However, the visit was still useful.  I have drawings I made of some of the clothes and in particular, a pair of wooden clogs.  Such was my subject’s excitement I guessed he had also worn something like this as a young male. 

 

Shortly after the visit to Accrington I thought it might be useful to get the NM down to London and see how he reacted to being taken from his natural habitat.  I was also intrigued to see how my family might respond to this strange species.  I went ahead in order to warn my parents of what they were about to encounter.  The NM  arrived on the back of a lorry, which I gathered had been his last lift of a day long hitch hike.  My records indicate that I was proud of him for using his initiative, but rather disappointed to see that his only luggage was a toothbrush in his duffle coat pocket.  I made a further note to teach him about essential hygiene products. He was out of his normal habitat but adjusted well to a big southern town, and was soon giving my parents bear hugs and listening to my brothers’ music. 

 

We returned to Leicester together and I continued my research, making extensive notes of the very rudimentary language used.  There were words and phrases that I had to look up in books about dialects, but gradually things began to make more sense, and our communication improved drastically.  After about twelve months I thought my research might be coming to end, but it seemed that NM had other ideas.  I gathered that these males needed to find themselves a mate at a young age or they would be left behind in their place of origin.  This was not a desirable place to be:  the young males would be fighting for a position of power, something which occurred mainly at weekends, and especially Bank Holidays.  It was survival of the fittest. 

 

So, for that reason, and after much heart searching, I decided to let NM come and live with me.  It was on a trial basis, but he’s still here, nearly 50 years on, and my research has continued to the present day.  I am always learning, there is always some new element to surprise me.  My notes are now all filed digitally, and Homos Accringtonus (as he became) is beginning to get to grips with this technological age.  I realised pretty early on that he prefers physical activity, such as swimming, golf and going to the gym, where he meets other sub species and manages to communicate pretty well these days.  It also occurred to me years ago that Homos Accringtonus loses his ability to communicate coherently when he gathers with other Northern Males in their natural habitat, within reach of a bar. Training has been long and hard and it’s not over yet. 

 

The most interesting discovery I’ve saved till last.  It’s a relatively recent discovery, and I think you will see why Homos Accringtonus is a species unique in the world of Northern Males.  It is the ONLY species to prefer being completely naked whilst carrying out jobs around the home and garden. 

 

If you’re at all interested in different species of Northern Male, and in particular, Homos Accringtonus, then please look out for them.  They are easy to spot, very friendly and, these days, unlikely to bite.


 Homus Accringtonus AKA Northern Male AKA NM AKA The Naked Mower

I wanted a poem with East Lancs dialect and I found this one.  I'm not sure who it's by but I suspect a member of the Homos Accringtonus Species, some time last century.  Try and read it - it's not easy for a southerner, despite all my research.


                                                  'IT 'IM AGAEEAN 



Thanks for reading......... Jill



Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Northern Man - The Best

photo of my maternal grandparents

My first thoughts on Northern Man were of my grandfathers and my father. Northern, Manchester born and bred, all passed on now. My paternal grandfather was in the army during WW1. He was just old enough to get called up and went to France or Belgium in the summer of 1918. He married in 1922 and raised his family in Rusholme, which I used to joke to my dad, made him an original Rusholme Ruffian. The family moved to Wythenshawe when the new estate was built c.1930, then to Northenden, which is the first house I remember. Giant daisies lined the garden path. I’d like some in my garden and one day, I’ll sort it out. His wife, my Nanna Hetty, was the gardener, though Grandad looked after the cutting of the grass. I didn’t know him very well, which might sound sad, but he wasn’t the sort of grandfather, or father for that matter, who endeared himself to children and grandchildren. Anything to do with children was his wife’s department. After he was widowed, he moved in with us. He helped out in the pub and kept himself to himself. It turned out to be a short term arrangement. He moved into a flat, with a lady. He is laid to rest with Hetty and their daughter, Peggy in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, amongst the great and the good.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, a northern man, described himself as a ‘simple man’, not uneducated but meaning that he was ordinary, unremarkable. Well, that’s a matter of opinion. I’ve studied him and his work and find him extraordinary and a unique artist.

“I am not an artist. I am a man who paints.” He said.

The first time I saw his work I wept, full of emotion for this special man and his art. It was such an overwhelming experience. His paintings were on display in Salford University and I sobbed my way through the galleries a couple of years after his death. I’m probably the only person to cry at Brian & Michael’s song, ‘Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs’. It gets me right in the heart. The Lowry Theatre and Gallery complex in Salford is a fabulous monument to him.

Alan Bennett, oh my word, no, his words, all of them. He renders me speechless. I can read his work over and over, finding something new each time, then I want to snap all my pencils because he is genius and I have no place writing anything except a shopping list. The truth of The Lady in the Van is emotional and very much a stand-alone work, a masterpiece.  A quote from Untold Stories regarding his mother’s concern about Miss Shepherd taking up residence in her van on his driveway,

“I was a reluctant (and, of course, unpaid) landlord but what worried my mother on one of her rare visits to London was what the neighbours would think.

‘This isn’t Leeds,’ I told her. ‘They won’t think anything at all.’”

In Talking Heads he has been unafraid to tackle uncomfortable and taboo subjects. Food for thought, or if it’s too difficult, don’t read it and don’t watch the TV version. Sarah Lancashire played 'Gwen', a mother feeling attracted to her fifteen year old son, beyond motherhood. Alan Bennett takes us on a journey through her thoughts and emotions, edging towards sexual in feelings, but not stepping out of line. Exceptional from a very much alive Northern man.

My maternal grandfather was the direct opposite of my paternal one. When I was a child we played, we laughed, we got told off for being rowdy and too loud, and I don’t think we cared. He taught me Tiddlywinks and Snakes & Ladders. We played hide and seek in his pub, we moved furniture, anything. Times with him and my maternal grandmother were fun. Sometimes, he liked to be quiet and read a book for a little while. He’d been affected by WW1, though this didn’t become apparent until much later in his life. My aunt told me a story about him having a child, the result of a dalliance during his marriage. True or not, I’ll never know and it wouldn’t change anything. I loved my grandad. He cried his heart out at my mother’s funeral and now they share a grave.

Northern man, northern men, gritty like the women. The best.

My poem,

A Northern man, my grandad,
Reliable and always there.
I’m told he had his ‘moments’
But I loved him and didn’t care.
Nowt for me to fret about,
A serious ‘moment’ he had
Though he stayed put with my nan
And never set eyes on the lad.

I’d wear his precious Trilby
And put clips in his Brylcreemed hair.
My childhood, fun and laughter,
And a Jaffa orange to share.
Then the loss of his daughter,
Grandad’s heart broke when my mum died.
I sat with my Northern man,
To comfort him as we both cried.

PMW 2021

Thanks for reading, stay safe. Pam x

Monday, 12 April 2021

Judgement Day

Northern Man: at last a blog theme about which I have some in-depth knowledge. And am willing to share it. Chew it over at length with two individual close analyses and my own photos.

But first an overall view of the subjects. To begin, a quote taken from my book when I write it ….
‘It is a well-known fact that a Northern woman desiring matrimony to a good sort must look for a Southern man.’

You can’t say fairer than that.

Where is North exactly? Well it’s where the bad weather comes from. Where the men are harder, less easy going.

As everywhere is either North or South of somewhere else, apart perhaps from the poles, and as geography isn’t my specialist subject, for the purpose of this blog North or The North as the inhabitants like to call it, will be the North of England. Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Newcastle which lies in an uncharted grey area between Yorkshire and Scotland.

Northern men in abundance are confined to these English areas. Visitors and tourists will find them everywhere, no need for binoculars. The keen spotter will notice their peculiar characteristics. The traditional clothing, cloth cap, braces made of string, wellington boots no matter what the weather. Clutching a sack in which a pair of ferrets can clearly be seen moving. A dog, either whippet or collie next to him. He won’t look happy. It will be raining on him even if the ground around is dry. As he passes sheep will raise their heads as if strangely attracted; it is the smell.

So, what literary heart-throb is the Northern woman able to turn to for consolation?

Isn't that scowl pure Ted Hughes?
Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Dear God! Every Northern man rolled into two. One uncouth and feral, spending his time on moors. The other a superior two-timer.

Heathcliff: brusque and surly, a conversational nightmare. Clears off for years thinking the woman will still be waiting. False wooer, wife abuser, constantly thinking of another woman, fitful temper, dark lord, badly furnished home. Tyrant.

Rochester: advertising in the paper for young women, dressing up as a Romany female, dishonest about his marital status, devious, inclined to bad-temper, petulant, throwing a wobbly in church – holy premises – making the vicar and Jane run across land, and up to the attic. Then wrestling with his wife in front of the guests.

Is it any wonder that Jane runs off and Kathy marries another?

I do realise that I may have given up any chance of entering into the Holy Estate with a Northern man but that is a sacrifice an investigative writer has to make.

Mr Rochester and Jane
The Northern Man
A flat cap if sunny a sou’wester when wet,
long woolly scarf knotted under his chin.
Holding a whippet on the end of a lead.
Covered in pigeon fluff from standing in loft.
Pushing a bike. Moaning about Southerners
and wimmen who he swears he’ll never understand.
Funny ideas about who does the housework,
cooks the meals, lights the fires, chops the wood.
Sheep shedding and dipping, avoiding favourites,
he knows each ewe by name. Clutching his money.
A penchant for rhubarb and black pudding.
Trousers held up by string. Constantly scowling.
Priding himself on his blunt tongue. Striding
across God’s own county, wherever that is.

Woe betide them, of course, if they marry a Blackpool woman!

Thanks for reading, Jeanie B.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Tensions

Today is an anniversary of sorts. On this Saturday eight years ago, I first set eyes on my house on the strand. I was looking to buy a property in Blackpool within reasonable striking distance of the football ground. 

Although driving up from Hertfordshire (and back - a 450 mile round trip) on Saturdays and Tuesdays to watch the mighty Seasiders play was a feature of life while I was working (though admittedly we occasionally stayed over in a hotel or B&B on Saturday nights), when I took early retirement and a redundancy package at the start of 2013 it opened up the possibility of a more flexible and leisurely lifestyle. 

Acquiring a base in the jewel of the north turned into my first retirement project (and why I didn't write about this in last week's blog about retirement, I don't know!), so I started looking at properties in South Shore, if not on Bloomfield Road itself then nearby, on match days prior to kick-off.

I saw a few horrors before happening upon the house I live in now. I liked its general appearance, its orientation (east-west) and the ambience of the neighbourhood. It is just off Bloomfield Road, is within easy walking distance of both the football ground and the promenade and was within budget, so as spring rolled into summer in 2013 I put in an offer that was accepted.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with tension and the answer is not what you may think. The house purchase proved uncomplicated, proceeded remarkably smoothly; and I'm going to side-step the issues in my personal life at that time which meant I ended up living here alone, separated and then divorced (though Rosie the cat didn't pee on my ex-wife's shoes for nor reason).

The house needed quite a bit doing to it, not just cosmetic changes, and over the years I've ripped out fitted wardrobes (don't like them) from the master bedroom, removed the carpets (don't like them) from every room, sanded down floorboards or replaced rotten floors with new wooden ones, and banished curtains (don't like them) in favour of blinds. Three bedrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen and a conservatory have been thus overhauled, repapered, painted, generally decked out to my satisfaction. I've done all the works myself except for replacing the wooden floors in the downstairs rooms. 

The only part of the house on the strand that is still as I first saw it in April 2013 is the hallway (upper and lower levels and the stairwell). Its turn has finally come, but here's the issue: I like the wallpaper in the hall. It's an embossed abstract design (roses) and I would rather repaint it than replace it - especially with twenty foot drops to hang. However there are a few places where it's perished due to underlying (and since remedied) damp issues. I need a replacement roll to make good before I repaint but the pattern is no longer sold. In the year or so before lockdown I looked everywhere - in wallpaper shops, online stores, in those warehouses that specialise in end-of-line remainders - nothing, and so the hall has stayed as it is for longer than I intended.

Then last month I had a brainwave. The wallpaper used in the hall is the same as that used by the previous owners to cover the ceiling in the second bedroom! I've never recycled wallpaper before but that's what I'm planning to do, to lift the paper carefully from the bedroom ceiling and redeploy it to make good areas of the hall that need repapering (and then I can put something different entirely on the bedroom ceiling). It's my spring 2021 project. It looks like the easy option. What can possibly go wrong?

And so this where tension comes in, finally. It takes two forms. The first is the mental one, the sense of anticipation or expectation involved in the planning; the nagging thought that it might all go horribly awry leaving me with a whole hall to repaper and a bedroom ceiling to boot... but I'm up for the challenge. The second is to do with the physical process itself. It could have all the drama of a hospital soap: the preparation of the donor ceiling and recipient walls, the act of getting just the right tension on the wallpaper I'm removing (note, not stripping but peeling), to ensure that it comes away cleanly, evenly, untorn and in reusable strips; the rush to transfer it to its new site; the surgical precision required to apply it seamlessly to repair and replace those damaged sections of hallway. Are you getting the feel of the operation? I could almost sell tickets.

I'll let you know how it goes. There may be an issue with fitting exact matches of pattern to the recipient patches, but for once I shan't be worried if it's not a perfect alignment. It's only the hall and stairwell after all, and who sits on the stairs long enough to study the decor in detail? Except at parties. Ah yes. Remember them?


This latest poem from the imaginarium has nothing to do with Blackpool or houses or decorating projects but a little bit to do with parties and everything to do with political tensions in slightly obtuse form. Consequently, I've gone for what I intended to be a suitably gnomic mode of expression. Again I'm not sure if this is the final version...

Zen Underground
Red polls herald the revolution of another spring,
proclaim better days. Trees blossom white tinged
with hints of blood shed in the name of freedom.

In its fragile infancy a troubled people's triumph
might prove illusory, covert undermining tactics
underway to steal the ballot box from democracy.

With bribery, fear, ratting, its dirty tools of choice,
manoeuvring in excremental ways to derail hopes
for a fairer world, this counter-revolution, hinged

on the tendency of all decent citizens to disbelieve
its leaders might betray them, readies its fatal play.
Be wary, history teaches ruthless men win the day.

Underestimate the corrupting power of power and
all that has been gained above ground shrivels up
to might-have-been dreams. Be alert to the danger,

be ready to resist the rise of so egregious a faction.
Hope doesn't come from words so much as action.
Step up and signal this message swiftly down line.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Tension: A Nation Hooked

I am a self-confessed TV competition junkie. I love my daily dose of The Chase and binge watch programmes like Bake Off, MasterChef, The Great Pottery Throw Down and British Sewing Bee. I am sure millions of others in the UK are hooked too.

So what's the attraction? Tension. Seeing makers and quiz contestants under pressure to visualise, create and complete their offering within the time constraints is enthralling. In my favourite, potters face spot tests and spend days building wonderful pottery. I engage with them. having tried potting myself, I admire their tenacity and delight in witnessing their triumphs and disasters. I love to see improvement and enjoy the tears of a huge hunk of a judge who is often reduced to tears when a potter exceeds his expectations. 

The same with The Chase. It is thrilling to see the underdogs beat the chaser and win the prize money. Tension is a a true narcotic and as a nation we are addicted. 

When  the sewing bee resumes this week, it is not just the sewing machines that need to be under the correct tension. - the contestants and the audience do too. I love it. I did O Level Needlework although I am by no means a proficient sewer, I admire the clever participants who can take a  length of cloth and transform it into a beautiful garment. 

MasterChef is equally exciting. Turning a handful of ingredients into a visually stunning and delicious dish is no mean feat. Having it tasted and judged by the country's top chefs and restaurant critics must be daunting. I love to watch the early rounds and see whether I can predict the ultimate winner. I get very excited, even though I can't smell or taste the food myself. 

I am not big on talent shows.  X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and The Voice are of little interest, There are plenty of singer/songwriters out there. Often contestants sound like others. What is the point of that? I am sure that many of you disagree - but how I get my regular 'tension fix' is up to me. I was a competitive Ballroom dancer and spent many nervous hours waiting for adjudicators decided my fate. Had I made the final, had I won a top three place.  Very tense times but worth it if the result was a good one. 

I believe that we need a certain amount of tension to feel alive. Why else would people bunjee jump, sky dive or swim with sharks? Are we natural adrenaline junkies? Perhaps the answer lies in our mutual DNA. We were, after all, hunter gatherers. Perhaps we have an inbuilt need for risk - pursuit by a sabre- toothed tiger may still be imprinted as an inherent trait. 

Tension in poetry is an altogether different animal and one that I have yet to research and develop in my own writing. I am grateful that this week's theme has piqued my interest in the subject  and I will pursue the subject with vigour. 

No poem this week. I'll just leave you with a photo from Throw Down  No spoilers please  I still haven't watched all the episodes in 2021 series.


Thanks for reading. Adele

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Retiring Minds

Last Easter, which was a week later than this one, we were already into our first national Coronavirus lockdown. What a bizarre twelve months it has proved to be. When I was thinking about what to write about  retirement  on a beautifully sunny Easter Saturday in 2021, as we're all in various stages of readiness to creep cautiously out of our retreats again, long-haired, vaccinated and undoubtedly changed by the experience, it struck me that for people of a certain age (let's be generous and say the over 50s), this has been like a practice-run for 'old age'.

Semi-incarcerated in our homes for months, having to adapt to a more circumscribed and slower pace of life, we've developed strategies to keep bodies and minds fit. Many people signed up to online gym, pilates or yoga classes. When I couldn't go to the gym I eventually cancelled my membership and bought an exercise bike which I ride daily in the conservatory, come rain or shine. When we couldn't meet up for poetry or music events we took them online too, via Zoom or other participatory platforms. When we couldn't go to the cinema we watched way more films, drama series and documentaries on our smart TVs. We've read more (thank you Abe Books and Amazon), done more crosswords and maths puzzles, any and everything to help maintain mental and physical health - use it or lose it - to stop us sliding prematurely into senility. 

keeping mind and body fit in retirement
We may have modified the ways we think, we may have changed the ways we eat, all for the better one hopes, in an attempt to stay healthier longer - becoming more philosophical, eating more cheese, looking to postpone our mental end-date, that fateful future point when our minds start to retire.

Did you know that if you interrogate Google or Wikipedia for a list of French cheeses it will return over six hundred different varieties? That's enough to give Liz 'the Cheese' Truss* nightmares. And an online search for French philosophers generates a list with four hundred and fifty names on it. Combining such random samplings suggests to me the French may be the most philosophical nation on Earth (as well as the biggest cheese-eaters). 

Consequently, when it came to something poetic for the week-end, I thought: do you know what? They deserve a poem, or at least the Existentialists among them do. Here it is then, an imagined narrative about the sunset of retiring minds, in all its Gallic tragi-comic glory...

Strange Days At The Maison D'Etre
Jean-Paul Sartre has been a bit tart lately,
didn't like being told not to smoke his pipe
in bed. "It is not a pipe", he said.
He claims he vapes and what's the harm?
But when the alarm goes off, such chaos.
"These people make me sick", he confided
to Simone, thinking he shouldn't have to
fight the fascists more than once in his life.

And as for Miss de Beauvoir, her behaviour
has been giving the team cause for concern.
The second sex is mentioned in the lounge
she rolls her hips, unzips her skirt and starts 
to flirt like a fishwife with residents, staff, 
even visitors, this once so dutiful daughter
then beautiful siren of Free France. Only
the Outsider is never target for her charms.

Poor Albert Camus is a stranger to himself
these days, a silent man, confused spirit
in a rangy goalkeeper's body, wandering
the grounds, fielding his invisible footballs.
He doesn't know it but he's waiting for the
full-time whistle to blow. Still physically
fit, he dresses himself, polishes his boots
almost religiously, but that's about the limit.

So Jean-Paul, Simone and Albert, comrades
of a great resistance long ago, creators of
their own essential twentieth century selves 
barely exist now, wait hardly philosophical
for reprieve, a happy or a very easy death.
But on sunny afternoons, old Pere Voltaire 
can sometimes be seen digging the garden. 
Funny how he seems to linger timeless on.

*I couldn't sign off without giving you another chance to chuckle at Liz the Cheese, the uncoolest woman ever to hold high office. To watch her making a cringeworthy fool of herself with that speech to the Conservative Party Conference faithful, just click on the link>>> the appalling Liz Truss 

Thanks for reading, S ;-)