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

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Take Three Birds

There's a sub-theme threading through this week's outpouring on the topic of: This Bird Has Flown. The clue is animal with Norwegian connections (to paraphrase the popular parlour game Twenty Questions) - but don't worry if  you've not the faintest idea what I'm talking about, as all will be explained herein. I hope you'll forgive my use of the avian familiar in the title. Here goes, in chronological order.

Bird number one is Marianne Ihlen, sometime consort of Leonard Cohen, who immortalised her in the song "So Long, Marianne." I blogged about Cohen and the Greek island of Hydra some months ago but I didn't do justice at the time to his muse - so here in brief is Marianne's story. (By the way, despite what Leonard sang, her name is pronounced with four syllables as "marry anna".)

Marianne on her way from Oslo to Athens
There was possibly no place in the world as bourgeois and boring as Norway in the 1950s, the ghost of Ibsen haunting its sluggishly respectable towns and cities, even Olso, where Marianne Ihlsen grew up. Her parents' marriage was not a harmonious one. Her father was a lawyer and authoritarian. Life was difficult at home. Her father wanted her to become a lawyer in his footsteps, or maybe a doctor. Marianne knew that she wanted to escape, to find something more rewarding than her parents' lifestyle had to offer, possibly somewhere that offered broader horizons than Norway's stifling conservatism and gloom.

Enter Axel Jensen, writer, bohemian, slightly unhinged, certainly one of a kind at that time. She fell in love with him and together they decided to flee Norway in late 1957 in search of a different way of living. Against her parents wishes and certainly behind their backs she pooled her savings with those of Axel, and boldly cut her ties with everything she had known. Taking only what they could carry with them into their new life, they crossed by ferry to Hamburg, bought an old VW car in Germany and set off to drive down through Europe with Greece as their destination, for Axel had friends who had made it to Athens and who wrote enthusiastically of the sun and sense of freedom to be found in the south, 2,000 miles from home.

It was a brave decision for a twenty-two year old Norwegian girl to make and one from which there was no turning back. Within weeks they were living in a little house on the island of Hydra, a short ferry hop out of Athens. It was there that she spent the next ten years (until the military coup of 1967), the place where she raised her son, where she was abandoned by Axel and where she lived with Leonard Cohen, who arrived on the island in 1960.

She said that what she found on Hydra was the chance to be herself, to style her life without the strictures of the old country. She didn't know it, but she was in the vanguard of a change about to sweep the western world.  

Bird number two was never explicitly named, but found fame nonetheless through another popular song, John Lennon's exquisite  "Norwegian Wood" off the Beatles' sixth LP 'Rubber Soul'.

the Beatles from the photoshoot for their Rubber Soul LP cover
"Norwegian Wood" was sub-titled "This Bird Has Flown", an unusual enough departure in itself for a Beatles' song. It recounts in enigmatic tones a liaison of sorts that Lennon had with a young woman, thought by many to be the London Evening Standard journalist Maureen Cleave; enigmatic because the Beatle was married to Cynthia and they had a young son. Norwegian wood is a reference to pine panelling, becoming very popular with swinging London's trendsetting flat-dwellers, as the vogue for all things Scandinavian took hold in the mid-'60s.

Maureen Cleave was certainly a personal friend of Lennon and even had an influence on his development as a song-writer. In his own words: "She once asked me 'Why don't you ever write songs with more than one syllable?' So in "Help!" there are two- or three-syllable words and I very proudly showed them to her and she still didn't like them." From 1964 onwards he came to regard her as the epitome of the more articulate, cultured audience he would like the Beatles to reach out to. She has always stated (perhaps truthfully but disingenuously) that in all her encounters with Lennon he never made a pass at her; and Lennon claimed diplomatically that he could not recall whom the song was about. Make your own minds up. You know the tune, so sing out loud (air sitar optional)...

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
I once had a girl,
Or should I say she once had me?
She showed me her room,
Isn't it good, Norwegian wood? 

She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere,
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn't a chair.

I sat on a rug,
Biding my time, drinking her wine.
We talked until two
And then she said "it's time for bed."

She told ne she worked
In the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn't
And crawled off to sleep in the bath.

And when I awoke,
I was alone, this bird had flown.
So I lit a fire,
Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

                             John Lennon (with Paul McCartney), 1965

Bird number three, if you hadn't already anticipated it, is the Norwegian Blue, subject of Monty Python's timeless comedy classic. To enjoy it one more time, click here >>> That Parrot Sketch

Finally, a new short poem tenuously on theme, concerning all those poor souls (far too many of them across the famine-stricken swathes of the world), who haven't eaten for a long time and who don't know where their next meal is coming from.

Cutting Up Food
What a simple, graceful task
that was, almost unthinking,
when we still had livelihoods
and knives and forks
and food.

Now it's almost unthinkable,
muscle-memory in empty hands
shrinking daily like our stomachs,
thinning like parchment,
turning to sand.

Have a good week and t
hanks for reading my flights, S ;-)

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

This Bird Has Flown

I wish I had some lovely story to tell you about raising a baby bird; one that had fallen out of its nest. How I’d rescued it, put it in a shoebox with tissue, fed it both night and day for several weeks until it was successfully released back into the wild. Sadly, I don’t have such a tale.

In contemplating ‘this bird has flown’, strung together these four words conjure up a wide variety of imagery and meaning. Besides the literal meaning of a bird flying away, there are several other possibilities, the first being a metaphor for someone who has been bound to a place and then bravely strikes out into the unknown to discover a new life leaving the safety of the ‘nest’ behind i.e., a young person off to university. Then there’s the concept of an aeroplane likened to a bird transporting itself to some imagined exotic place. Thoughts trail to Sesame Street’s Big Bird on to flightless penguins and extinct dodo birds. There’s also the imagery of birds vacating caged prisons, finding freedom when the door’s left open, which brings me to my grandmother and her pet canary.

Throughout my childhood every summer for three weeks we would spend time with my dad’s family. We would wake up, pile into the big blue Buick station wagon and make an 832-mile trek to upstate New York. Sometimes we would camp overnight, sometimes wake up around 3am and arrive around teatime the very same day.

On these special visits to grandma’s house, I would often wake up early and have quiet time with her in her retro, very green Formica 1950s kitchen. She would make a sweet pie for the evening meal, often apple or rhubarb (fresh from the garden). During this time as she cooked, she would let her canary out of the cage. She would remove the cover, open the door and let it flap about the kitchen. In thinking about all this now, my grandma must have either clipped the bird’s wings or kept all the windows shut as her feathered beauty never did make a great escape from Mallery Street’s Alcatraz, not that I know of. However, this was not the case across the pond in England’s capital.

Little green ring-necked parakeets thrive in London, over 30,000 of them. How these interlopers came to flourish in London and beyond is debateable. Seemingly the earliest sightings of this type of bird in Britain was in Dulwich in 1893 and Brixton in 1894 (1), perhaps escaped pets. Legend has it several escaped from the set of The African Queen in the mid twentieth century and helped to populate the west part of London with the growing numbers later moving into the warmer central part of the city.

Canaries and parakeets are all part of the 200 to 400 billion different types of birds (2) worldwide that take part in a remarkable continuous cycle of egg laying and hatching, with attentive parents feeding hungry mouths leading to life’s adventure in the spreading of wings and flying the nest.

Empty Nest

the empty nest hangs
on the brick wall held
useless in cool shade

mud and sticks – life’s blood
swirling motionless
defies gravity

once a cradling refuge
the vacant nest abandoned
now covered in spider’s web

sticky silky threads suspend
dead fragments trapped
floating time

reaching up I stretch
spreading weary wings
clearing bleary eyes

leaving emptiness
heart filled to the brim
with sun’s golden breath

struggle - launching – push
catching wind to sail
free – released to fly

Thank you for reading, 
Kate 😊



Tuesday, 12 October 2021

This Bird Has Flown - Bless You, Billy


A recent episode of the new All Creatures Great and Small took me back to my childhood. The story included a blue budgerigar, left at the vet’s surgery for minor treatment, to be collected later by the owner, a blind lady. Spoiler alert – skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens. Sadly, the budgie chooses this excursion to fall off his ornithological perch, expired. Rather than give the lady bad news, the vet decides to replace her pet with another and is sure she won’t know the new budgie is a green one. The small detail of the blue one never singing and the green one being very chirpy was overlooked, otherwise all was well in the end.

One day when I was a young child, I came home from school to find a new addition to the family. In the sitting room, in a cage hooked on to one of those bird-stands, a pretty, pale blue budgerigar was tutting to its reflection in its own vanity mirror, head going side to side. I was in awe, it was so sweet and I loved it straight away. We named him Billy. My dad took charge of his care but showed me how to top up Billy’s seeds, give him fresh water and wedge a piece of cuttlefish shell between the bars of the cage to rub his beak on. I was thrilled to have another pet. We had a dog that liked his own company and a cat that was always pregnant or nursing kittens, so it was better to leave her alone. I could stand and talk to Billy, tell him about school and how I was doing. I was shocked to go to the cage after school one day and find a green budgie. My dad told me Billy had matured. He said all budgies started off blue and turned green into adulthood. Of course, I believed him I had no reason not to. Many years later the truth came out. Bless him for saving my tears. I have read that some types of budgies do change colour as their feathers are replaced, but this tends to be a shade darker, or a mix.

Lovely Billy, blue or green, long gone but remembered with fondness and All Creatures Great and Small gave me a happy memory.

Maya Angelou's Caged Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Thanks for reading, Pam x







Saturday, 9 October 2021


Who doesn't love a topographical error? 😄 There should be a mispoints rating.

Scoring maximum mispoints would be my personal favourite, which dates back to early 1974. It appeared during the Miners' Strike of that winter, when Mick McGahey and the NUM took on the National Coal Board and Heath's Conservative government. Inflation had been rampant for years and the miners were demanding a pay rise to compensate for their relative loss of earning-power.  An independent commission had proposed a wage rise of 35%. The Tories weren't having any of it. As most power (both electricity, gas and domestic fires) was still based on burning coal, the miners were in a powerful position to put economic pressure on their employers and the government. They didn't hold back.

First of all in the autumn of 1973 the miners implemented a work-to-rule in support of their wage claim and banned overtime. This effectively halved coal production in the UK within a matter of weeks. Rationing of coal (and hence electricity) led to the introduction of a three-day working week in December and scheduled black-outs of domestic electricity supply. I well remember as a student at the time stocking up on candles and reading books and writing essays by candlelight, wearing a coat and scarf indoors, all  very romantic. 

In January the miners turned down the offer of a 16.5% increase in basic pay and their resolve to take on the government hardened. Whereas months before a vote for strike action had been narrowly defeated, a second vote in the new year was passed with 81% in favour and plants in mining communities around the country began to close. Hardship funds kicked in but everyone involved wanted the action to be as effective as possible as quickly as could be.

Consequently, in order to strengthen and escalate the Miners' Strike, a tactic of deploying 'flying pickets' was introduced, whereby teams of men from the more militant closed mines were sent to mines that hadn't been as supportive of the industrial action, and to coal-processing plants. This action was designed to block the progress of miners into pits and the transit of lorries and trains hoping to carry coal away from mines and into depots and power-stations. It was a very effective move as few were willing to cross picket lines manned by striking miners. Such solidarity was very impressive (and Margaret Thatcher, then Minister for Education was quietly taking note, even as she cancelled the provision of free school milk for all).

On to that headline, then. It was splashed in bold type across the front of the Morning Star one day and it read: FLYING PICKETS SENT TO OTHER PLANETS - priceless! What was the typographer thinking? 

A flying picket preparing to head off into space
The power of the unions (the railway workers soon joined in) was enough to force the government into going to the people for a renewed mandate to continue with its hard line policies. The General Election of February 1974 saw the Labour Party returned to power. Within weeks the miners were granted their 35% wage increase.

Although that Morning Star misprint is my favourite, I can't write a blog about typographical errors without mentioning the most infamous of all time. Here it is:

That's from the 1631 edition of the King James Bible, managing by sin of omission to get the seventh of the Ten Commandments fundamentally wrong. Charles I ordered the whole print run of the offending edition to be burned. Heads should have rolled... and of course his eventually did, but that was for a different treason. However, at least nine copies of what came to be dubbed 'the wicked bible' have survived to this day.

And so to my latest poem, a form of Typoetry, which I dedicate to The Unknown Typesetter... and all those lesions of hand-working topographers the world over whose skull with hot type notwithstanding lets lip suck joys as this:

Drunk at the controls?  That should of course read PREFACE.
Hot_metal _typesetting_heroin_late_nightsweat

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

A Load of Mispants

07:00:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , 5 comments
Like many children born in the 1950s I spent the first few years of my life television-free. There was great excitement when a little square box appeared in our front room, and even more of a frenzy when we kids realised you could press a button to switch it on, and change between two channels by twiddling a knob on the front. In the days before technology really took off, that tiny box provided hours of entertainment.

We watched anything - well, anything deemed suitable by our mum and dad, who were meticulous in their scanning and couldn’t possibly have foreseen the dangers of the Internet fifty years hence.

In the absence of much variety, one of the programmes I really loved was Mr Pastry, a clumsy, bumbling old man, who was constantly tripping over and dropping things. At the time - and at the age of seven - it was hilarious. With hindsight, it seems strange that the TV was placed where it was, as the room was waiting to be decorated, and I vividly remember the one and only chair, an old wooden dining chair, painted pale blue. It's now pink and resides in my old bedroom at my mum’s. Needless to say, that chair was the most coveted piece of furniture by us kids. Frequently fought over, it was used proudly by the winner who had to have a very strong bladder in order to maintain his position. Many a time, all three of us would be unceremoniously removed from the room by my mum marching in, switching off the TV and dragging us - in a bundle - out into the hall.

Anyway, back to Mr Pastry. In one of the first programmes, we met his assistant and sidekick, Miss Print. This was my first introduction to a ‘play on words.’ It took me a while to realise there was a double meaning, but once I did I thought it was really funny.

I used to have a folder full of misprints cut out of newspapers. I’ve no idea what happened to them and I can’t remember most of them, but I do recall that the classified ads in the local paper were the most likely to harbour the dreaded misprints.

There was the 3 bedroomed hose; the dining table 3” x 4” (for anybody under about 50, that’s three inches by four inches), seats six; and I still wonder whether anybody bought the large wooden picture farm. The Guardian was known as the Grauniad for good reason. It even had a daily section apologising for the previous day’s mistakes:

Quote 'Readers were informed that the 2003 spring season at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon would feature “The Taming of the Screw”. Anyone spluttering over their morning muesli at this point might have reached for Glaxo’s “controversial treatment for irritable bowl syndrome”, as we once had it. If further proof were needed of the havoc one missing letter can produce, among the highlights expected at Glastonbury 2010 was the group Frightened Rabbi. “[That] should have been the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit,” deadpanned the next day’s corrections column.'

Too many Guardian examples to quote them all, but find more here.

The following images aren't from the Guardian, but they did amuse me.

I’m a bit of a pedant where spelling and punctuation are concerned. I think describing some of the errors I see on social media as misprints is actually giving pretty wide leeway. I bite my tongue and sit on my hands these days.

However one of my favourites was not a misprint, but a mishearing, which I’m sneaking in here. Listening to the radio one day I was shocked to hear a Scottish announcer reporting on new ‘Anti-Stocking Laws.’ I was about to explode in a frenzy of feminist ranting, when the article continued and I realised, with relief, that the Scottish accent meant that ‘stalking’ sounded very similar to ’stocking.’

It's All Just a Load of Mispants

by Jill Ready

Off to the theatre 

The Taming of the Screw

But first

Let's tackle this 

Irritable bowl

that's been bugging me 


lip sick on

Brush the air

do my yes

Mustn't forget to lick the door


so the dog doesn't start to bake

I'm meeting Pet

at the local pube 

He says it's goo in there

Two pins each and we're ready to go

Halfway there and the bell begins to grumble

Oh no

where are the to lets

Something pasty is about to happen

I make it, Justin Tim


The play was good but still wandering about the screw.....

Thanks for reading,   Jill

Saturday, 2 October 2021


No one likes being stuck in a most boring place for very long. Thankfully, we are evolved enough as a species not to have to sit around picking fleas off, swatting flies away or fiddling with our private parts in moments of ennui. The enterprising human being has developed coping mechanisms that can be applied in most tedious situations. 

Reading has worked well in many of them - a copy of e.g. Moonfleet secreted within the covers of a bible can help pass many a long hour in church for a kid; Hostage, Raid On Entebbe or Skyjacked make a super way of getting through those idling hours in airport departure lounges; The True Story of Harold Shipman is a boon when stuck in a GP's waiting room; Animals Without Backbones (Vol 1) can prove an indispensable companion on those occasions when polite attendance is required even though all the relatives are snoozing belly-up in armchairs in front of the fire; and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is the ideal title for the reading group that convenes nightly on the New York Subway. 😉

And then, in cases where reading matter is inappropriate or unavailable, firing up the imagination is a decent option. Daydream, fantasize ("She said the man in the gaberdine suit was a spy"); construct an internal dialogue (arguments for and against socialism); make mental lists (all fifty US states in alphabetical order, the name of every boyfriend or girlfriend you've ever had, chronologically); and if silence is not a requirement, recite a poem, sing a song or whistle a little tune ('The Great Escape' is a big favourite).

Where there is insufficient imagination to be fired, simply observing the world go by can be an arresting and rewarding experience for those with sufficient patience for the task. Props occasionally help, like a pound coin superglued to the floor, taking a pet rat, snake or spider on a train journey, or talking to your own reflection in a window (a more theatrical variant of the internal dialogue). These latter carry an advisory warning! 😆

In one respect, it's so much easier not to be bored in these digital days, although conversely the attention-span and boredom threshold appear to be considerably lower in post-millennials. What with the prevalence of  iPads, iPhones, iPods, Nintendos, Playstations and X-boxes, no one need ever have an excuse for being bored anywhere - and to be perfectly honest, I struggle to remember the last time that I was.

Of course, it's different when you're dead...

You'll have gathered there's a decidedly satirical edge to this Saturday's blog. So join me in suspending disbelief in 'the afterlife' and take a closer look at Purgatory. I hope the clever road sign amuses you as much as it did me.

The original Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory was of a temporary station between earth and heaven where the souls of people who had lived good lives went through a purification process - presumably to rid them of all last traces of 'original sin' - before they entered Heaven. Think of it as a final decontamination chamber before stepping forth into Paradise. The notion that all souls went through Purgatory before being routed to either Heaven or the other place is a mistaken one. Bad souls have always gone straight to Hell. 😱

Catholics were very hot on this dogma of Purgatory, which presumably had its root in ancient myths, such as the Greek concept of worthy souls passing through the River Lethe (the river of forgetfulness) before entering Elysium. It was even possible to pay for prayers to be said for the dead to help ease their passage through, a nice little earner for Catholic bishops and priests. Dante devoted a whole third of his 'Divine Comedy' to Purgatory. Other branches of Christianity were less sold on the idea. It fell out of favour with the Eastern Orthodox church in the late middle ages and was never really taken seriously by the various strands of Protestantism, being officially denounced as "the Romish doctrine" by the Anglican Church.

Stripped of its religious connotations, purgatory in modern parlance has come to mean a temporary state of personal difficulty or suffering "of which extreme boredom is but one example".  We asked a hundred people: If Purgatory were a real place, where would you find it? Our survey said (top five answers): Milton Keynes, Britain After Brexit, Tesco Supermarket on a Sunday, the Museum of Brands, any Cricket Ground. 😁 

For a poem this week (another work in progress, because it's been such an exciting footballing Saturday - well played you Seasiders), I'm riffing on that biblical quotation "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Boring Unto The Heavens
Bezos and Musk are playing rich man's tag,
first and second wealthiest men on a planet
of one hundred and seventy sovereign states. 
The sum of their fortunes would place them

in the top fifty nations. So Bezos-Muskland,
population two, worth four hundred billion!
Obscene personal wealth that's far in excess
of Earth's poorest fifty countries combined.
Points for symmetry though. Their pet hobby
a race into space, these golden fools, dollars
to burn, egos to feed. It's just as well perhaps
that half the world can't read. What sense in

such narcissistic greed, escalation of zeroes
exponentially in that towering treasure pile?
It might as well be wasted on a plan to pass
the proverbial camel through a needle's eye.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Friday, 1 October 2021

Even In Boring Places...

I’d been thinking about what people (me) may class as boring places e.g. country villages, departure lounges, Villa Park, comedy clubs etc when I realised that if approached with a different mindset then even these awful spots could produce something of value.

To give an idea of what I mean let me take you back fifteen years and a trip to Prague. It was a delightful long weekend with friends and we had a wonderful time strolling around that beautiful city. We didn’t spend all that time together and one of my treats was to go off to the Norodni Museum. I had been looking forward to this and bounded up the red carpeted staircase to the Entrance Hall for the start of my tour.

But, oh dear, this was not what I had expected. The exhibition rooms led off the Hall and housed a vast array of exhibits, including natural history collections where exhibits include fossils, rocks, gemstones and stuffed extinct animals. But all the exhibits were displayed in such a way as to drain all enthusiasm back down those stairs. Room after room after room of wooden drawers with pinned butterflies and glass cases of gems after wooden drawers of pinned moths and glass cases of something I didn’t care about any more.

But here’s the point. It doesn’t matter if the place, person or thing has disappointed you if you can use it later as a means to create a poem or a story. These are parts of a poem which goes on a bit but is based on my visit to: 

Norodni Museum, Prague

Agate Borax Calcite Lead
Feldspar Dolomite Pitchblend Talc
Zircon Lazulite Kernite Copper
Halite Howlite Hypersthene
Rhodonite Hafnon Datoline
Inasite Enstatite Psilomelane
Kyanite Carnotite Alabaster
Rutile Andesine Chalcedony

Copper Silver Magnetite...

It goes on to cover sections on Rocks, Minerals, Gems, Meteorites, Ammonites etc. But ends up with finding a temporary exhibition on Waters of the World which was terrific.

I wouldn’t mind betting that many of the Dead Good Blog readers are also writers, so I don’t want be seen as trying to teach you to suck eggs (where did that expression come from?) but we are very fortunate that we can take something like that bad experience at a museum and turn it into something that we are rather pleased with.

So, if the place you are in seems a little tedious, then I suggest you jot observations down into the notebook that you always have with you for just such a purpose. It may instantly lighten your mood by knowing that you will sooner or later be getting something out of it. And, of course, the pen is mightier than the Molybdenite.

I have to say that the second most least interesting place in Prague was the museum mentioned below. But again something happened, so stick with it in Prague. Something always happens.

Smetana’s Spectacles in the Smetana Museum, Prague

It was too hot for this,
the air felt heavy,
an extra layer
worn like frock coats
in the photos on the wall.
Downstairs the entrance
was being cleared of
bottles and cigarette ends
while up here the staff
eased into the day.

A day of four walls
and lots of pictures,
prints of Smetana,
sketches and letters,
drafts of letters,
manuscripts of music,
drafts of manuscripts of music,
programmes, programme changes,
the air felt heavy with words,
it was Museum.

Then a woman put down a cup
drew back curtains
and opened the windows,
suddenly the sun was light,
the sound of the river
was the sound of movement,
notes streamed off the pages
until I spotted those minims
trapped in a cage
and I wanted to set them free.

Smetana’s spectacles
all that was there of the man,
glasses like mine,
making sense of our worlds
bringing me back to my senses
and the irony of Ma Vlast
losing its frontiers
while stag nights
are drinking away freedom
in the bars of Wenceslas Square.


Wednesday, 29 September 2021

A Most Boring Place

Both my parents were Catholic – of the non-practising type, excepting, perhaps, Christmas, weddings and in my father’s case, his own funeral. But for some strange reason, they felt it important that I should attend and would religiously send me to church every Sunday morning . Off I would trot in my Sunday best on the short walk around the corner and sit not three pews back from the front, in the right hand side pew, all on my own, week after week.

Perhaps this was folly. I had to keep a watchful eye out to rise, kneel and sit in orchestration with the rest of the church goers and if I drifted off into reverie, I could be caught out and immediately try to put on a look of piety as if to say “I got carried away with my own prayers”, but I doubt anyone believed it or cared. Not once did anyone stop and ask me what I was doing there on my own, week after week, year after year, or how my parents were. If Sundays in the 1960s were an endless day of boredom, then the church I went to took it to the next extreme.

I periodically attempted to alleviate the ennui and make sense of what was going on using my ‘First Holy Communion’ Missal – a small book, bound in a mock marble effect plastic cover. Some of this was in the days when the mass was said, or rather mumbled, in Latin, with lack lustre responses from the congregation and I would join in, if I felt confident enough that I was in the ‘right place’ in my book. These were the days when the print in the page was helpfully divided into two columns, the left side for the Latin and the right side in English. I used to pass the time trying to marry up the words. Things did get rather confusing when a different collect or gospel was chosen, but no matter, I could amuse myself for the much of the time reading the other ‘stories’ in the other weeks. I’m still not sure what a ‘Collect’ is – perhaps it’s something to do with collecting the money in the little baskets passed around the rows? This being my local church of St Maria Goretti, I could also look at the pictures on the walls.

These paintings of The Stations of the Cross were of particular interest to me as my Uncle Ted had painted them. Born in 1896, he was not a ‘real’ uncle, but I gave him this honorific title when my mother commissioned him to paint my portrait in 1969 and we went on to be good friends. I frequently skipped out of school at lunch time to go and see him in his art studio in Bowran Street, in Preston, preferring his ‘Irish stew’ and his company, to anything on offer in the school dining room.

In the long course of his career as a self-taught artist, Edward Robinson, or Uncle Ted, had painted many things and done everything with pen, pencil and brush, including murals in churches, hotels and cinemas. As he put it: "When you live in Preston you have to be very versatile to make a living". But his great love was portraits, and I am honoured that along with his portrait of Sir Tom Finney, still hanging in the Harris Art Gallery in Preston, this small portrait of myself, aged 11 years old, with a ‘Maria from the ‘Sound of Music’ haircut and wearing my favourite blue dress, was the last he undertook.

I digress. Going back to church, communion time, when the congregation would file past me on their way to the altar, was the real reason I sat near the front. It was so that I could see the fashion parade – both on their way to and from the communion. I had a dilemma. Did I hang back until the end, or try to get there first so I could be back quickly? This was so after a decent amount of time on my knees being grateful for what I had received, then sit back all the better to see what was going on - who had a new hat, or shoes and who hadn’t been seen for a few weeks? It was all fertile ground for my imagination.

My mother later came up with the time saving brainwave of an idea - that on my way to church, I could go to the launderette on the corner ‘drop off that weeks’ laundry, as it was on my way. There I could stuff one of the cavernous mouths in a machine with the whole weeks laundry, feed it some loose change and then carry on to church, picking up the now clean washing on my way back. Looking back, I can’t say I blamed her, as this was an era when the twin tub was the ‘new’ labour saving machine to covet and we couldn’t afford even that. For a working mother, Sundays were hardly a day of rest or contemplation, but a mad scramble to fit in the whole week’s housework into one day, alongside serving up a ‘Sunday lunch’. For me the smell of our ‘Sunday roast’ (or our continental equivalent) was always tainted by the smell of fetid clothes and Daz. A benefit of escaping to church, even if it was boring, got me out of a host of chores…

However, by the time I was ten years old, I had learned that my parents would be none the wiser, or probably not even care, if I simply stopped going to church as long as I came back with the bag of washing, all cleanly and magically laundered. So that left me, adding in the ‘before and after’ laundry stop off, roughly two hours of freedom, which I soon managed to fill with less religious activities. I would call on my friend Marian, change into some ‘playing out clothes’ that were kept in her bedroom and then she would help me with the washing. Then off we would go… exploring. At some point we met up with a group of boys from her school (she was lucky enough to go to the local mixed comprehensive) and together we found the delights of the disused Preston to Longridge railway line, easily accessed, ironically, from just behind the ‘Maria Goretti’ church that I was supposed to be attending.

Joy of joys, we even unearthed a rusting flatbed 4 wheel ‘Bogie’. I would love to say that we could travel miles on it, but the reality was that it had been abandoned for a reason – it was almost immoveable, and very hard work to get it to move more than fifty yards up and down what little of the railway track had been left behind. None the less, we spruced up the flat bed with old bits of wood and my imagination was certainly not held back as I travelled long journeys on it … back to Vienna. Until it was time for myself and Marian to leave the ‘gang’ to go back to the Launderette to pick up the now clean laundry, change back into my ‘Sunday best’ and then back home, to spend the rest of the afternoon on my homework.

By about the age of fourteen, having out grown both ‘gang’ and the delights of the ‘Bogie’ and coinciding with need for my laundrette duties no longer being required (perhaps mum had saved up enough to by the coveted twin tub) I plucked up courage to tell my parents that I no longer wanted to go to church. I had all my arguments lined up, such as "I think I'm old enough to decide now and I don't want to go to church anymore." I had been under the misapprehension that they might be disappointed, but that they would eventually respect my decision. But they were not old-style churchgoer, wedded to a weekly ritual that gave comfort and solace and a time perhaps for quiet contemplation or meditation. That was not their spiritual method and it was no longer mine either. I needn’t have worried – they were neither surprised or interested and for a good many years the only time I stepped inside a church was when I was in Vienna and then for my own wedding and a few years later, my father’s funeral.

What I didn't bother to tell them was that I thought going to church seemed no longer right – not that I was going anyway We lived on the edge of a poor council estate suburb of Preston and even as a young child, I had discerned the personalities of some of congregation. From the snatches of gossip I had overheard before and after the service, I realised some of them would think nothing of stabbing their neighbours in the back metaphorically and then on Sunday they would come to church. As a child, I didn’t have a word for it, but later learnt the definition I was looking for was hypocrisy - but who am I to judge?

It took me many years to discover that there were many good, well-meaning churchgoers who tried to lead good lives, but at that time, this painting on of the pious face sickened me and added to the usual teenage awakening of knowledge and morals – and the part that the Catholic Church had (or rather hadn’t) played in the second world war, from the top, in turning a blind eye to the Nazi genocide of the Jews, I wanted no part of it.

However, I have always had a spiritually-seeking component to my nature. I think it was the Buddha who said, "There are many paths up the mountain." So it probably doesn't matter what spiritual path you follow as long as it feels right to you. I believe that all religions seem to share the same basic tenets: love and tolerance for your fellow humans and all the creatures who share this planet with us.

Edward Estlin Cummings is one of America’s most famous twentieth-century poets. He was a pastor’s son raised in the Unitarian faith, which emphasizes the oneness of God. While I know him as a poet, he invested more of his time to painting and one of his favourite subjects was the landscape surrounding his summer home at Joy Farm in New Hampshire. I think this painting of his demonstrates the elation he may have felt in this environment of wooded hills, fields, and lake – images he also used in several of his poems. I wonder if the phrases “leaping greenly spirits of trees” and “blue true dream of sky” were inspired by this view from his farmstead.

I thank you God

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e e cummings

These days I have made my peace with Christianity and now follow the Anglican tradition to enjoy, practice and give thanks in my own way, starting with some bell ringing. So as the wonderful Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used to say at the end of his TV programme, "May your god go with you."

Yvonne Smallshaw

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

The Most Boring Place - Sunday Afternoon, Age 6

I’ve always got something to do or something to think about.  I like to be alone with my thoughts but equally, I like to enjoy good company. There have been things I’ve had to endure that could be called boring, or made me feel extremely fed up. These would be events out of my control, not going according to plan and causing frustration.

Flying back to the UK from the USA should have been an exciting adventure. It was winter time in the early ‘80s and I was fortunate enough to be waiting in the Club Class departure lounge at New York’s JFK airport.  I was travelling alone and on a registered stand-by ticket, happy to wait, sitting on a comfy armchair by the window, watching the snow. Flights came and went. Hours passed. I had everything I needed and felt looked after, but I was tired, jet lag without the jet. I didn’t want to fall asleep and miss a flight I could have taken, though I’m sure someone would come to get me. O’Hare International, Chicago, had redirected their UK flights to JFK due to heavy snow, so planes became full. By the time I was called, I was dead on my feet, but happy to get a place anywhere, on any plane that could fly me home. I had a seat in the centre block of a 747, next to a pleasant German gent who kept trying to make conversation with me. No common language between us, so we occasionally smiled at each other instead. He was going to Heathrow, then on to Frankfurt. He went to sleep. I’d finished my book, couldn’t get into the in-flight movie and probably slept a little, but I remember sitting there, annoyed with the drone of the engines and willing myself home – there was a long train journey to come next. I think I was more fed up than bored. Boring is what I’d call some winter Sunday afternoons of my childhood.

I was an only child until age seven and a half when my sister arrived, so I was used to being doted on by both sets of grandparents and any number of aunts and uncles. Nothing changed, my family was her family and she just slotted in and got passed around for a cuddle. Being a baby, she didn’t spoil whatever I was playing with. I was a well-behaved little treasure, most of the time. Our family ran pubs and in those days licensing hours meant that they were closed in the afternoons and for longer on Sundays. This was family time when we’d all get together for a meal. This is when it got boring. It started well, lots of fun and me being made a fuss of. We would all get round the table to eat, which was always good. At one set of grandparents, I would eat jelly and fruit with a small, shell-shaped spoon, sitting up straight on a high stool. At my other grandparents, homemade rice pudding which was deliciously creamy. Once, as the roast dinner was being served, I rudely remarked, “Oh no, not peas again!” I was swiftly removed by my mother, taken out of the room for a wallop on my bottom, left to cry for a bit then brought back in to apologise. I must have been having an ‘off’ day from my usual sweet little princess self. After dinner, everyone sat in the lounge and eventually fell asleep. I hated it. This was the most boring place in my world. My nanna would sit down, smoke a Park Drive, pick her knitting up and go at it frantically until she nodded off. My dad might go outside to check something on someone’s car first, but soon I would be in a room full of sleeping relatives. It seemed like ages, but probably wasn’t. I’d have a colouring book to do and one of my grandmothers didn’t mind if I turned the contents of her sideboard upside down. Sing Something Simple would come on the wireless which made it even more boring. If I hear Sing Something Simple nowadays, it fills me with happy memories of my idyllic childhood.

My poem:

Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding,
And why did we always have peas?
Apple pie or sometimes trifle,
Fond thoughts of childhood, fam’ly teas.

The nearly quiet afternoon
In the fading November light
Those all around me are sleeping
And they are such a boring sight.

Like book-ends, Nanna and Grandad,
Snooze cosily on the settee.
Grandad’s Brylcreem’d hair all messy,
Nan’s knitting slipped down on her knee.

Has my auntie just stopped breathing?
Uncle Bill has started snoring.
I’m looking for something to do.
Flipping Sundays are so boring!

Sing Something Simple has come on,
It’s time for us to go, hooray!
They’ll all wake up for opening time,
Running pubs is our family way.

PMW 2021

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Monday, 27 September 2021

The Most Boring Place

For many years we lived in Derbyshire and it coincided with the time when our children were little. It is a beautiful place to live. We had a house in a gorgeous village by a river and our two loved playing in the river and fishing for whatever they could find. Derbyshire was not a boring place.

We made regular trips into the Dales surrounding us and they were not boring, rather breathtakingly beautiful. We would visit the surrounding towns of Matlock, Matlock Bath and Bakewell for the lovely mix of independent shops they had to offer and none were boring.

We went to the family attractions ‘Heights of Abraham’, ‘Crich Tramway Museum’ and the steam train from Derby to Matlock and each had its own character and interest.

Derbyshire, however, had one major failing, it is a long way from the sea. The East Midlands is as far away from the sea as you can get in this island of ours. In fact I think Ashby De la Zouch has the dubious privilege of being the furthest place from the sea in England. This is a problem if you love the sea as much as I do. I needed to make trips to catch a glimpse of the sea, walk by it and feel the atmosphere of a seaside resort.


Unfortunately the nearest seaside to Derbyshire is Skegness and we went there a couple of times only to discover that there wasn’t much of interest and it became my ‘most boring place’ as summed up in this poem. 

I’m drawn
to places

that’s why
I love
with a passion.

The air is filled
with mystery
and the sea can read
your thoughts.

I’ve been coming
here for years
and it never

Thanks for reading and apologies to Skegness, or if you are from there. 
David Wilkinson